Prison shower-cams breach privacy

Use of security cameras in prison showers and toilets is under the spotlight in the latest examination of conditions in New Zealand jails.

The 2014 annual report into places of detention under the United Nations' Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT) has harshly criticised the Corrections Department for breaching some prisoners' privacy because guards, including those of the opposite gender, can watch them showering and using the toilet.

"The ability to view naked female prisoners in the shower and undertaking their ablutions is of great concern," it said about Auckland Women's Prison.

It was a "significantly degrading treatment or punishment" under OPCAT and the Crimes of Torture Act.

Inmates in separate cells at the prison were monitored on camera in the shower and toilet, as were those in the at-risk unit. Male guards observed the cameras in both units when female staff were unavailable.

In addition, fellow prisoners and staff could watch female inmates in separate cells showering or using the toilet by standing in a corridor or cell opposite the facilities, the report said.

In Northland Prison, male inmates in separate cells had to shower in an external yard under camera surveillance.

"The ability to view male prisoners in the shower is similarly degrading," the report said.

Double cells in youth units were also monitored on camera and had limited privacy screening around toilet and shower areas.

Corrections rejected the report's recommendation that cameras should not cover toilets and shower areas, although it agreed to "consider" installing privacy screens in some areas in jails, like it did in Arohata Prison, a women's jail near Wellington, after criticism about similar privacy breaches in the 2012 OPCAT report.

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It maintained privacy screens should not be used in cells for at-risk prisoners because of the overriding need for staff to safeguard prisoner well-being.

However, it conceded changes to Northland Prison's showers were needed.

"Corrections has ... advised that significant remedial work will be undertaken ... to upgrade the separates unit at Northland Prison, including a new indoor shower block."

Corrections yesterday confirmed it was still considering installing a new shower block in Northland.

Four agencies are involved in monitoring places of detention, including the Independent Police Conduct Authority, Inspector of Service Penal Establishments, Children's Commissioner and the Ombudsman's Office.

Wellington human rights lawyer Michael Bott said it was "clearly inappropriate" that inmates could be watched while showering and on the toilet.

Corrections should seek alternatives to ensure inmates' safety without breaching their privacy, he said.

"Dehumanising a person and taking away their rights makes it harder to rehabilitate them."

 - The Dominion Post

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