Suicide and abuse of power at Otago Correctional Facility

Debra Kaye has a young son in prison at OCF. On April 17, she wrote on BrookingBlog: “Currently in Otago Correctional Facility there are five men that have been locked up for twenty three hours a day in their punishment cells. They have been put into the management (punishment) wing for over three months and denied any freedom other than an hour a day of basic exercise. ”

They were put into the management wing because they “raised a peaceful objection to the fact that they were being unfairly treated in the wing they were previously in. The power was turned off by the wardens, the water was cold when showering, and they were left outside in freezing weather, rain and snow for long periods. They were also given meagre (amounts of) food which does not allow for growth development in young men.”

When the men complained, “This led to accusations and unfounded allegations directed at them and a serious beating and assault on one or more of them. They were put into lock down and their basic human rights denied for months on end!”

“The youngest (of these men) is 19 years old and has spent two years in OCF without attending any rehabilitation programmes.  Apparently Corrections officers believe a prisoner has to earn the right to attend rehabilitation and they believe this is an acceptable way in which to teach prisoners about their wrong doing.”

The Coroner’s findings

Debra Kaye, who wrote this, is the mother of the 19 year old. As such one might wonder whether she is able to provide an objective account. Isn’t she just a naïve parent inclined to believe anything her son tells her. I don’t think so. She’s right about one thing at least. Prisoners who ‘misbehave’ are not allowed to attend rehabilitation. If the ‘misbehaviour’ is a trumped up, that’s just one of the many ways in which prisoners are denied access to rehabilitation programmes.

She also seems to be right about the abuse of prisoners at OCF – indeed, the coroner, David Crerar, has backed her up. Mr Crerar has just released his findings into the death in prison of Richard Barriball in which he was highly critical of Otago Corrections Facility (OCF) staff.

Barriball was found dead in his cell in conditions indicative of suicide on October 9, 2010. He was on remand at the time of his death. The coroner wrote that: “Richard Barriball considered that he was ‘set up’ in respect of the charges he was facing. The term of imprisonment he expected was uncertain. He also suffered from an underlying fear that he would be the victim of a prison assault.”

The coroner also noted that as a result of a recent operation on his arm, one of his arms was in a sling and Barriball was in a ‘considerable amount of pain’. However, the prison doctor withdrew three different painkillers which had been prescribed for him in the community. The coroner wrote:

“The causes of the death and the circumstances of the death of Richard Barriball have shown suboptimal care by OCF in two respects. One was the failure of OCF to provide delivery of prescribed pain relief at a time deemed most appropriate by clinicians”.

The other was that “his family’s concerns over his state of mental health went ignored by prison officials.” The coroner said two separate communications were made by family and by the prison chaplaincy expressing concerns to OCF about Barribal’s mental state. “This intelligence was not collected, recorded, reported or acted upon.” In the days leading up to Barriball’s death, Crerar said the stressors faced by Barriball, were overwhelming and this led to his suicide. In a separate case, the coroner was also highly critical of the way prison officers treated Anna Kingi who died in prison in 2008.

Systemic psychological abuse

In the Annual Report of Activities under the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT), which New Zealand signed in 2007, the Ombudsman expressed concerns about the treatment of vulnerable prisoners by the Corrections Department. Corrections refusal to provide medication to prisoners who are in pain has been discussed in this article:  The prison health system – maybe it’s not torture, but it hurts like hell.  The use of sleep deprivation and the ‘naked squat’ on mentally ill prisoners in New Zealand, is discussed here: Officers look up prisoner’s anus – 84 times in three weeks.

Are prison officers abusing their power and psychologically torturing the inmates? The evidence is mounting and it’s time for an inquiry – especially at the Otago Corrections Facility.

13 thoughts on “Suicide and abuse of power at Otago Correctional Facility

  1. It does also occur to me that my son would may be making up stories, obviously I have a strong emotional attachment to him and want to believe him. However the reason I am inclined to believe him is because I also new of this death occurring after it happened, along with other internal politics that goes on in OCF.
    The fact is I last visited my son in a contact visit last December and since then his contact visits with me have been denied. I visited him a visit in January and had to speak to him in a booth,I have been informed my next visit will also in a booth. He is confined to a punishment wing and has been there for six months along with other men! My visits are few and far between because of the distance and cost to visit him. I am more than concerned that his human rights are being breached along with other men.
    He was initially told he had to move to this wing because of a conflict of interest with a warden manager over a peaceful protest!


    1. You do indeed have need to be concerned about human rights being breached within the OCF.
      The internal politics, procedures not being followed, meds not being administered, concerns for inmates health not being followed up, the list goes on. I was very involved within the inquest process regarding my brother, making many comments, asking many questions, and making submissions throughout the process. We were appauled and greatly saddened with how Richard had been treated, and remain concerned for other prisoners welfare within the OCF.


