Jail health and suicide inquiry demanded

23:15, Sep 24 2013

Drug and alcohol counsellor Roger Brooking is vowing to fight for a Commission of Inquiry into the country's prison health service, citing a lack of accountability for high prison suicide rates.

Mr Brooking, whose complaint to the Independent Police Complaints Authority has sparked renewed investigations into two inmate deaths at Otago Corrections facility, yesterday said the police inquiries were not enough.

Dunedin police yesterday confirmed the investigation into the death of former Otago inmate Jai Davis, who died in February 2011.

Police also confirmed they were also reviewing their investigation into the death of another former Otago inmate Richard Barriball.

Dunedin Clutha Waitaki Police Area Commander Inspector Greg Sparrow said the current investigation would be completed in the next few months.

Mr Brooking said the scale of the danger to inmates because of the prison health service problems warranted a full commission of inquiry.

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He believed Mr Davis' death and others were a symptom of a systematic failure in New Zealand's prison health service, accredited by the Royal Australasian College of GPs last year.

He described Corrections follow-up reports into prison deaths as largely inadequate, and, in the case of the two Otago inmates' deaths, had failed to hold anyone to account.

"If someone dies while in the care of a DHB (district health board) their file is frozen and an outside experienced person is brought in to see whether a doctor or nurse is responsible," Mr Brooking said. The same should happen in prisons, he said.

But it was Corrections' medicines policy, which discouraged prisoners being allowed "tradeable" opiates for either for pain or to control mental illness like depression or psychosis, that really worried Mr Brooking.

Inmates were being deprived of drugs to ease symptoms. He said the policy undermined the ethics of medical practitioners treating inmates and resulted in "psychological and pharmaceutical torture" for prisoners.

"And whether or not it is intentional is a moot point, but in my opinion it is contributing to suicide in prisons."

Mr Brooking said New Zealand had an alarming prison suicide rate, which was 11 times higher than the out-of-prison rate.

General inmate health had been of concern during his 15 years working with inmates in prisons around the country. "I've talked with hundreds of prisoners. They tell me some appalling stories."

He had since filed the Independent Police Complaints Authority complaint and questioned the Health and Disability Commission about its endorsement of the medicines policy and the Royal Australasian College of GPs. It had awarded many jails throughout the country, including Otago, Cornerstone accreditation for their health centres when it was obvious they did not even meet the basic criteria, such as being open 24 hours a day.

Corrections said it had gained the Cornerstone accreditation because it had "met (or exceeded) the benchmark for over 30 standards in healthcare".

Fairfax Media