Thinking Outside the Box?

Image source: www.lse.ac.uk

‘Solitary confinement’; ‘segregation’; ‘isolation’; ‘seclusion’; ‘de-escalation’; ‘separation’; ‘high security’; ‘supermax’; ‘special management’; ‘low stimulus;’ ‘secure care’; and ‘time out’ are the subject of a recent report requested by the Human Rights Commission and funded by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) through the UN Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture Special Fund.

Thinking Outside the Box? – A Review of Seclusion and Restraint Practices in New Zealand, by Sharon Shalev is based on visits to seventeen different detention facilities in categories subject to monitoring under the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT). Visits took place late last year and included prisons, health and disability units, a youth justice residence, a children’s care and protection residence, and police custody suites. Information and dataset material were also analysed.

‘Solitary confinement’ is defined as the social and physical isolation of individuals in a place of confinement for twenty-two to twenty-four hours a day, and Corrections’ data showed 16,370 recorded instances of segregation in New Zealand in the year to November 2016, which is four times that of England and Wales. Both Māori and women were overrepresented.

Report recommendations include reducing segregation and all forms of restraints; reserving it for the most extreme of cases for short periods; ensuring minimum standards for provision of decent living conditions are met; and, that data on the use of seclusion etc. is recorded and analysed for trends and characteristics such as age, gender and ethnic origin.

The issue had arisen following New Zealand’s 6th periodic review in 2015. The United Nations Committee against Torture recommended that New Zealand “limit the use of solitary confinement and seclusion as a measure of last resort, for as short a time as possible, under strict supervision and with the possibility of judicial review;” and “prohibit the use of solitary confinement and seclusion for juveniles, persons with intellectual or psychosocial disabilities, pregnant women, women with infants and breastfeeding mothers, in prison and in all health-care institutions, both public and private.”  In 2014 the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities, also recommended in its concluding observations, that immediate steps be taken to eliminate the use of seclusion and restraints in medical facilities.

Dr Shalev noted the work being undertaken by Te Pou o te Whakaaro Nui (Te Pou) to reduce the use of seclusion and restraint.  The Office of the Ombudsman, the Office of the Children’s Commissioner, the Independent Police Conduct Authority and the Inspector of Service Penal Establishments, otherwise known as National Preventive Mechanisms or NPMs will now consider each of Sharon Shalev’s recommendations and use this report to inform future work with detaining agencies, including the development of appropriate monitoring and follow up activities. The NPMs will also keep working with agencies to reduce the prevalence of seclusion and restraint and to improve the how it is carried out in circumstances where it is deemed necessary.

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