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Inspectorate Report Shows Wide-ranging Unlawful Solitary Confinement

Joint statement from Amanda Hill and Emma Priest.

  1. The Inspectorate’s report on the denial of minimum entitlements in the three high security units at Auckland Prison paints a grim picture of our prison system. Corrections has failed to provide the bare legal minimum to our most vulnerable prisoners. The State has caused long-term harm.
  2. The Inspectorate report outlines a regime of only unlocking prisoners from their cells for one hour a day, every second day, rather than every day as the law requires. This continued for months. For 107 of these men, this regime lasted longer than 100 days, and for 24 men it lasted more than 200 days.
  3. “The ‘minimum entitlements’ are, as the name suggests, the bare minimum that Corrections needs to do to comply with the Corrections Act 2004. This mirrors our international law obligations” says Amanda Hill, a lawyer working with some of the affected men. “The entitlements are there to ensure that prisoners have some exercise and meaningful contact with other people. Without those key things, a situation of ongoing solitary confinement is created, in breach of international law and our own Bill of Rights Act” says Hill.
  4. “Unlocking men for a hour every two days is inhumane” says barrister Emma Priest, who represents some of the affected men in the criminal courts. “I saw men unable to communicate when they came to court. They would be in a panic state, anxious, depressed and unable to cope with normal social interactions. It is overwhelming for these men to suddenly be placed into the Court setting having been living in almost complete isolation. It is an indictment on Corrections that they have caused this”, says Priest.
  5. “It was especially concerning to us that the men in unit 11, a specialist unit for prisoners with mental health disorders, were left in solitary confinement. This is a shocking way to treat those who rely on Corrections for their care. There is no doubt it has exacerbated their mental health problems” says Priest.
  6. “This didn’t happen by accident” says Hill. “Corrections has been blaming Covid-19 for its short-staffing for too long and the excuse no longer holds water. The Inspectorate found that the prison management didn’t formulate a plan to meet its legal requirements and eventually settled into this being a normal routine. Even when there was enough staff, the men were not always unlocked. Corrections has, once again, shown absolute disregard for its legal obligations”.
  7. Hill adds “While Corrections has accepted the recommendations, we echo the Ombudsman’s concern that change in this system is glacial, if it happens at all. This is not the only prison that has failed to deliver the bare minimum and the whole system needs to change. Priest endorsed this. “We can’t have a prison system that does more harm than good”.
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