…Alternative Measures for Suicide Prevention in Prisons
The 2017 report from the Ombudsman investigating the use of physical restraints for prisoners accommodated in At Risk Units (ARUs) has revealed some shocking details about the care of the suicidal in New Zealand prisons. Whilst much of the attention following from the report has understandably focused on the torturous use of tie down beds and wrist restraints, questions remain about the reliance on ARUs in general to accommodate and manage suicidal and self-harming prisoners.
In the last three years more than 700 prisoners have been through these units (McCulloch 2017). In ARUs, prisoners are placed in cells with minimal fixtures, a mattress and an unscreened toilet. In these ‘environments of deprivation’ (Stanley 2017), they are stripped of their usual clothing, given an untearable gown and bedding, and placed under 24-hour camera observation. Interaction with others, including staff, is highly limited.
Corrections protocol states that prisoners in ARUs should ‘have the same opportunities for involvement in prison activities as other prisoners, consistent with maintaining their safety and the safety of others’ (Ombudsman 2017:12). However, the Ombudsman team ‘found no evidence of at-risk prisoners taking part in any form of structured activity or intervention’ (2017:14) or engaging in strategies to manage and address their self-harm or suicidal thoughts. In only one case did ‘at risk’ plans contain referrals to other services such as chaplaincy or social workers. Although a stay in an ARU is supposed to be a temporary measure, in practice prisoners can be accommodated there for several months (National Health Committee 2010).
In other jurisdictions, these ‘strip cells’ as they are often known, have been widely recognised as unsuitable and inhumane accommodation for suicidal prisoners. Continue reading Dangers of Being ‘At Risk’