      1. Susan,
        My son told me about the tragic situation with your brother Richard, I was aware of it happening at the time of his death. Please accept my condolences at your sad loss.
        I think it is disgraceful that it has taken this long for it to be exposed and whats more I think it is disgraceful that although criticism has taken place by the Coroner, this doesn’t mean it won’t happen again or that anything productive will be implemented as a result of it.
        The prison system in New Zealand continues to breach human rights daily, under everyone’s nose, in their own back yard and the only people that are able to stop it have their heads buried in the sand and largely ignore it.

        Anne Tolley should be working alongside Roger Brooking to implement the radical changes required to improve, prevent and assist. Instead of which she refused to sit next to Roger in their recent interview on Close Up. This body language sums it up in a nutshell. The government does not want to make changes, it wants to continue to allow the system to breach human rights, do little to improve recidivism, do little to implement immediate changes regarding the compulsory needs of prisoners receiving immediate drug and alcohol counselling which should be inside the prison and outside in the community. The denial of the government to accept responsibility and improve the system with the guidance and advise of people able to improve the system says little for their credibility.

        Your brother was and is not alone in that people with mental health issues are locked up in prison when they should be detained in a mental health clinic or hospital, they should receive care by medically trained staff equipped to deal with mental health issues. The reason this doesn’t happen is down to the lack of dollars, it is cheaper to put an offender into prison than into a mental health hospital.
        I hope you continue to fight the system on your brothers behalf and for all the others that are still having to endure this ongoing draconian plight.
        I am about to write to the Ombudsman and Human Rights Commission.


        1. Unfortunatly there has been another death within the OCF, a few months after Richard comitted suicide. And yes, the coroner criticised the OCF for their lack of care, but made no recommendations. This maybe because the legislation for the prison to follow is already in place, individuals do not follow it. If Richard had been given his meds, and two concerns regarding his mental and physical vulnerability had been followed up, Richard would probably still be alive. The inquest does not look for guilt or blame. However in my view there should be someone that does. Not many people care about the rights of prisoners. Yes, I will be following up with letters to MPs, Tolley, the ombudsmen etc etc, advocating for change within the prison systems. What happened is a travesty of justice. Richard, as do other prisoners deserve better. I hope that within the OCF procedures are now being followed, but fear not. They appear to be accountable to no-one.


    2. Nothing has changed at OCF hey are still mentally abusing the prison inmates with prolong lock downs and bashing’s in the punishment wing …… the public needs to be aware of the dangers in our prison system


      1. Although 2 inquests have been held into unnatural deaths that have happened at OCF, staff have not been held accountable. Until this happens deaths in prisons will continue to happen. This is why it is so important that if individuals have information on Human Right breaches and bad practice within New Zealand prisons, they need to speak out. Nothing will change otherwise.


  2. What I do not understand is if the Ombudsman and the Human Rights commission are aware of these breaches along with the Parole board Judges, why isn’t there any recourse. Surely if the government is condoning these inhumane acts then they need to be accountable and intervene to prevent it. The government is accountable to whom? it seems the Department Of Corrections is a law unto itself with Anne Tolley, John Key and Bill English in collusion with this unacceptable situation.
    I would also emphasise that my son has issues and has seriously misbehaved along with every other offender in prison. He has also fought back he is defiant regarding the system and injustices he and others encounter daily, and he has had conflict with a wardens. He isn’t an angel but he is a human being worthy of being helped and treated with respect and humanity. So much more would be gained from positive, respectful treatment of prisoners if Correction did their job correctly.
    Last year we bought my son a guitar to give him some respite from the boredom. A month or so later his cell was searched and his guitar damaged by a warden, he filled in a complaint form and had it taken away from him and hasn’t seen it since! This is the type of petty unreasonable behaviour prisoners are expected to learn from. After he complained again he was then told he was disagreeable and complained too much!
    His report states he is difficult because he was impolite to the probation officer visiting him, because he is deemed difficult and raises objections he is punished. He is also punished because he will not be allowed parole, this is for two reasons: In order to be recommended for parole you have to behave, if you behave you may or may not get some counselling! if you do not behave you will not be eligible for either counselling or parole because in order to get parole you must have completed a program and deemed a good prisoner!
    This type of corrective treatment seems to make no sense or logic. If Corrections wants to correct it needs to work on correcting as a priority.Not focus on punishment, provocation and denial of human rights. If it wants good behaviour and to do what it states on it’s website it needs rehabilitate.It has to give guidance, education and activity to everyone not the favoured few. It doesn’t require much common sense to work out that offenders need to be helped in order to behave and prevent re offending.
    Prisoners do not have a voice in New Zealand, nobody speaks up for their rights and the only people that help them are volunteers some of whom have had children that have offended. Prisoners have rights that are largely ignored. Injuries and assaults ignored and all the other internal politics goes largely unheard. They are expected to suffer in silence because they are condemned by a society that believes they deserve this treatment.


