The IPCA – police watch dog is a real puppy

The Independent Police Conduct Authority (generally known as the IPCA) has just released a comprehensive report on police deaths in custody. There were 27 deaths in the last ten years – ten of which were suicides.  Seven deaths occurred when police were overly vigorous in the use of restraint. Another seven were “caused by the detainees medical condition” (which got dramatically worse in police custody), and three deaths were drug related (because police failed to ascertain the detainees were even on drugs). But of the 27 deaths, the IPCA claims that only four involved serious neglect of duty or breaches of policy by police. Really?

On top of deaths in custody, the police shot and killed seven people in the last ten years.  One was an innocent bystander, another two were not even carrying firearms. It seems they were killed for acts of vandalism and behaving in a threatening manner. The police were exonerated in all seven cases. Really!

Then there are the people who die in the course of police car chases.  During the five years starting in December 2003, 24 people died and 91 received serious injuries in police pursuits.  Over this period, the IPCA made numerous recommendations to change police protocols which made no difference at all – the death rate shot up even higher. In 2010, 18 drivers  fleeing police were killed.  In 2011, 15 drivers died in the course of police pursuits.

These figures don’t seem to take into account innocent bystanders or other drivers killed by these drivers which makes it hard to get accurate figures of the total numbers killed. But it seems to average out at about seven or eight deaths a year, although the numbers have escalated dramatically in the last two years.

Total number of police related deaths

This would suggest that altogether police have been involved in the deaths of about 100 people in the last ten years – 70 of them on the road.  The number of injuries appears to be ten times that figure.  A few police were told off, but apparently not one was charged with a criminal offence.  Yes – really! Imagine would happen if the shoe was on the other foot. What if the police investigated 100 deaths but failed to prosecute even one offender? There would be a commission of inquiry and heads would roll.

Many would argue that the police are just doing their job. Even the IPCA believes these deaths are justified. For instance, in its report into the deaths of Norman Fitt and Deidre Jordan following a police pursuit, the IPCA found:  “The Police pursuit of a driver who killed two other motorists in Christchurch in August 2010 was justified and was conducted according to law and policy.”  What that seems to mean is that when the police do their job, 100 dead bodies is just collateral damage.

The police certainly seem to think so. Police Association president Greg O’Connor even says police should be exempt from laws which apply to everyone else. Senior police management seem to agree. In an internal review of police pursuits in 2010, the police concluded:  “There is insufficient evidence to support the banning of pursuits. (Banning pursuits) is not likely to improve or guarantee public safety.” This shows a truly remarkable lack of insight. If police did not pursue these alleged offenders, approximately 70 people killed on the road in the last ten years would still be alive. That would be a huge contribution to public safety.

Which crimes justify dying? 

This begs the question: what criminal offences committed by these drivers actually justify police action which leads to someone’s death – especially the deaths of innocent bystanders? Afterall, many if not most, police pursuits begin over fairly trivial offences – or simply when police try to pull someone over to ascertain if an offence has even occurred.  Psychologist, Peter Coleman, an expert in youth offending, says teenage drivers who refuse to stop for police are often just addicted to the adrenaline rush. But if the offender flees, the police then pursue them out some macho need to be in control of the situation – all justified in the name of law and order.

IPCA inquiries which legitimise the policy of pursuit over minor infractions of the law simply add to the number of New Zealanders who get killed. In other words, the principle of law and order has become more important than life itself and agencies of the state actively sanction this slaughter.  What the IPCA should be doing is questioning the entire policy of pursuit and holding the police accountable. Now let’s get back to their report on deaths in police custody.

Failure of police to assess risk

The report is highly critical of the way police assess the detainees’ risk of suicide or risk of death – from medical complications exacerbated by alcohol and drugs or from overly vigorous restraint by police.   It says 55% of those who died were assessed by police as being at ‘no risk’. Another 30% were ‘not formally assessed’ at all. In other words, when it comes to assessing medical and suicide risk of vulnerable detainees, the police haven’t got a clue.  But that’s not surprising; they’re not health professionals. But nurses are – and the IPCA recommends that the Police work with the Ministry of Health “towards extending the watchhouse nurse programme so that custody staff nationwide have better access to medical advice for detainees.”   What the IPCA is suggesting is that we need to put nurses into every police station in the country.

Unfortunately, there are 19 other recommendations in the report and the IPCA has not prioritised any one recommendation over another.  And the recommendation for more nurses is contradicted by another recommendation which says that “detainees who are unconscious or semi-conscious, unable to answer the risk assessment questions, and/or physically unable to look after themselves, must be taken to hospital.”  The problem is the police don’t seem to know which detainees need to go to hospital.

