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Paradigm Shift Away From Seclusion And Restraint Is Needed Says New Report

New research has found high use of seclusion and restraint in prisons, children and young people’s residences and health and disability units, particularly of Māori and Pacific Peoples, prompting calls from the Human Rights Commission for detention agencies to shift their practices.

“Seclusion and restraint are used too often, for too long, often without a convincing justification and more frequently against Māori and Pacific Peoples,” said Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt.

The findings come from a new report titled Time for a Paradigm Shift A Follow Up Review of Seclusion and Restraint Practices in New Zealand undertaken by Dr Sharon Shalev of the Centre for Criminology at the University of Oxford, at the invitation of the Human Rights Commission.

The report is a follow up of a highly critical 2017 review of seclusion and restraint practices in New Zealand also published by the Commission. This follow up review was supported by the Children’s Commissioner.

The follow up review found women in prison were segregated at a far higher rate than men, and Māori women were segregated for longer and at a far higher rate than other women, making up 78% of all stays in the most restrictive form of segregation (‘Management units’) in 2019. The use of force and restraints remained high and, in some areas, has significantly increased since 2017.

The research found some positive developments since 2017, including a national effort to reduce the use of seclusion and restraint in health and disability facilities, an end to the use of ‘tie down’ beds in prisons and a greater commitment to Māori culture and values in the care of children and young people by Oranga Tamariki.

“The overall picture, however, is disappointing and many of the issues highlighted in my 2017 report have not been addressed”, said the report’s author Dr Sharon Shalev.

“Too many people continue to be held for too long in sparsely furnished rooms and cells, with limited access to fresh air and exercise, and with little access to meaningful human contact.”

The Human Rights Commission is calling on agencies to reduce, if not eliminate altogether, the use of seclusion and restraint.

“We know that the practices of seclusion and the use of restraints, particularly where they are used for prolonged periods, are inherently harmful. However, the remedial pathway is clear,” Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt said.

“Proactive, preventive alternatives, based on human rights and Te Tiriti and focused on de-escalation and trauma-informed practice, must be at the forefront.”

“Dr Shalev has identified that meaningful change will require a paradigm shift in seclusion and restraint practices in places of detention in New Zealand. We urge the New Zealand Government to prioritise the work required to catalyse this."

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