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Mental health of detainees at risk says NPM report

Graphic: Street sign for NZ Police

The mental health of a substantial number of detainees is at risk of worsening according to the annual report of New Zealand's NPM.

The mental health of a substantial number of detainees is at risk of worsening while they are under state care, according to the findings of agencies monitoring places of detention in New Zealand.

Chief Commissioner of the New Zealand Human Rights Commission, David Rutherford, speaking as Chairperson of the National Preventive Mechanism (NPM), says the combination of a lack of proper attention to mental health and an inability of many staff to cope with the mental health needs of detainees means the government is not consistently providing the care that people have a right to receive.

"When a state deprives people of their liberty it has the responsibility to ensure that they receive adequate treatment for all their health needs, including mental health, and that the conditions under which they are detained do not injure their health," Mr Rutherford said.

"New Zealand is experiencing a crisis in regard to managing the mental health needs of detainees. Various monitoring visits found unsuitable environments for people with mental health issues, particularly in police custodial facilities, in youth justice and care and protection residences," he said.

The Independent Police Conduct Authority has again found that the number of people in police detention that suffer from mental impairment, including alcohol and drug dependency, is alarming and this puts considerable pressure on staff.

Mental health-related calls for assistance to the police have increased by 350 per cent over the last 20 years, while incidents involving threatened or attempted suicide have increased by 800 per cent.

Its review of police custodial management focused on problems with the way in which people suffering from mental health-related distress are dealt with in police custody.

It found that the police custodial environment is an entirely inappropriate environment to hold such persons when they have not committed an offence but instead have been detained for assessment as a result of a mental health crisis.

Privacy also remains an issue in some detention environments. The Office of the Ombudsman found that there still is a lack of minimum privacy in some of the prisons it visited. Camera surveillance of toilet and shower areas in some prisons continues to be an issue.

The inspections over the year also observed that unlock periods for youth in particular can be too short. In addition, the Ombudsman's Office and the Office of the Children's Commissioner found that facilities for young people have many areas in need of development.

Monitoring Places of Detention Annual Report 2015 is available on the website of the New Zealand Human Rights Commission.

Date: 11 December 2015

Source: New Zealand Human Rights Commission

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  1. Street sign for NZ Police - APF