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New Zealand: Invercargill prison contravened UN prison treatment rules

At risk inmates at Invercargill Prison are being forced to stay in cells without running water or toilets, while others are not receiving support for their mental health needs, the Ombudsman says.

In a report released on Thursday, Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier said inspectors found general living conditions at the prison were improving compared to how they were during a 2016 inspection, but he remained concerned about the treatment of inmates deemed to be at risk of self harm.

Boshier said he was pleased to find 12 of the 18 recommendations he made in 2016 were being followed, including that cells were kept in a clean and decent state of repair.

However, there were issues with the intervention and support unit (ISU), which was designed to safely manage prisoners who were at risk of suicide or self harm.

“At the time of my inspection, there was no evidence of ISU prisoners receiving any therapeutic activities, interventions or support for their mental distress,” he said.

The inspectors also found at risk prisoners were still being held in dry cells – cells without toilets or running water – when the ISU’s “safer cells” were full.

“This is a contravention of the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners,” Boshier said.

He commended the introduction of two new cultural and arts programmes for a small group of prisoners who were awaiting trial, but said he remained concerned about the conditions remand prisoners were being held in. As of March, 50 of the prison’s 170 inmates were there on remand.

“Remand prisoners continue to be double-bunked in cells built for one,” Boshier said.

“The prison’s lack of internal recreation space and purposeful activities means the majority of remand prisoners remain locked in their cell or in the yard, with few constructive things to do with their time.”

Boshier said the Department of Corrections had agreed to address the issues, some of which are being dealt with on a nationwide basis.

The six outstanding recommendations included that cameras in the ISU cells and basement unit should not look at the toilet areas, all toilets should have privacy screening, and general living conditions for remand prisoners should be improved.

Boshier also recommended ISU prisoners receive specialist input and therapeutic intervention, prisoners were informally locked down at 4.45pm, standardised meal times were enforced, and prisoners had better access to audio-visual technology to contact family.

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