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Lack of mental health services - prisons risk

Office of the Ombudsmen
Te Tari-o-Ngā Kaitiaki Mana Tangata

Media release

Lack of mental health services placing prison staff and inmates at risk, says Chief Ombudsman

A lack of inpatient facilities enabling appropriate mental health treatment is placing prisoners and staff at risk and may be contributing to prison suicides, the Office of the Ombudsmen says.

In the Office’s Annual Report, Chief Ombudsman Beverley Wakem says during visits to prisons, Ombudsmen had seen a noticeable number of prisoners plainly suffering from mental illness or personality disorders of a severity to require hospitalisation or significant medical intervention.

While both the Ministry of Health and Department of Corrections were working towards improvements in mental health services, the Office of the Ombudsmen remained concerned about a “gap” in the system that defined mental health conditions.

Beverley Wakem says this gap was resulting in more mentally ill people being present in prisons than would be expected.

This is supported by research by the Mason Clinic which found in a study of mental illness in New Zealand prisons, that most major mental illnesses were overrepresented in prison.

The study estimated that about 15 percent of all inmates should be receiving mental health care but that with increasing prison populations and a lack of inpatient beds available, mental health services were increasingly under pressure.

“This issue concerns us greatly. We would urge that all prisoners with mental illness who need access to inpatient beds should be able to be provided with this without delay.”

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Beverley Wakem says that while the issue of personality disordered prisoners was complex, it required strong leadership from Department of Corrections, Ministry of Health and forensic mental health experts to address.

“Senior Corrections, Health and forensic mental health experts need to give more urgency to developing responses to the management and placement of these prisoners.

“The present unsatisfactory situation places other prisoners and staff at risk. It undoubtedly plays a part in the incidence of self-harm and suicides in prison, and it makes management of the prison more stressful with staff who are not experts struggling to assess and manage these prisoners,” she says.


Note: The Annual Report of the Office of the Ombudsmen is available at You can request a printed copy by emailing us at

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