Sleep deprivation and pain medication – how Dotcom was ‘tortured’ in prison

Internet tycoon Kim Dotcom recently spent a month in the Auckland Central Remand prison (ACRP) after the US government persuaded New Zealand police that his file sharing company, Megaupload, was infringing US copyright laws.   ACRP is run by Serco, an international conglomerate which runs prisons in a number of countries including New Zealand.  In Britain, Serco prisons have been criticised for institutional meanness and forcing prisoners to sleep in toilets.  In 2011, the company was criticised over the suicide of a 14 year old boy who was mistreated by staff in one of its British prisons.   Serco also runs the overcrowded Australian Federal Detention Centre for asylum seekers at Christmas Island. In November 2010, 230 asylum seekers in the island prison began a hunger strike; 20 prisoners sewed their lips together and one Iraqi Kurd, a man in his 30s attempted to commit suicide. In 2011, the New Zealand Government allowed Serco to take over the management of ACRP which is primarily used to hold prisoners on remand.

14,000 New Zealanders are sent to prison on remand every year. Mr Dotcom was also on remand, denies he has done anything illegal, and appears to have a good case. But according to the NZ Herald, he was treated like a convicted criminal.  He reports that on the first night he wasn’t allowed blankets or toilet paper and was woken up every two hours.  The mattresses used by prisoners are really thin (about two inches) and the beds are solid concrete.  Most prisoners find them uncomfortable – let alone someone as big as Dotcom.   In other words he was subject to sleep deprivation – which he said felt like torture.

The Minimum Prison Standards

Sleep deprivation is no joke.  In fact it is an enhanced torture technique  used by the CIA because it leaves no scars or visible signs.  When taken to extremes, it drives the victim insane.    New Zealand legislation covering the treatment of prisoners is contained in the Corrections Act passed in 2004. Section 5 of the Act requires the Department to ensure facilities are “operated in accordance with rules (and regulations) in this Act and… are based, amongst other matters, on the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.”   UN Rule 31 states:  “All cruel, inhuman or degrading punishments shall be completely prohibited.”  Such treatment is also illegal under Article 16 of the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment which New Zealand signed in 1985.

Sleep deprivation is not the only inhumane treatment Dotcom was subject to.  He was also taken to and from court in a prison van – chained to a metal seat inside a small cage. This aggravated a back injury.  He told the NZ Herald that one trip caused shockwaves of pain up his back, after which he required treatment in the prison medical unit. He couldn’t walk so Serco staff dragged him to the unit on a blanket where he was given Paracetamol and a wheel chair.

Violence and suicide in NZ prisons

Despite such incidents, the Corrections Department would have us believe that NZ prisons are safe and humane.  Let’s look at the facts. The number of inmates with gang affiliations has doubled in the past five years and, what a surprise – the number of prisoners attacking other inmates has also doubled.  In May 2010, James Palmer (an American) became the first prison officer to be killed in a New Zealand prison after he was punched by an inmate and cracked his skull on the concrete floor.  In 2011, the number of serious assaults on staff went up by 600% on the on previous year.  Prisoners are raped and many commit suicide.

The stress of being on remand while waiting for police to bring the charges to court is often a contributing factor to these suicides.  In 2010, four residents from Feilding killed themselves while awaiting trial or sentencing in the space of three months. Statistics released by the chief coroner’s office found that 27 prisoners on remand have killed themselves in the last few years and the number of remand prisoners who commit suicide has more than doubled in the last two years. In 2010 in addition to those who died, another 190 prisoners attempted suicide.

Denial of appropriate pain medication

Because of increased levels of violence, prisoners sometimes end up in hospital – with broken limbs, head injuries or perhaps an eye poked out.  Prisoners also get sick with cancer, heart disease, abscesses and infected teeth.  Sometimes they have back injuries like Kim Dotcom. But no matter how bad the pain, Paracetamol is all they get. If they have an operation in hospital and need morphine for pain relief, when they get back to prison, the morphine is taken away.

The Ombudsman recently conducted an investigation into the health and medical treatment of prisoners.  His report makes it clear that prisoners are entitled to the same level of health care as anyone else in the community but cites numerous incidences where prisoners in severe pain were denied medically prescribed pain killers. The Ombudsman reported: “We were told by prisoners that they are frequently advised by custody staff, ‘to take paracetamol and lie down’ or ‘paracetamol will fix everything’.  Many prisoners told us that paracetamol does not relieve the level of pain they experience.”  In a previous post, it was reported that the Corrections Department denies access to certain psychiatric medication; for instance hundreds of prisoners in New Zealand have ADHD but are not allowed Ritalin in prison.


