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Prisoner Advocates To Hold Prison Suicide Vigils Nationwide

[07:00am 08/03/2017] For Immediate Use

PRESS RELEASE: People Against Prisons Aotearoa

Prisoner Advocates To Hold Prison Suicide Vigils Nationwide

Prisoner advocacy organisation People Against Prisons Aotearoa will be holding candlelight vigils today, in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin to memorialise suicide deaths in prisons. The vigils come in the wake of 18 year-old Kaine Morell’s recent death in Christchurch prison.

“Kaine’s death could have been avoided if he had been provided with the mental health care he needed,” says PAPA spokeswoman Emilie Rākete. “The Department of Corrections did not do that, and his death was the devastating result of that negligence.”

Speaking with Kaine’s family about the time shortly before his death, Rākete says his death was symptomatic of the miserable conditions in prisons, and the prison system’s rising suicide crisis.

“The prison was aware that Kaine had a history of attempted suicide. Kaine reported his mental anguish to prison staff. This was a young man who wanted to live,” says Rākete. “Rather than giving him access to a therapeutic environment, he was placed in a so-called ‘At-Risk Unit’. He was found dying by prison officers shortly after he was returned to his cell.”

At-Risk Units are sections of the prison reserved for prisoners considered to be a risk of suicide or self-harm. United Nations observer Sharon Shalev found that conditions in these units amounted to solitary confinement and were indistinguishable from punishment cells.

According to prison researcher Ti Lamusse’s recent report Solitary Confinement in New Zealand Prisons, the use of solitary confinement actually exacerbates suicidal feelings among prisoners. The report also found that the suicide rate in prisons is significantly higher than in the general population.

“Kaine was punished for feeling suicidal. He needed help. Instead, he was abandoned in solitary confinement, where his dark thoughts were allowed to overwhelm him. Suicide is a tragedy, but it can be prevented,” says Rākete. “Abolishing solitary confinement and giving prisoners access to real mental health treatment is the first step towards ending prison suicides.”

“This young man died alone, in a prison cell, uncared for, when he didn’t need to. That is something we have to fix.”

Speakers at the vigils will include prison abolitionist and legal scholar Moana Jackson, University of Otago mental health professional Dr. Keri Lawson-Te Aho, and Ministers of Parliament representing the Green Party.

The vigil in Auckland will be held at 8:30pm, at 360 Queen Street. The vigil in Christchurch will be held at 8:30pm, in Cathedral Square. The vigil in Wellington will be held at 8:30pm, on the Wellington waterfront. The vigil in Dunedin will be held at 8pm, in the Octagon.


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