Rapist claims $1.7m for 'inhumane' jail conditions

A rapist once described as a "psychopath" is suing the Government for $1.7 million after claiming he was kept in a prison cell for days without a toilet or hand basin.

The case parallels a series of civil suits by prisoners against Corrections a decade ago, which saw some of the country's most difficult offenders receive payouts for inhumane treatment, and prompted several law changes.

Paki Toia, 54, an inmate of Auckland Prison at Paremoremo, says he was held for four days in a room with no toilet, forced to eat with his fingers, denied exercise, sunlight and fresh air and had his radio stolen by guards.

He has likened conditions in the maximum security jail to those experienced by prisoners kept illegally under the "Behavioural Management Regime" of the 1990s.

Witnesses listed for his hearing next month are understood to include two prison guards.

Toia, who is serving an open-ended sentence for the rape and kidnapping of a teenage girl, also has evidence from the ombudsman and fellow high-profile inmate Arthur William Taylor.

A source told the Sunday Star-Times that Toia refused an offer of $5000 from prison management to settle the case. Corrections would not discuss the case, other than to say Toia's allegations were as yet unsubstantiated.

"Corrections believes that the public interest is best served by these being tested in a court hearing set down to be heard in just under a month," it said.

In his 24-page, handwritten "statement of claim" obtained by the Star-Times, Toia says Corrections has breached legislation including the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act, the Treaty of Waitangi and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He alleges he was subjected to "unlawful, cruel, inhumane, degrading" conditions and treatment similar to that ruled illegal in the landmark "Taunoa" case in 2004.

Murderer Christopher Taunoa and his fellow inmates were kept in solitary confinement at Paremoremo for extended periods under the Behavioural Management Regime, which denied them regular clothing and bedding changes and made them clean their cell floors, toilets and washbasins with one shared bucket of water and cloth.

Corrections eventually had to pay out more than $130,000 to the men. It sparked the creation of the Prisoners' and Victims Claims Act, which denies inmates the right to any compensation received while in jail.

Toia says he, too, was kept in solitary confinement after he hung up a sheet in his cell for privacy. He alleges he spent up to four days at a time in an "at-risk unit" - a room normally used for suicidal prisoners - without access to a toilet or washing facilities, as punishment.

He was "forced to eat his breakfast, lunch and dinner meals without being able to wash his hands, because cutlery is not supplied", he claimed.

Those claims appear to be, in part, substantiated by the ombudsman, who investigated a complaint by Toia and found his placement, what the prison calls the "round room" and the "tie down room", was unreasonable.

Toia also listed a range of other perceived injustices while in D-Block, the area of Paremoremo reserved for difficult or dangerous prisoners such as murderers Graeme Burton, William Bell and serial litigant and escapist Arthur Taylor.

He said prisoners were kept in a small cell for 23.5 hours a day; denied visitors, exercise, fresh air and sunlight; were given their food on the floor; refused rehabilitation; and not allowed access to computers to work on their legal cases - a denial of what Toia called "minimum standards". He has also alleged theft by the guards, involving his radio and his food.

The case is set down for a 10-day hearing on July 15.

Toia's current sentence is one of preventive detention after he assaulted two teenage girls then kidnapped, sexually violated and raped one of them in 2004.

He has more than 85 previous convictions and was described in a court-ordered psychological report as a "prototypical psychopath". He is eligible for parole in August.

Sunday Star Times