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O'Connor finally admits system failing some

Simon Power
National Party Law & Order Spokesman

8 September 2006

O’Connor finally admits system failing some prisoners

Corrections Minister Damien O’Connor has finally admitted that mental health screening in prisons is failing some inmates, says National’s Law & Order spokesman, Simon Power.

Mr O’Connor told an addictions conference yesterday that ‘there’s little doubt that we have within the prison population mental health needs that have not been fully addressed’.

“This is a startling admission from a Minister in a government that has been in power for seven years. That is a little too long for him to get around to looking at improving mental health screening.”

Copies of inmate questionnaires and assessment tools released to Mr Power show why the system is failing some inmates. They reveal that officers should observe whether new prisoners:
- Appear ill or very sad.
- Appear irrational or threatening.
- Refuse to speak or have slurred speech.

Prisoners are asked:
- How would you say you've been feeling, in general, since you arrived in prison?
- Is prison different from the way you thought it'd be?
- Is there anything in particular you are worried about?
- Do you have any drug or alcohol problems?
- Have you ever seen a psychiatrist or psychologist for any problem or have you ever been admitted to a mental hospital?
- Have you ever tried to kill or harm yourself?
- Do you want to kill or harm yourself now?

“These are hardly the sort of searching questions that will cover the range of mental illnesses that prisoners might suffer,” says Mr Power.

“But then again, this is the same department that cannot actually tell us how many prisoners suffer from an acute mental illness, or how many are taking medication for psychiatric conditions, when presumably the department dispenses this medication.

“Improving screening is only one part of the equation – there also need to be services in place to help stop inmates re-offending.

“The Minister needs to give an assurance that there will be sufficient health funding for mental health services, in light of a report earlier this year that Waikato Hospital may refuse to provide services for the new Springhill Prison if the Ministry of Health doesn’t supply a sufficient budget.

“As an Associate Minister of Health, Mr O’Connor, should be able to answer that.”


Attachments: Prisoner risk assessment form, PQs 2455, 2796)

See... Risk Assessment form (PDF)

Parliamentary questions – Simon Power

2796 (2006). Simon Power to the Minister of Corrections (28 Mar 2006): For each year over the last six years, how many prisoners have been on, or are on, psychiatric medication, specified by Corrections facility?

Hon Damien O'Connor (Minister of Corrections) replied: The mental health of prisoners is routinely assessed as part of the health reception process and recorded on the individual prisoner’s health file. Prisoners with psychiatric disorders are referred to Forensic Mental Health Services, managed by the local District Health Boards, for specialist assessment and treatment. The information the Member has requested is not available without a manual search of all health files. I do not consider this a good use of my department resources.

2455 (2006). Simon Power to the Minister of Corrections (20 Mar 2006): How many inmates suffer from an acute mental illness, specified by Corrections facility, for each month since January 2000?

Hon Damien O'Connor (Minister of Corrections) replied: The Department is unable to provide information on the number of prisoners who have suffered acute mental illness as this would require a manual search of every prisoners health file, and I do not think this is an effective use of my departments resources.


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