Monday, January 29, 2018

End solitary confinement

People Against Prisons Aotearoa has published an in-depth report on the use of solitary confinement in New Zealand prisons, and are calling for it to be abolished. Its an important report, backed by evidence from the Office of the Ombudsman and the United Nations Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and worth reading. The short version:

Corrections uses solitary confinement (defined as socially and physically isolating someone for 22-24 hours a day) for various purposes. They use it explicitly as a punishment, and to maintain prison order. They use it to "protect" prisoners who are in danger of being harmed by other prisoners, by putting them under the same regime as the ones they are punishing. Most weirdly, they use it to "protect" prisoners considered at risk of mental illness or self-harm. Sometimes, they effectively use it by accident, simply because they're understaffed and can't be arsed letting prisoners out of their cells. But prolonged solitary confinement, for more than 10 days or so, has extremely unpleasant side effects and basicly causes mental illness. When imposed on people with pre-existing mental illness, it makes their condition much worse. Its use is strongly correlated with increased risk of suicide.

The infliction of severe mental pain or suffering for the purposes of punishment or for reasons of discrimination (e.g. against the mentally ill for no therapeutic purpose) has a meaning: its called torture. And its a crime under both New Zealand and international law. New Zealand has supposedly committed not to torture people, both by international agreement and in domestic law. We need the government to uphold that commitment and stop torturing people in prisons. The Minister of Corrections has a choice: they can end this crime, or be a party to it. Their choice.