Nurse suspended on full pay for 18 weeks for giving a prisoner Raro

Emily Wilson has been a nurse for 30 years. In 2009 she took a job at a prison – in the health unit at Otago Corrections Facility (OCF).    She described a litany of unethical and disrespectful behaviour by certain nurses at the OCF that went on in the two years she was there.

The green chit strategy

According to Nurse Wilson, some nurses at OCF went out of their way to make life difficult for prisoners.  One strategy involved green chits. When prisoners want to see a doctor, they have to fill in a green form – known as a chit. They describe their health problem on the chit and place it in a box. Each morning officers give the chits to the nurse on duty – bearing in mind, nurses are the gatekeepers to the doctor. If the nurse on duty didn’t like a particular prisoner, she would rip up his chit and throw it in the bin. He wouldn’t get to see the doctor – no matter how serious his health problem was.

Sometimes this nearly had fatal consequences.  Wilson described one prisoner at OCF who got really sick and had acute stomach pain.  He filled in the chits four days in a row. The nurses ignored him and told him to ‘toughen up’.   His condition deteriorated to the point that eventually the prison officers became concerned.  Because the nurses wouldn’t help, the officers carried the prisoner over to the health centre in a golf cart. That got the prison doctor’s attention; he called 111 immediately and the man had to be taken to hospital where he was found to have a burst appendix and septicaemia (blood poisoning). He survived – but only just – and only because untrained prison officers realised it was a life threatening situation. If it had been left up to the nurses, he would have died.

Denial of medication strategy

Another strategy used to inflict pain on prisoners is to deny them access to prescribed pain medication.  This strategy was used with fatal consequences on one prisoner who committed suicide in Otago prison in 2010.  While in the community, Richard Barriball needed three operations on his arm and, after the third, was still in severe pain.  He was prescribed four different pain killers by hospital specialists; two were opiates and another was a benzodiazepine – all three of which are addictive.  However, the Corrections Department discourages prison doctors from prescribing medications which are addictive.  So when Barriball was  remanded in prison on minor offending, he was taken off all three within a few days.

In pain and  withdrawal, he hung himself a few days later.  In his report into his death, the coroner wrote: “The causes of the death and the circumstances of the death of Richard Barriball have shown suboptimal care by OCF… (including) the failure of OCF to provide delivery of prescribed pain relief …”

Suspended over Raro

Nurse Wilson was appalled at the way Barriball was treated.  On one occasion when she showed compassion to another prisoner, they used the incident to suspend her.  Wilson had only been at the prison a few months when an alcoholic man was brought in. He was suffering from dehydration and withdrawal symptoms and was so disoriented, he was placed in the at risk unit to detox. The prisoner was so confused, he started drinking out of the toilet. Wilson spoke with the two officers on duty and the three of them decided to get him some clean drinking water.  One of the officers washed out a milk container and filled it with water and then Wilson poured half a sachet of Raro into it.

They went back to the prisoner, gave him some valium (used to assist alcoholics detox) with the Raro flavoured water and he ‘skulled it’. A few days later, Wilson was called into the health manager’s office and told to pack her things immediately. She was suspended for giving the prisoner Raro (which was not an approved item for prisoners) and was off work on full pay for the next 18 weeks.  The Department conducted an extensive investigation into this apparent breach of policy which ran to 238 pages. It concluded that Wilson had breached section 141 of the Corrections Act 2004 which says “every person commits an offence who…  delivers anything, or causes it to be delivered, to any prisoner inside a prison”.  Corrections management twisted this regulation to include Raro flavoured water given to assist a dehydrated prisoner to stop him drinking out of the toilet.

A couple of days after Wilson was suspended, the prisoner had to be taken to hospital – suffering from severe dehydration.  It seems Corrections aren’t keen on showing kindness to inmates.  They prefer to wait till it’s an emergency and then call an ambulance (at taxpayer’s expense), rather than break the Raro rules.

9 thoughts on “Nurse suspended on full pay for 18 weeks for giving a prisoner Raro

  1. typical the way management twist things to suit them selves this type of bullshit goes on all the time and the call it rehabilitation a dog in the local pound would be treated better, officials in oyr prison system need the arses kicked


    1. Hi Peter… please see the ‘other Peters’ comments above. At Richards inquest Peter made the comment ” That if the OCF was a dog pound it would be closed down”.
      Both Peter and I are still trying to kick arse….


  2. It sounds as if a thorough investigation of the health care at the Otago Prison is long overdue; who might be interested do you think? Does the health & disability commissioner’s office know about this?


  3. Thank you Nurse Wilson. Thank you for ‘speaking out’ about the way prisoners are treated within Otago Correctional facility, especially their health needs being ignored.
    My brother Richard Barriball was on remand and had been in the care of OCF for 1 week when he committed suicide. He had a serious injury to his arm, which had required 3 recent operations. As a result he suffered constant nerve pain and had little movement/use of his arm and hand.
    When ‘admitted’ too OCF he was still in considerable pain and Tramadol was denied. According to the prison file Tramadol was reinstated when Richard spoke with a Dr and complained he was in considerable pain and Tramadol had been more effective in managing his pain. This was 2 days before his death. However this medication was then not given to him on at least 2 occasions. It states in his prison file “Meds not given due to staff shortages”.
    Other pain medications had also been prescribed by specialists at the hospital, and had also been denied to Richard during his week in OCF.
    As a family we were sure there was a lot of ‘cover up’ within the prison after Richard died. We strongly believe he would not have committed suicide if he had been given appropriate pain medications.
    So agai, Thank you Nurse Wilson, and Roger for advocating for prisoners, and speaking out about the injustices prisoners face.
    I hope beyond hope that somehow things will change for prisoners, that they are treated with humanity and dignity, and their human rights are upheld.


    1. PLEASE get in touch with the Health & Disability Commissioner’s office about this; I know it is possible to make a 3rd party complaint, cos I’ve done it….otherwise, they’ll never know & things won’t change. The H&DC can make a huge difference.


      1. Thanks for your reply Tricia. I will follow this up. If I am able to make a 3rd party formal complaint I will. Cheers.


  4. The very comment I made at Rick’s inquest.
    I have just written to Jack Harrison, Jeanette Burns, Ray Smith, and Anne Tolley seeking answers to some questions not answered at Rick’s inquest, I also sent a copy of the questions to the ODT as they reported on Rick’s inquest, and have just done a glowing article on “the Milton Hilton”, and suggested they check out this site for the other side of prison life


  5. Thank god this nurse has spoken out about the appalling behaviour that is going on at OCF, why is it being allowed, who is governing this place?? Is the Nursing Council and Health and Disability aware what is going on in this place?. What has happened to this nurse, I bet she will never recommend any other decent and honest and professional nurse to ever work for the Department of Corrections. How do the Managers of these places sleep at night because if they are allowing this behaviour they are equally to blame for the disgusting practice shown by these so called nurses.


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