So let’s get the story straight. New Zealand prisons are far from ‘safe’; neither are they ‘humane’.  There is no doubt that Kim Dotcom was subject to cruel and inhuman treatment by Serco. He was not the first – and he will not be the last.  Cruel and inhuman treatment is a daily occurrence in our prison system; by denying prisoners medication prescribed by specialists, prison health services are complicit in this torture.  And let’s not forget that Dotcom’s prosecution is being driven by the United States – a country which endorses the use of enhanced torture techniques at Guantanamo Bay and flights of rendition to allow prisoners to be tortured in other countries.  We should keep a close eye on what happens at Serco-run prisons in New Zealand.

6 thoughts on “Sleep deprivation and pain medication – how Dotcom was ‘tortured’ in prison

  1. I have read the above article with extreme interest; may I make the comment that this is part of generic issue across the world. Only last night I read a very similar article referring to these some issues in the UK. There is more of the same, but much more severe, secretive and harder to research. Not many people convey any opinion, regards anything like this, most keep quiet or ‘sing the party song loudly’.


  2. I can sing as loud as I like regarding the inhumanity of teenagers taken into custody and treated inhumanely by the police, being given a beating then charged with resisting arrest is quite common. Lawyers often do little to encourage offenders to press charges as the police are careful to cover their brutality and unless there is hard evidence there’s little hope of any charges being pursued with a prisoners word against the law enforcement order.
    Whilst in remand prisoners are often ill treated, punished for no apparent reason by vindicative and sadistic prison guards. If a prisoner objects peacefully and raises objection verbally they are punished and a report is filed in their record stating they are trouble makers which has an adverse effect on their chances of parole.If prisoners complain or protest verbally they are further picked on as they expected to bow their heads, shut up or suffer the consequences of often spiteful, sadistic prison wardens that get pleasure from throwing their weight around with their small minded power complex’s.
    Prisoners spend most of their day in a cell with only one hour of exercise outside, their food is minimal and lacking in nutrients and no extra food allowance is given if they are teenagers and growing, it isn’t taken into account that exercise uses up more calories so they are under nourished and basically mal nourished. If they are fortunate enough to have funds to purchase food from the snack bar they are over charged and given unhealthy, limited food choices.
    New Zealand
    Not only are prisoners denied a healthy diet they are also regular dental care and medical care can take months to be given.
    Recently a prisoner in OCF died of a brain haemorrhage he was left for over 30 minutes without any guard response even though a prisoner called out for assistance, He died in his cell yet the department of corrections maintained he died in hospital.
    It is very sad that a prison warden died being after being assaulted by a prison warden. It is equally sad that prison wardens and the police regularly assault offenders, this seems to be a contradiction of terms. If an offender makes a physical assault on a police officer or warden it is a charge and conviction. If an offender is assaulted by a police officer or prison warden it is dismissed as inconsequential and termed they deserved it, or it has to be proven without any doubt with photographic evidence that they have suffered an assault, assault on prisoners is a common occurrence everyday in all NZ prisons.It is quite difficult to prove an assault on a prisoner since camera’s are not allowed into a prison and lawyers are disinterested in representing prisoners that have been assaulted. I am sure that nearly every inmate will tell a story of police and prison warden brutality having been inflicted on them.
    Obviously prisoners need to learn a lesson and be re educated if they commit crime but treating people like a piece of dirt, lack of education, support or rehabilitation does not breed anything but resentment against a failed system.


  3. I failed to mention the fact that often charges are made against alleged offenders by the police when they are made to make statements when suffering from sleep deprivation and the effects of alcohol or drugs.
    The validity or sense behind making a person make a statement whilst either suffering sleep deprivation the effects of drugs or alcohol or all three factors combined is upheld by police prosecution and the penal system as a fair and impartial way in which to obtain a conviction.


  4. Jails and prisons in the US seem to be a mirror to what is described here. I was in jail somewhere in Texas for nine days before they figured out I wasn’t supposed to be there, denied my medication – which I both showed then and gave them the doc and pharmacy names – and ended up hospitalized after being released in jeans and a T-shirt on a strangely cold January night. Oh, yeah, and GOOD LUCK suing or getting an apology for their mistake!


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