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Te Hunga Rōia Māori Supports Call To Address 'Gross Over-representation Of Māori' In Harshest Detention Conditions

Te Hunga Rōia Māori o Aotearoa (the Māori Law Society) supports the Human Rights Commission’s call for the New Zealand Government to prioritise work to create a paradigm shift in seclusion and restraint practices in places of detention. A new report released by the New Zealand Human Rights Commission has highlighted the gross over-representation of Māori in seclusion and restraint events in prisons, children and young people’s residences, and health and disability units.

The findings come from a follow-up review authored by Dr Sharon Shalev of the Centre for Criminology at the University of Oxford, and the Human Rights Commission into seclusion and restraint practices in New Zealand places of detention.

“The report makes for distributing reading especially when it comes to our whānau who are currently in the most harshest detention conditions” says Tumuaki Wahine (co-president), Jamie-Lee Tuuta. “Māori make-up 62% of secure care admissions in Care and Protection Residences, 56% of segregation units in prisons and 51% of seclusions in health and disability facilities.”

Seclusion or segregation is defined in the original 2017 report as involving social and physical isolation for between 22-24 hours of the day, limited meaningful human contact, increased institutional control and limited personal autonomy.

“Seclusion is no place for tangata whenua to be in any circumstances. Māori society is fundamentally based on inter-connectedness” says Tumuaki Tane (co-president) Carwyn Jones “prison and other detention settings are already difficult environments for our people to survive. Couple this with days, weeks and sometimes months with extremely limited contact with whanau on the outside and little of no meaningful activity, it must become unbearable.”

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The author, Dr Sharon Shalev has called the overall picture “disappointing” and shows that “many of the issues highlighted in my 2017 report have not been addressed”.

Analysis on use of restraints also highlighted significant gaps including a lack of detailed recording of the use of restraints and on who restraints were being used on. The Department of Corrections was the only detention agency who were able to provide detailed information to the follow-up review and it disappointingly showed not only a “substantial increase” in use of restraints, it also found high use of pepper alongside mechanical restraints.

“It’s worrying to read that since corrections officers have been able to carry pepper spray as part of their daily duties, there have been suggestions by staff and prisoners that it’s being used instead of de-escalation strategies.” says Jones.

“The report highlights further missed opportunities by government agencies to deliver better outcomes for tangata whenua. In 2020 this is unacceptable. Our whānau and communities deserve better” says Tuuta.

“This report needs to be seen in the context of a number of reports which are telling the government that their systems continue to fail Māori” says Jones “that is the clear message of the various recent reports relating to Oranga Tamariki as well as the 2019 reports, Ināia Tonu Nei and Turuki! Turuki!, which addressed the wider issues across the criminal justice system.”

“We support the calls by the author and the Human Rights Commission to eliminate the use of seclusion and focus instead on de-escalation and trauma informed practices. Any change must be led with Māori.”

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