Prisoner safety in spotlight after two deaths

Last updated 05:00 22/04/2013

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Two prisoners have died in suspected suicides in Christchurch prisons in three weeks, sparking independent investigations by the Corrections Inspectorate.

A Christchurch Women's Prison inmate was rushed to Christchurch Hospital after being found in her cell shortly after 9pm on Saturday, but she was declared dead after arrival.

Her next of kin were advised yesterday. Her death came only two weeks after that of an inmate at Christchurch Men's Prison on April 7.

Howard League for Penal Reform spokeswoman Madeleine Rose said the deaths showed Corrections was "failing" to fulfil its duty to protect prisoners.

However, Corrections' Southern Regional Commissioner Ian Bourke said both incidents were being taken very seriously.

The circumstances of both would be reviewed. The independent Corrections Inspectorate would also investigate, monitored by the Office of the Ombudsmen. Police were notified and the deaths had been referred to the coroner.

Bourke said two prisoner deaths in two weeks in Christchurch was unusual. There had not been a prisoner death at Christchurch Women's Prison for about six years.

Staff had been offered support and thoughts were with the prisoners' families. Bourke said the department took "every practical step" to prevent prisoners harming themselves.

These included a recent change to the risk assessment tools, which provides a checklist to help staff identify a prisoner's risk.

The new mental health screening tool implemented in June last year also improved Corrections' ability to detect mental illness in prisoners at an early stage.

A senior manager also met with a psychiatrist to discuss prisoner management planning.

"Despite our efforts to reduce suicide and self-harm in prison it is extremely difficult to stop someone who is determined to harm themselves," Bourke said.

Rose said the rate of suicide in prison was 11 times higher than in society. Since 2002, 70 deaths in New Zealand prisons had been ruled suicide. "They say they have introduced these protocols. We're yet to see if they work."

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- The Press

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