Friday, February 21, 2014

None dare call it torture

In its annual reports and reports under OPCAT - the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture - the Ombudsman's Office has repeatedly raised concerns about segregation regimes (solitary confinement) in our prisons. Poor living conditions, long periods of solitary confinement, and limited recreation time means that imprisonment in this manner "could be considered cruel and inhuman for the purposes of the Convention Against Torture" (why? Because prolonged solitary confinement drives people mad, or, in the appropriate legalese, causes severe mental suffering).

Now it turns out that Corrections has been using this regime not for the purposes of maintaining security and good order in prisons, as envisioned by the law, but for punishing a prisoner who took them to court and won.

The Ombudsman's full report is here. It describes how Corrections staff placed Arthur Taylor in segregation for a period of nine months. Throughout his detention there were gross deficiencies in process, with reasons not being provided, detention not being authorised by appropriate staff, and justifications being transparently unlawful. While the initial decision to use segregation was found to be justified, the subsequent extensions were found to be unjustified and contrary to both law and prison policy. Particularly concerning was the decision to relocate Taylor to the "High Care Unit" - basicly a suicide cell, where the environment resulted in sleep deprivation - which was found to be "more akin to a punishment regime".

So, in short: they subjected a prisoner to prolonged solitary confinement and sleep deprivation - intentionally inflicting severe mental pain and suffering - as punishment. The treatment was unlawful, so was not incident to lawful sanctions. Which seems to constitute an act of torture.

Torture is a crime in New Zealand. The people responsible for this atrocity - including Corrections Chief Executive Ray Smith, who legally had to sign off on all of it - need to be put on trial for it. As for the Ombudsman, like Roger Brooking I am appalled that they would shy away from the natural conclusion of this investigation. They are supposed to defend our rights - not look the other way on torture and cruel and inhuman treatment.