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Double-bunking under review after cell rapes

Radio New Zealand logo Radio New Zealand 7/09/2017
Inside Paremoremo Prison: no caption © RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly no caption

The Corrections Department is reviewing its criteria for double-bunking in cells after a repeat sex offender was found guilty of raping three of his cellmates.

William Katipa was yesterday found guilty of 14 charges, including sexual violation and threatening to kill, following a jury trial in the High Court in Auckland. The case comes just four months after repeat sex offender Stephen Mark Gotty was sentenced to preventive detention for sexually abusing his young cellmate.

Katipa was serving a sentence of preventive detention with a minimum non-parole period of 10 years.

He had raped a young mother in front of her two-year-old daughter, but was not convicted until after he committed a second rape, years later, of a 13-year-old girl and a DNA sample linked him to the earlier crime.

But his offending didn't stop when he was jailed.

At his trial, the Crown said Katipa used violence and threats to rape three of his cellmates. He made sure they knew he had gang connections and that he was in for life and had nothing to lose.

Ken Clearwater, who manages the group Male Survivors of Sexual Abuse, opposes double-bunking in prison, especially for sex offenders.

"I think the prison has to do a lot more, and the prison system and Corrections have to get away from the denial that this is happening within our prison system."

Mr Clearwater said victims of prison rape were often too scared to report what has happened to them.

Labour corrections spokesperson Kelvin Davis said sex offenders should not be double-bunked.

"You can imagine the fear and, in fact, the terror that these young fullas were going through.

"It's just a terrible situation to be put in and it shouldn't have happened - a double rapist on preventive detention has a teenage boy brought into him [who] is made to double-bunk with him - that's just unacceptable."

Prison cells are fitted with emergency buttons monitored by guards, but two of Katipa's victims said pressing the button was dangerous because there was a delay between hitting the button and guards opening the cell. They spoke of fearing being dead before help could arrive.

Mr Davis said he had heard that fear from others.

"Prisoners often tell me that if you press the alarm, it could be any number of minutes, if not longer, that they have to wait for help to arrive. It's not just being assaulted, it might be someone having a medical event - a heart attack - that's not responded to instantly."

Corrections Minister Louise Upston declined to be interviewed but said all prisoners had the right to feel safe and that included knowing their cellmates did not pose a risk and immediate help was at hand.

The department's chief custodial officer, Neal Beales, said assessment protocols, used before allowing prisoners to double-bunk, were followed for each of Katipa's victims.

Mr Beales said the protocols would be reviewed.

"Whilst we believe that our shared cell risk assessment process meets international best standards ... in instances like this, we always want to go back and have a further review."

The review will also look at whether repeat sex offenders would be allowed to share cells.

"I've worked in Corrections for 26 years and I've never accepted that sexual assault, or violent assault, physical assault between prisoners... or anybody in prison, is part of prison life," Mr Beales said.

"Whilst we know these things happen, we don't accept it. We have a zero tolerance to violence in prison in all forms. The day we get to a position where we start accepting that as the norm is a very dangerous slippery slope and we don't want to go there."

He said double-bunking worked well for the vast majority of prisoners and two reports commissioned by the department had backed that up.

One of Katipa's victims is suing Corrections for hundreds of thousands of dollars, while a lawyer for another is asking Corrections for $75,000. They have also asked for an apology. Mr Beales said Corrections would look at an apology and are in discussions with lawyers. A draft of the review is expected by early October.

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