Thursday, May 30, 2024

Chief Ombudsman calls for immediate halt to spit hood use

The Chief Ombudsman is calling on the Department of Corrections to immediately halt the use of spit hoods on young and vulnerable prisoners.

Peter Boshier has made the recommendation in one of two reports published today following inspections at the minimum-to-high security Christchurch Women’s Prison and Wellington’s Arohata Prison.

Mr Boshier says both prisons have positive aspects including programmes that recognise the importance of tikanga to a prisoners’ wellbeing and acknowledges the genuine care and concern shown by prison staff for the wellbeing of prisoners.

But he says repeated and serious concerns need to be addressed.

“I was concerned to find at Christchurch Women’s, that a spit hood – a restraint device that goes over a person’s head and is designed to stop people biting and spitting at prison officers – had been used on a young prisoner with complex mental health issues,” Mr Boshier says.

“The trauma associated with this type of restraint on young and vulnerable people cannot be underestimated. Spit hoods are also considered a suffocation risk. In this instance, there didn’t appear to be imminent risk justifying the use of this type of force.

“I am not alone in expressing my deep concern about this practice. Multiple human rights watchdogs have called for the total ban on their use on children and young people in detention.

“I am calling for an immediate end to their use on vulnerable prisoners including young people and disabled people and urge the Department of Corrections to explore alternatives like personal protective equipment to keep staff safe.”

Mr Boshier says he was disappointed to find a number of issues of repeated concern and ones that were a feature of his recent report on the Department of Corrections , Kia Whaitake | Making a Difference. They include the use of dry cells, double-bunking, poor accommodation, unregulated meal times and the use of CCTV in toilet and shower areas.

“I have repeatedly raised concerns, and made recommendations, regarding the use of intrusive CCTV monitoring in prisons. I am aware that Corrections is introducing new pixilation technology and undertaking a review of the relevant law and policy and I look forward to seeing progress in this area.”

Mr Boshier says he found some troubling use of force incidents including the unjustified use of pepper spray. He was also concerned to hear that prisoners were being locked in showers at Christchurch Women’s Prison to manage temporary accommodation needs, and that dry cells were still being used.

“I expect both of these practices to stop immediately,” Mr Boshier says.

“Dry cells are a desolate and barren environment for prisoners who are already vulnerable. I do not consider it is ever appropriate to put at-risk people into cells with no toilets or drinking water.”

Mr Boshier says some accommodation units at both prisons are old and no longer fit for propose. He is recommending that they are decommissioned and replaced as a matter of priority.

“I find it deeply concerning that some of the most vulnerable prisoners, including those in segregation or on a period of cell confinement, are held in such dire conditions.

“While these inspections were conducted during COVID-19 alert levels two and three in 2021 when the prisons had their own unique challenges, the serious issues remain. I will be closely monitoring how my recommendations are being implemented.”

Read the reports:

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