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Solitary confinement in Australian youth prison

Solitary confinement in Australian youth prison mirrors problems at home

NZ-based prisoner advocacy group People Against Prisons Aotearoa is outraged by the treatment of Māori-Australian teen Jason Rewiti. Rewiti has been held in solitary confinement in an Australian youth prison for more than 300 days. According to his mother, he is self-mutilating as a result of his isolation.

“The use of solitary confinement on a child is horrifying,” says PAPA spokeswoman Emilie Rākete. “This incident reveals the true face of Australia’s punitive and racist justice system which damages everyone who goes through it.”

But according to Rākete, New Zealand prisons are also rife with human rights abuses, citing figures released under the Official Information Act which show approximately 12,000 instances of prisoners being placed in solitary confinement each year.

“In New Zealand, Māori and Pasifika people make up 80% of prisoners kept in punishment and management cells, while the At-Risk Units in which prisoners at risk of suicide and self-harm are kept are indistinguishable from punishment cells.”

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture defined solitary confinement as 22 or more hours a day in isolation. The health effects of solitary confinement can include migraines, heart problems, anxiety, depression, hallucinations, psychosis, and suicidality.

While any use of solitary confinement was considered to potentially violate human rights, extended confinement of more than 15 days is explicitly identified as torture.

“Only two months ago, 18-year-old Kaine Morrell took his own life after being kept in solitary confinement in Christchurch Men’s Prison,” says Rākete. “Solitary confinement is incompatible with human life. This racist and brutal practice is killing our whānau, here and abroad.”

In 2016, PAPA members occupied Corrections offices in Hamilton after a suicidal prisoner was held in solitary confinement. PAPA is currently campaigning to end all uses of solitary confinement in New Zealand prisons.

“Our hearts are with Jason and his family during this traumatic ordeal,” says Rākete. “Solitary confinement must be abolished in all countries. Only then can Jason and all victims of solitary confinement begin to heal.”


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