Monday, October 18, 2004

Worse than dogs

Another story which caught my attention in yesterday's SST was their expose on third-world conditions in police remand cells. Remand prisoners - who have not yet been convicted of any crime - have been imprisoned in police cells for up to three weeks, without natural light, fresh air, exercise, or even washing facilities, in violation of New Zealand guidelines and UN conventions. That's quite apart from other violations to do with visitors, mail, reading material and communication with the outside world.

The linked article is only a teaser for a larger feature (sadly not online), entitled "I can't wait until I get to prison". Yes, conditions are so bad that people want to be convicted to escape them. Prisoners have no sense of time, are fed on microwave TV dinners and pies (this should raise warning bells with anyone who has recently seen Supersize Me), and individual police officers have ended up bringing them clothes and buying them toothbrushes. The feature article has a rather interesting table, which I'll reproduce below:

How police cell conditions compare - minimum standards for prisoners (and dogs):

UN Human Rights Commission minimum standards Dept of Corrections minimum standards MAF animal welfare code for dogs Conditions in police cells
Exercise One hour a day At least one hour a day Between 30 minutes and two hours a day No guaranteed exercise
Food Nutritional, wholesome food, well prepared Nutritional, wholesome food Nutritious, balanced food Microwaved TV dinners
Lighting Enough natural light to read or work by Natural light. Even isolated prison cells must have windows Should have access to fresh air No natural light or fresh air
Remand rules Prisoners not convicted must be seperate from convicts Remand and sentenced not to mix - Remand and sentenced mix. Remand dressed in convict clothes
Access to reading material Books, magazines, and newspapers must be available Books and other reading material must be available - No guarantee. Some police bring books from home

To summarise: remand prisoners (who remember have not been convicted of any crime) held in police or court cells are treated worse than dogs. People can go to jail for animal mistreatment, and yet the Department of Corrections is not held accountable in any way for the conditions these prisoners are held in.

We should not be doing this. Not only is it grossly indecent, it also wastes police resources and threatens an uncontrolled release of prisoners on bail. Given these conditions, it is only a matter of time before a prisoner uses a writ of Habeas Corpus to win bail and possibly compensation. If the government wants to have any choice over who is released, then it needs to start remedying this situation now.