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Independent report highlights urgent need for action on seclusion and restraint practices

Human Rights Commission Thursday 27 April 2017, 09:01AM

Media release from the Human Rights Commission

A new independent report has outlined a number of serious concerns about New Zealand’s seclusion and restraint practices, says the Human Rights Commission.  

The independent report, Thinking Outside the Box? – A Review of Seclusion and Restraint Practices in New Zealand, has been written by international expert, Dr Sharon Shalev and was released by the Commission today.  

The report was commissioned to provide an independent perspective on seclusion and restraint practices in several different detention contexts and to identify areas of best practice, as well as areas that require improvement.  

Chief Human Rights Commissioner David Rutherford says that while the report makes for sobering reading, the focus should now be on how the recommendations can be used to reduce the occurrence of seclusion and restraint in New Zealand and, in circumstances where it is necessary, to improve practices.  

“Dr Shalev is an international expert with extensive experience in looking at detention facilities in particularly the United Kingdom and America. Her findings, and a number of other recent reports, have outlined areas of concern in relation to New Zealand’s current seclusion and restraint practices.   

“The report indicates that seclusion and restraint may not always be used as a last resort option, as required by international human rights law, and several of the rooms and units being used do not provide basic fixtures such as a call-bell to alert staff, a toilet, or fresh running water.” 

The report also highlights the over-representation of Maori in seclusion and restraint events, a small but persistent number of ‘chronic’ cases where solitary confinement and restraint were used for prolonged time, and systemic gaps, particularly in relation to the care of those who are mentally unwell.   

“Concerns have been raised about both general seclusion and restraint practices within mental health and disability settings as well as the problems faced by corrections and police staff when dealing with detainees who are experiencing serious and acute psychiatric events, which they are not always well equipped, or best placed, to deal with,” Mr Rutherford says.  

“These matters are particularly concerning, given what seems to be New Zealand’s high propensity to use seclusion and restraint. The focus must now be on improving the situation. Dr Shalev’s report provides an important catalyst for further discussion about these issues.” 

Dr Shalev has made a number of recommendations including:  

Stopping the use of equipment such as restraint chairs and restraint beds.  

Making sure that rooms and cells are of a reasonable size, are clean, safe, well-ventilated, well-lit and temperature controlled and that basic requirements around access to fresh air and exercise, food and drinking water are always be met.  

Decommissioning facilities that are not fit for purpose.  

Ensuring all cells/rooms are equipped with a means for attracting staff attention  

Thorough records and data are kept, indicating start and end times of seclusion and restraint periods and any efforts at less restrictive methods, and regularly analysed for trends in ages, ethnicities and gender. 

In her report, Dr Shalev also noted the work being undertaken by Te Pou o te Whakaaro Nui (“Te Pou”) to reduce the use of seclusion and restraint in the mental health, addiction and disability sectors, which could potentially be applied to other detention settings.  

“Reports like this one, and regular monitoring, are absolutely vital to ensuring that seclusion and restraint practices in New Zealand align with international best practice and that examples of good practice are shared and implemented successfully. 

“Many of these concerns have been raised by other monitoring agencies in the past. For example, the Children’s Commissioner has repeatedly raised concerns about the holding of young people in police cells – this report highlights the grim reality that they can face and it is time for urgent action to be taken.  The Human Rights Commission supports the Children’s Commissioner’s call for reform in this area,” Mr Rutherford says.

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