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Minimising Suicide risk a priority for Minister

Minimising suicide risk a priority for new minister

25th February 2000

New Zealand's first stand-alone at-risk unit, designed to minimise the risk of suicide in prison was officially opened today by Minister of Corrections, Matt Robson.

The custom-built unit is at Waikeria, New Zealand's largest prison, which can accommodate up to 842 inmates.

"People in prison are at greater risk of suicide than those in the community. We have to take responsibility for that and do everything possible to minimise the risk.

"Of particular concern to me is the vulnerability of some young offenders. There have been tragedies in recent years which might not have occurred if units like this had existed before.

"Inmates under the age of 34 are at greatest risk, as are remand inmates and Maori inmates. Research recently released shows that one in five prison inmates have frequent suicidal thoughts.

"This stand alone unit is unique in that it has been specially designed to cater for inmates at risk of suicide and self-harm. By the middle of this year we hope to have close to 120 suicide prevention cells built."

The facility accommodates 30 people and contains four round rooms, designed to provide a segregated environment to manage inmates who are at risk of harming themselves. It also has 26 observation cells, interview rooms for psychologists, two medical treatment rooms and ambulance access.

"These units are just part of an overall strategy to minimise suicide. Corrections officers get specific training on suicide prevention, and under the new Integrated Offender Management programme all inmates are assessed on arrival at prison and have their at risk status identified.

"The Department of Corrections has made great strides in this area, and we will continue to develop measures which minimise the risk of suicide," said Matt Robson.

Further comment:
Josie Harbutt, press sec. 025 5888 60 (04) 470 6676

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