  3. ‘Why isn’t there any recourse’ or why doesn’t someone do something about it is a good question.

    My view is that its because each event is treated as an isolated incident. Until someone draws a line between the dots and until there is some public outrage at a recurring pattern of abuse – no one seems to care what happens to any one individual in prison.


  4. Hi Denis,
    Your comments are completely plausible and the Herald article highlights again the failure of the government and previous governments to act on the insidious perpetrators of child abuse, rape and torture. It’s not really surprising these victims often end up in prison.
    This abuse is often swept under the carpet and perpetrators get away with their evil acts which is quite disgusting and shameful that a government again fails to do little to rectify and cough up necessary funding to help prevent, protect and assist victims.
    The anger, outrage and fear a child must feel that is subjected to this is incomprehensible. I think you are very brave Denis and very kind to be so loyal and supportive of your friend or relative that has suffered such chronic abuse, he was a victim too and it is very sad nobody wants to allow him to move on.
    Another interesting and valid point is this article I find it quite refreshing that the defense barrister Peter Nee Harland has had the balls to speak up on behalf of Lachlan’s family and speak out against the manner in which this case has been handled by the police, the actions of the policeman who fired the shots, he raised some very valid points. Lachan Kelly-Tumarae was an impetuous, irrational youth and whatever stupid behaviour he embarked upon did not warrant in him being shot to death with possibly over 14 rounds of ammunition.
    This is not policing it was an execution! He did not deserve to die and as Peter Nee Harland states a shot to wound and incapacitate could easily have taken place. For all they knew he could have been carrying a toy gun or bb gun. It was a deliberate and intentional execution a young man still a teenager.
    It seems the failure of the government to provide resources and act on resolutions for shocking crimes, evil misdeeds even with statistics and facts stated clearly by, academics, leading authorities, lawyers, judges and the ombudsmen. This situation is so serious the government needs to be held accountable. So who are they accountable to? it seems that they are accountable only to themselves.


  5. This is unusually a positive example of media coverage, however the ongoing backlash and the failure of Corrections to admit that their misconduct is what requires correcting is evidently and blatantly lacking, no wonder they are closed mouthed about this situation which is still ongoing and still holding men in the punishment (management wing). It is OCF that needs to be held accountable to a hearing not the prisoners involved. It is also OCF guards that should be educated about how to treat prisoners humanely and with respect.
    Waving a red rag to a bull, incitement, goading and provocation towards volatile, bored senseless males is totally unacceptable.It is totally understandable that when men are placed in a situation that is intolerable they will react accordingly. If an animal is cornered in a confined space he reacts adversely, much the same as human beings:

    ODT article October 2011
    Prisoner protest leads to lockdown

    A power outage which cut television and heating for some prisoners sparked a seven-hour protest and resulted in the Otago Corrections Facility being locked down on Saturday.

    The Milburn-based prison was locked down at 10.30am when five prisoners staged a protest after power was cut to their unit, Prison Manager Reti Pierce said.

    The five prisoners took part in the “passive protest” in the central yard of their accommodation unit, while other prisoners were securely detained, he said.

    The Department of Corrections was tight-lipped over the reason for the protest.

    However, the Otago Daily Times understands the prisoners were unhappy over having no heating or television to watch.

    The $218 million prison attracted criticism when it opened in 2007 for its underfloor heating and each wing having a flat-screen television.

    Each prisoner is also allowed his own television set in his cell, subject to approval.

    Mr Pierce said the protest was resolved at 6pm.

    Prisoners were securely contained throughout, there was no risk to public safety and no-one was hurt.

    Other parts of the prison were unaffected by the power outage, which happens from “time to time”, he said.

    Mr Pierce confirmed it was the first such protest of its type at the facility, and it was standard practice to lock down a facility and keep prisoners in their cells during such an incident.

    The incident would be investigated and prisoners involved were likely to face an internal misconduct hearing and possibly disciplinary action.

    The Otago Corrections Facility accommodates up to 485 low to high-medium security men.


