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Jailhouse mental health crisis urgent

3 December 2008

Jailhouse mental health crisis needs urgent attention: Greens

National's plans to increase the prison muster will compound existing mental health issues in prisons - highlighted in Chief Ombudsman Beverley Wakem's annual report - and create a hazardous environment for prisoners, corrections staff and the wider community, says the Green Party.

Green Party Law and Order Spokesperson Metiria Turei says it is blindingly obvious that Corrections Minister Judith Collins' policy will increase violence in prisons, do nothing to prevent reoffending, and put the wider community at risk.

Mrs Turei is also dismayed at the Government's plans to house two prisoners per single cell to cope with increased numbers of inmates.

"Double bunking puts mentally ill people and corrections officers at risk of harm. If the Minister implements this controversial proposal she could be held responsible for increased violence against public servants already under extreme pressure. And disturbed prisoners also present a danger to themselves, and other inmates."

Mrs Turei says the Chief Ombudsman's warning that large numbers of prisoners with untreated mental illnesses pose significant safety issues, and the situation will worsen as inmate numbers increase, should be heeded.

"Mental illness and lack of medical care contributes to crime. If proper care was available it would be highly likely that the crime rate would decrease. More research is needed, but immediate and urgent measures are required now to deal with this obvious problem."

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It is contrary to justice to imprison obviously ill New Zealanders because of failed health support, Mrs Turei says.

"Surely one of the fundamental objectives of prison is to prevent further offending after release, and to ensure that prisoners become able to participate fully and positively in society. This is an objective for all prisoners, not just for some small quota of them. Full and effective mental health services and Alcohol and Other Drug (AOD) treatment needs to be available for every prisoner who needs them, not just for a quota.

"To do otherwise perpetuates further offending, is inhumane, and breaches New Zealand's international obligations."


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