A report released this month has provided evidence supporting the view that we still have a lot of work to do to make our prisons decent, humane, and likely to release people back into society in better shape then when they went in.
New Zealand is a signatory to the ‘Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture’ (OPCAT), an international human rights treaty intended to help prevent torture and ill-treatment in places where people are denied their liberty. These include prisons, police and court cells, youth residences, and defence force detention facilities.
“Independent monitoring bodies called National Preventive Mechanisms (NPMs) are empowered under OPCAT to regularly visit places of detention, and make recommendations aimed at strengthening protections, improving treatment and conditions, and preventing torture or ill treatment”.
The latest report on the state of our prisons and other detention sites indicates that in many respects things are as they should be, and in some instances positive progress is being made.
Where the wheels begin to fall off is in the section of the report that addresses shortcomings in prison segregation facilities or ‘management units’. At Auckland prison (often known as Paremoremo), “…accommodation for those prisoners currently undergoing a period of segregation is well below standard and could be considered cruel and inhuman for the purposes of the Conventions Against Torture”.
The report points to failures of prison management to provide for minimum entitlements to exercise; a lack of emphasis on programmes to address poor behaviour, or on reintegration; too little ‘unlock time (time out of cells for prisoners); and an overall lack of managerial oversight.
All of this is a recipe for unrest and violent outbursts in our prisons, and is counter-productive to improving the attitude and behaviour of some of our most difficult inmates (most of whom will eventually be released back into the community).
It would serve no-one’s interests for us to return to the dark days of the Behaviour Management Regime, that triggered the Taunoa case, and the resultant muddling through various iterations of the wholly ineffective prisoner’s and victim’s compensation legislation.
It is entirely likely that the ongoing failure of the Corrections Department to meet the minimum required standards of treatment and practice will lead to legal action being taken. In the interests of our reputation as a country that respects human rights, and in order to better provide for public safety, we need to do much better. It is long past the time for governments to give more than lip service to a shift away away from a culture of containment and punishment, and towards adopting best practice in crime prevention, rehabilitation and reintegration.