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Human rights values key to prisoner rehabilitation

Human rights values key to prisoner rehabilitation

A new review of human rights and prisons for the Human Rights Commission reveals that human rights values have a key role in the rehabilitation of prisoners.

The report, Human Rights and Prisons, notes international literature that shows that attention to human rights in prisons helps reduce conflict, strengthens prisoners’ chances of rehabilitation, and ultimately leads to safer societies.

Most prisoners have not benefited from human rights in their lives, which makes it particularly important that their rights in prisons are taken seriously.

The Commission contracted University of Victoria criminologist Dr Elizabeth Stanley to undertake the research, which focuses primarily on the years between 2004 and 2010.

Her review points to a number of improvements relating to human rights in prisons since 2004, such as an expansion of drug and alcohol programmes, and increased access to education and employment opportunities.

This has resulted in increased numbers of prisoners involved in employment activities, vocational training and literacy or educational courses. According to Department of Correction figures, more than 70 per cent of sentenced prisoners are now engaged in some form of employment or training.

There has also been a strengthening of the independent monitoring of prisons as a result of the international human rights agreement, the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture. (OPCAT). Under this system independent agencies visit prisons regularly to check on conditions and recommend improvements.

The report identified a number of concerns about long lock-down periods, prisoner health and access to mental health services.

The size of the New Zealand prison population is a critical issue, with the numbers of those imprisoned reaching a peak of 8853 in November 2010. Recent figures suggesting a drop of 188 in the prison population is welcome news.

Two recent pieces of legislation passed by Parliament contradict basic human rights principles: the introduction of ‘three strikes’ provisions in sentencing and the removal of the rights of any prisoner to vote.

The review reinforces the importance of the priorities outlined in chapter 22 Rights of People who are Detained, in the Commission’s major report, Human Rights in New Zealand 2010.

The priorities are:

• Rate of imprisonment: Committing to a reduction in the rate of imprisonment and addressing the drivers of crime.
• Maori imprisonment: Committing to specific targets and timelines for reducing the disproportionate number of Maori in prison.
• Young people:Increasing the availability of and access to appropriate mental health, drug and alcohol treatment and services for children and young people.

Dr Stanley has lectured in criminology in the United Kingdom and New Zealand.

Her research has explored the issues of human rights, detention, transitional justice and social justice. She has undertaken studies on rights and detention here and in the United Kingdom. Her work in South Africa, Chile and Timor-Leste has analysed the response to victims of serious human rights violations.

Download Human Rights and Prisons (Word).

This review has been used to inform the development of the Commisison’s recent report on the status of human rights, Human Rights in New Zealand 2010.

For further information on the Commission’s role in monitoring places of detention, click here.


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