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Seclusion overused in NZ: report

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 26/04/2017

New Zealand is overusing solitary confinement on its prisoners at a rate that is four times higher than in English prisons and not in-line with international laws, a new report has found.

The United Nations study was also critical of how often police and healthcare providers used restraints on criminal and mentally unwell people, saying the use of restraint beds and chairs should be stopped.

New Zealand's Chief Human Rights Commissioner David Rutherford says he is alarmed and saddened by the report.

"The report indicates that seclusion and restraint may not always be used as a last resort option, as required by international human rights law," he said.

The report also found rooms and units in some facilities were outdated and lacked basic fixtures, such as a call-bell to alert staff, a toilet, or fresh running water.

Its author, British criminologist Sharon Shalev, recommended old and unfit facilities be decommissioned, restraint beds and chairs no longer be used and all rooms be equipped with alerts for gaining the attention of staff.

Rooms and cells should also be clean and safe and those who are detained be given access to fresh air, exercise and adequate food and drinking water.

A key finding from the report was the high rate of solitary confinement in New Zealand prisons, with 16,370 instances in the year to November 30, 2016.

With just 9798 inmates across the country, this equated to 167.1 instances of solitary confinement per 100 prisoners, or a rate that is four times higher than the 36.9 instances per 100 prisoners in England and Wales.

Women and Maori populations were also found to be more likely to be put into solitary confinement, the report said.

While New Zealand hospitals and mental health facilities had substantially reduced their use of restraints, the rate was still high and further improvements were needed, the report said.

It also found many rooms used in New Zealand facilities to securely detain young people were not appropriate because of their bare and drab nature and alternatives should be considered.

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