The Dominion Post has just reported the outcome of the coroner’s inquiry into the suicide of Kerry Joll. Under the headline “Prison death ‘tragic loss of life” the DomPost reveals he was found dead in his cell three months after being sent to prison for drink driving. Sure it’s tragic – but the headline should have read: “Corrections department says saving prisoners lives is not worth the benefits”. This in effect is what the Department said in response to a report from the coroner that the Corrections Department should make more effort to assist suicidal prisoners.
Here’s what happened. Kerry Joll had a serious alcohol and drug problem. In 2011 he was sentenced to 14 months in prison for drink driving – his 10th conviction. Every prisoner has a brief health assessment on admission. When Joll was interviewed by prison nurses, he told them he was taking antidepressants, and that he had hepatitis C – a disease frequently associated with the use of dirty needles. Three weeks after he was sentenced, he stopped taking his antidepressants. No one seems to know why. Two months later he hung himself. The coroner said he left a note indicating he was “having difficulty dealing with his depression and was unhappy that the Corrections Department did not appear to take seriously his complaint about very loud music being played from the next door cell”.
The Corrections Department absolved itself of any responsibility for his death by claiming that when Mr Joll underwent his health assessment, he failed to reveal that he had made at least two previous attempts at suicide. But they then acknowledged that this information was already on his file but nobody in the prison medical team bothered to look at it – and the IT system used by Corrections does not bring up a red flag indicating when a prisoner is a potential suicide risk.
Not worth the benefits
The coroner appears to have recommended that the Department upgrade its IT system so that vulnerable prisoners are ‘red flagged’. That might help, but management at Corrections don’t give a tuppeny stuff. Their written response to the coroner was: “Improving our current information systems is regarded as not worth the benefits it would bring because of cost, complexity and proportionately few incidents it would benefit.”
Really? The suicide rate in New Zealand prisons is 11 times higher than the suicide rate in the community. Twelve prisoners committed suicide in 2011 – double the figure for the previous year. The rate of failed suicide attempts was almost double the number which actually succeeded. Twelve dead prisoners a year are not worth the benefit?
How can a Government Department get away with a cavalier attitude like that? Look at the fuss which goes on when Government Departments inadvertently release confidential information to the public – even though nobody dies. Look at the fuss that went on when the police broke the law to arrest Kim Dotcom – even though nobody died. Look at the fuss the Department made when Jason Palmer became the first prison officer to die in New Zealand. The media were all over these stories – and so were the politicians.
But when 12 prisoners a year commit suicide – no fuss at all. No media interest. No political interest. Not even much interest from the Coroner. Certainly no interest from Corrections – definitely not worth the benefit of ‘improving our information systems’. Life is cheap in New Zealand prisons.
7 thoughts on “Life is cheap in New Zealand prisons – the suicide of Kerry Joll”
Keep up the good work Roger!
Another excellent piece Roger. Please keep writing..
Wow! That’s really scary when 12 lives don’t matter.
Disgusting. Someone should be made accountable. Who was on watch that day? Surely that should be a K P I at Salary Review time – I hope all the suicides were not under the same guards watch.
It is sad that in New Zealand the opportunity is not taken to make positive changes in the lives of offenders. While not all offenders can be rehabilitated – many can and there are many long term savings to be made – financially and in emotional cost.
Thank you for writing this Roger. Kerry would have wanted this written.
New Zealand is backward when it comes to monitoring what goes on in prisons and youth offender instituitions. This also includes probation and other services paid for and run by Corrections.
The United Kingdom has got it right. There are up to 20 organisations who contribute to monitoring prisons one of which is H.M.Prison inspectorate. The Inspectorate publishes the results of its unannounced and announced inspections. Areas like segregation and punishment are given careful scrutiny. Prison condition issues are identified, remedied or at least acknowledged. Corrections are not left to their own devices to monitor themselves.
New Zeland NEED TO SEE ANNUALLY WHAT NZ PRISON INSPECTORS ARE DOING (OR NOT DOING). At the moment there is little published info about what they are doing. I believe Corrections staff are routinely getting away with murder, bullying, dishonesty and an appalling Inspectorate seems more like a offshoot of the Prison Officers staff association, protecting members interests rather than an independent genuine monitoring organisation. ITS TIME THE NZ CORRECTIONS DODGY PRISON INSPECTORS ARE EXPOSED AS CORRUPT SELF SERVING CRIMINALS WHO FEEL JUSTIFIED IN DENYING HUMAN RIGHTS TO PRISONERS !!