  6. Who cares what Garth Mcvicar thinks about justice. Has he visited a police cell or prison cell and spent a holiday there and sampled the noodles or daily diet. He is one person with a lot of hard nosed opinions that count for contributing to a lot of peoples despair.Why would the media even ask him to comment on the detainee being fed noodles, what does he know about prisons except to think they should be home to everyone forever if they misbehave. His interest in justice seems quite twisted and his lack of empathy non existent.
    In a population of over 4 million that has 9000 prisoners inside prisons, plus numerous people being held in police stations each day of the year with the police locking up more and more people of course their food bill must be huge. The fact is though it doesn’t need to be because half or more offenders that are detained and locked up should not be there. Let half of them out it will reduce the food bill! that solves the problem.
    Not only would the food and cost to the tax payer be halved there would be funds available for the help prisoners need with rehab and counseling, plus extra over to feed them an adequate, nutritious diet.
    Perhaps if the policeman commenting in that article considered this when making needless arrests and all policeman along with Judith Collins, Anne Tolley and the government took note of this fact then all police and prisons concerned with the tax payers paying to feed offenders would be eased.
    Prisoners are fed the barest minimum my son has lost 5 kilos since being half starved in OCF, he has to buy over priced snacks which do not fill him up because they only offer unhealthy options.Lucky he has parents to help him out with snack money. What about the people who have nothing and can’t afford to buy the over priced snacks which are still inadequate.
    He is growing taller, plus he exercises to relieve the boredom of being locked in a cell which measures 8 feet by 6 feet 24 hours a day, which makes his body requirements needy of more food to supplement his growth and development along with extra calorie requirement for exercising!
    The diet allowance is a pittance and mostly prisoners are malnourished, under fed and half starved. Noodles are empty carbs that do not offer any nutrition so to offer them as meal is inadequate and unacceptable.Lets see how long Garth manages to survive under those conditions.
    Locking up prisoners isn’t an excuse to starve, denial of food is not a punishment there is nothing just or acceptable about starvation, it is a torture and amounts to abuse.


    1. The problems are with the big picture. Garth is one individual who has hard nosed policies which the media seem to recognise. He is not any different to many people in New Zealand and around the world in his hard line views on dealing with crime and punishment.Unless people are directly affected by crime or have knowledge as academics or authorities, many people don’t understand the complexities of crime and punishment.It is not black and white it is complex, so to believe that prison and punishment is a one size fits all is wrong.

      Try not to focus on his and do what you can do to change the big picture, we all know Garth is misguided but he believes he is a voice for victims of crime and really cannot see beyond that. Try to focus on helping others understand the wrong, misguided attitudes that are happening. There will always be underlying reasons. I know it’s hard you care about someone or feel injustice has been done it makes because you feel resentment and anger that people don’t understand your point of view.
      I just read an interesting article in The New Scientist about forensic evidence about a man in North Carolina who was sentenced to life for the murder of a prostitute and spent 17 years in prison. He hadn’t commented the crime but the original police report and sample of blood they convicted him with turned out not to be blood at all! But it gets worse three other men that received the death sentence were also convicted with incorrect forensic evidence! Apparently the police control the forensic labs and put pressure on labs for results and want them too quickly so they are often incorrect, they have also found that the police manipulate the results and withhold any further results that show there are doubts over any issues, so they will allow the use in evidence of any results that work in their favour for a conviction.

      Lets be grateful New Zealand does not impose the death sentence.


  7. It is 2 years and 2 months since my brother Richard died while on remand in Otago Corrections Facility. It is 14 months since the Coroner released his findings. The Coroner was scathing of the way the OCF was run at the time of my brothers death.
    I wonder what has changed. The ‘cynical me’ says “nothing”.
    That procedures are still not being followed.
    Power and control will still play a large part in which prisoners are given there prescribed medications or denied them.
    Concerns from family regarding health of an inmate are not being listened too, or taken seriously. I still believe if my phone call had been listened to and acted on Richard could still be alive.
    I wrote to Ann Tolley asking for some accountability, and asking what has since changed to ensure another suicide does not happen.
    The letter I got back was laughable, I was told staff do follow procedures, I had not phoned as there was no record of it. I was being called a liar.
    This is an insult to me but more importantly it shows no respect and total disregard towards the Coroners findings. The Coroner was very clear in is findings that two concerns had been raised regarding Richards physical and mental health, and neither were recorded or acted on.

    I have been fortunate enough to meet another prisoner who was also on remand when Richard died. He was very sincere, and very sorry and saddened by Richards death. He managed to fill in ‘gaps’ in my knowledge of how OCF functions on a daily basis. He also told me he was concerned about prescribed medications not being given to remand inmates, and how inmates are ‘treated’ in the ‘at risk cells’.
    A few months ago a nurse from the OCF phoned me, she also was very saddened by deaths at OCF. She was also concerned more deaths would occur due to the way the prison was run, and that much needed prescribed medications were not being given to inmates.

    I feel as if I have been hitting my head against a brick wall for the past two years, yes, in a very sad way, it was good the Coroner had found negligence with the way Richard was looked after and treated while in OCF, but how do I know this kind of negligence is not still occurring?
    That when family phone with concerns about an inmate, it is ‘looked’ into, followed up? Where is the accountability?
    Very few care… “oh well , it was suicide after all, and he was just a prisoner anyway.”

    As a society we need to demand better.


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