The death penalty was abolished in 1961 for murder but retained for treason. It was abolished altogether, for civilian and military offences in 1989. The last execution was carried out in 1957.
Life imprisonment is mandatory for treason. Terrorism, manslaughter, murder and Class A drug dealing can be subject to a life imprisonment sentence.
Offenders must serve a minimum of ten years before they can be eligible for parole. Judges can dictate a longer period or no possibility of parole at all. If the offender is released, he is on parole for the rest of his life.
813 people have been sentenced to life imprisonment for murder since 1980. Only six people have been sentenced to life imprisonment for other offences during that same period (one for manslaughter and five for drug offences).
Deaths in detention
Eighty-five prisoners have died since 2010. 47 of these deaths were the result of natural causes and 38 were deemed unnatural. About a hundred inmates were saved from death by prison staff during that same period1.
Eleven inmates died from unnatural causes in 2015. Ten of them were suicides and one was caused by an accident involving drugs concealed internally. Three of the suicides took place in Mount Eden prison.
There were six times more self-harm incidents in 2015 than the year before (4 in 2014 to 26 in 2015). This was the highest number of deaths and incidents recorded in the last five years.
Corrections Department staff must interview every prisoner upon arrival in order to identify any mental health needs or signs of suicidal thoughts. Fourteen at-risk units, with limited fixtures and fittings, host inmates who are considered to be at risk of suicide or self-harm. The cells are under 24-hour CCTV surveillance. Special clothing and bedding are also provided2.
Maori prisoners accounted for half the suicides. Suicide rates for Maori and non-maori prisoners are not statistically different (38.7 for Maori and 40.4 for non-Maori per 100,00 male distinct prisoners received each year). However, Maori men are six times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Maori men. This explains the elevated Maori prisoner suicide rates.
Few studies have looked at the root causes of violent incidents, even though these incidencts are occuring more and more often. Several prisons are known for being violent and overcrowded. Reports of assaults, sexual abuse and presence of illicit drugs surface regularly on the media.
In April 2015, a 44-year-old inmate, Benton Parata, was beaten to death by three other prisoners in Christchurch men's prison. The police opened an investigation into the event and three men, aged 20, 21 and 36 years-old, were charged for the murder. A series of violent incidents, considered to be linked to the murder of Mr. Parata, took place the following weeks.
Beven Hanlon, corrections Association industrial officer, declared that assaults occur almost daily. Mr. Hanlon considers that prison officers are not properly equipped to step-in and break-up prison fights.
Mount Eden male prison is known for being one of the prisons with the highest rates of assault, with one inmate assaulted nearly every three days. At the end of March 2015, 115 inmates were assaulted at Mount Eden Prison. Seven of them were subjected to serious physical or sexual assaults and had to be taken to the hospital.In early 2016, video evidence emerged which supported allegations that a ‘fight club’, in which prisoners were coerced into fighting each other. Fights took place inside cells and happened "at least once a week"1. There was no CCTV system installed in the prison.
The Chief Inspector of Corrections was committed to carry out an investigation on the events soon after. The report notes "widespread failings by the private prison provider including violence, drug use, haphazard staffing, and unhygienic conditions within the jail".These allegations led to the Department of Correction’s decision to resume its contract with Serco, the British enterprise running Mount Eden since 2009.