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March 19, 2018 | by  | in News |
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People Against Prisons Candlelit Vigil

CW: Suicide


Kaine Morrell took his own life in the early hours of 3 February 2018, while in Christchurch Men’s Prison.

A candlelight vigil was held on the 8 March 2018 by the People Against Prisons Aotearoa (PAPA), to protest the epidemic of suicides in New Zealand prisons. New Zealand Corrections Department figures show that the suicide rate in prisons is approximately ten times the rate found in wider society.  

In total, there were four vigils held across the country, in Christchurch, Dunedin, Auckland and Wellington. Around 20 people attended the Wellington vigil.

The focus of the PAPA protest was the At Risk Unit, which Kaine was held in for 12 days prior to his passing. PAPA argued that the At Risk Unit secludes prisoners who are mentally unwell, amounting to solitary confinement.

Neil Beales, the Chief Custodial Officer of Christchurch Prison, argues that Kaine was “not held in solitary confinement,” because he was able to mix with one other prisoner. The duration of this interaction however, is unknown. Dr Sharon Shalev compiled a United Nations report in 2016 that found the At Risk Unit was a form of solitary confinement.

A Question of Restraint, the report on the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT), states that New Zealand At Risk prisoners are “placed in isolation with limited interaction and therapeutic activities”. This report, written up by the New Zealand Chief Ombudsman, found a number of troubling cases in New Zealand prisons.

The report showed that Prisoner A spent 37 consecutive nights secured in a tie down bed at Auckland prison. He was held in this state for 16 hours a day, every day. Prison regulation requires that every time a prisoner is constrained in a tie down bed, approval must be granted. Approval was only sought for one of the 37 instances of restraint.

Similarly, Prisoner B was restrained for 13 hours after self harming and expressing suicidal thoughts. After being restrained no staff member entered Prisoner B’s cell for the full duration of the 13 hours. Not once was he given any water or other fluid.

It is difficult to ascertain whether Kaine’s stay in the At Risk Unit directly contributed to his suicide, but there is no doubt that the At Risk Units have a negative effect on the mental wellbeing of prisoners.

Kaine’s mother Vanessa said that “nothing will bring my baby back”, highlighting that suicide is irreversible, and every life is important.


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