Chief Ombudsman slams excessive use of prisoner restraint
New Zealand prisons' use of excessive restraint is in breach of the UN Convention Against Torture, Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier says.
Boshier has found the use of tie-down beds and restraints in five separate cases - including one where a self-harming prisoner was restrained for 16 hours a day over 37 consecutive nights - constituted "cruel, inhuman or degrading" treatment.
Labour says the report has revealed yet another breach from Corrections, and a slide towards "third world conditions".
On Wednesday, Boshier released a report following an investigation into the care and management of prisoners at risk of self-harm. Five prisons were monitored between July 2015 and June 2016.
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In one of the most extreme cases of restraint, a self-harming prisoner was restrained for 37 consecutive nights; a total of 592 hours.
Prisoner A, as the man was known, was an inmate at Auckland Prison with a history of self-harm who had been admitted to hospital on multiple occasions after injuring himself.
He applied for a transfer to the forensic psychiatric unit the Mason Clinic but after it was refused, he was moved to Auckland Prison's At Risk Unit where prison staff restrained him on a tie-down bed.
Boshier's report found the prisoner was restrained by his wrists, torso and ankles; a form of restraint that breaches New Zealand law.
While Corrections staff said the man was tied down to prevent wound-tampering and self-harm, he was successfully managed during daytime hours by staff "with no significant episodes of self-harm".
"His restraint on the tie-down bed each night coincided with reduced staffing levels."
In another case at Otago Corrections Facility, a prisoner was continuously kept in a waist restraint with his hands cuffed behind his back, after self-harming. The cuffs were used for 12 weeks prior to his release from prison, and were removed for two hours during the day, and every four hours at night.
The prisoner was locked in his cell for 21 hours a day, and did not receive any psychiatric treatment during the 12-week period despite a recommendation.
His medication was stopped upon his imprisonment. As a result, he said his mental health deteriorated and his self-harm escalated.
Corrections chief executive Ray Smith said he took "immediate steps" to review the use of tie-down beds after being alerted by the Ombudsman's Office.
Smith said restraints were intended to be a last resort for prisoners with "extreme and prolific self-harming behaviour" who did not qualify for admission to a mental health unit.
"If Corrections was not able to use a tie-down bed, in cases of extreme self-harm, the risk of self-harm and even death among these prisoners would be increased."
However, he accepted that the use of restraints for Prisoner A had "crept from being a last option to a tool for managing the prisoner's health and complex behaviours", while two staff had behaved inappropriately.
Corrections chief custodial officer Neil Beales said the department did not believe the use of restraints to avoid self-harm was "necessarily degrading or inhumane", but accepted they should be used rarely.
Only 12 prisoners across the country had been restrained on a tie-down bed over the last three years, Beales said, out of 7000 prisoners that had been through an At Risk Unit during that time.
"Let's just be clear - he [Boshier] hasn't said that we've been torturing prisoners…
"When we say the use of tie-down beds is extreme, it is - it's used extremely rarely, but it is a form of restraint that we recognise is at that very far end of extreme."
Beales said the tie-down beds were never used to punish people or cause further harm, but stop prisoners from harming or trying to kill themselves.
"I would much prefer to have these conversations with you as to why we do these things than to have a conversation with the coroner as to why we don't, because somebody's dead."
While prisoners in the report were exceptionally difficult cases to deal with, Corrections accepted that it had to ensure they were restrained properly and no longer than necessary.
However, Beales said officials still believed restraints were a necessary tool to deal with high-risk prisoners.
"Nobody at this point is saying that we are not going to use tie-down beds if the need arises - what we must make sure is that when we do, our policies and processes are followed as we expect."
Corrections had accepted the majority of the Ombudsman's recommendations and was developing a new work programme with an emphasis on improved training, more multidisciplinary teams for at-risk prisoners, and a greater emphasis on therapy.
Corrections Minister Louise Upston said the department had to learn from the Ombudsman's report and its own investigation, but she was pleased by Smith's "proactive" response and changes to policies.
'LONG LIST OF BREACHES'
Labour corrections spokesman Kelvin Davis said "nothing I read about Corrections surprises me anymore".
"There's just a long list of breaches...it goes on and on and on."
It was "absolutely unacceptable" that a prisoner had been restrained for 16 hours a day, Davis said.
"I can't even imagine only being out of the restraint for eight hours a day - surely Corrections must have better ways to deal with difficult prisoners.
"We're not a third-world country, and...our Corrections system is basically degenerating towards third-world conditions."
SUBSTANDARD CARE FOR AT-RISK PRISONERS - BOSHIER
Boshier said the general management of at-risk prisoners across the country was substandard and detrimental to their well-being.
"The use of tie-down beds and waist restraints is only lawful in New Zealand prisons as a last resort, and in very prescribed circumstances, to protect prisoners from harming themselves or others. Mechanical restraints must be used in a manner that minimises harm or discomfort to the prisoner and must never be used for disciplinary purposes," Boshier said.
The report found tie-down beds and waist restraints were being used as a threat to force prisoners to comply.
Staff were also not adhering to basic procedures regarding the safe use of restraint, or properly managing paperwork relating to restraint use.
Other issues identified included a lack of staff training, problems with communications between Corrections and Forensic Psychiatric Services, and a lack of intervention by the likes of social workers, therapists, cultural advisors and chaplains.
WHERE TO GET HELP:
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