The watchdog is a puppy

Let’s not forget that prisoners managed by the Corrections Department also have limited access to health care.  Despite years of inquiries and recommendations by the coroner into (Corrections) prison deaths, the suicide rate is still going up. In 2011, the suicide rate in Corrections prisons was eleven times higher than the rate in the community.  Prisoners keep dying no matter what coronial inquiries or the IPCA recommend.  Perhaps that’s because they have the power to recommend – but not the power to prosecute.  The IPCA is supposed to be a watchdog. Turns out to be more of a puppy – and very eager to please.

Prison protesters – all they need is a decent meal

A couple of prisoners at Paremoremo have just come down from a tower in the yard after a ‘peaceful protest against the Department’ – according to the message they apparently wrote with toothpaste on a black board.  One of them was well known, Aaron Forden, aka ‘Houdini’ for his previous escapes. According to Peter Williams QC, who the prisoners wanted to contact, they were complaining about inhumane conditions and inadequate food.

This doesn’t make any sense.  Prisoners live a life of luxury, don’t they, with underfloor heating, flatscreen TV, and three square meals a day. They don’t have to work or attend rehabilitation programmes – just sit around chatting with their mates planning what crimes to commit when they get out.  Well that’s the stereotype.

The reality is something else entirely.  In 2009 a report  on Paremoremo described conditions at the prison as ‘putrid’ and found shortages of guards, lax security, and poor hygiene.  The Ombudsman has also documented inadequate health and dental treatment of prisoners, including the denial of pain medication and pointed to breaches of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.

UN Minimum Standards for food

But let’s talk about the food. Article 20 of the UN Minimum Rules says “every prisoner shall be provided … with food of nutritional value adequate for health and strength, of wholesome quality… and drinking water shall be available to every prisoner whenever he needs it.”

The notion that prisoners get three square meals a day is a myth. Most inmates seem to think the food is barely fit for pigs – which is not surprising considering the Department spends only $4.50 a day on food for each prisoner.   That’s $31.50 a week. That might have been a realistic figure 30 years ago but today it would barely buy bread for a week let alone three square meals a day.

Prisoner complaints about food

Prisoners frequently complain about the quality of the food. Last year one prisoner wrote to chief executive Ray Smith claiming that that prison food was ”high-salt, high-fat, high-sugar rubbish” and the meals were often inedible. The Ombudsman reported recently that “Prisoners continue to complain that the national menus implemented by the Department do not consider the specific health needs of prisoners, especially diabetics.”

Former Corrections Minister Judith Collins responded to these concerns with this churlish comment: “Stay out of jail if you don’t like the food.” The police seem equally uninterested in providing a healthy diet for prisoners.  The Wairarapa Times recently reported that a young man who spent a weekend in the police cells was given nothing but noodles and cold water.

The link between diet and violence

Prisoners tend to have poor health and nutritious food is important. Recent research in the US suggests that the modern diet may be a factor contributing to violent behaviour in Western society.    The study investigated the effects of omega-3 fatty acid supplements and hypothesises that modern industrialised diets may be changing the very architecture and functioning of the brain. It suggests the influence of poor diet is such that individuals may not always be responsible for their aggression – bringing into question the very foundations of criminal justice and the notion of culpability

Another study at Aylesbury prison in the UK raised prisoners’ intake of nutrients up to the level recommended by government guidelines.  It was a placebo-controlled double blind randomised trial. The researchers found 231 volunteer prisoners and assigned half to a regime of supplements and half to placebos. It showed that when young men there were fed multivitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids, the number of violent offences they committed in prison fell by 37%.  The prisoners taking the placebos showed no change in their behaviour.

A Dutch research team repeated the experiment and released this report “Effects of Nutritional Supplementation on Aggression, Rule-Breaking, and Psychopathology among Young Adult Prisoners.” The researchers urged caution in interpreting the results but said: “The prospect of influencing aggression and rule-breaking behaviour with nutrients in moderate doses is important enough to warrant further research. This is particularly true as adequate supplementation may also have beneficial effects on mental health and cognitive functioning.”

Although these studies do not suggest that poor diet alone can account for complex social problems, the former chief inspector of prisons Lord Ramsbotham says that he is now “absolutely convinced that there is a direct link between diet and antisocial behaviour, both that bad diet causes bad behaviour and that good diet prevents it.”

Violence in New Zealand prisons

It’s not entirely clear if the two prisoners who protested at Paremoremo were complaining about the food.  But one thing is certain – violence in New Zealand prisons is on the rise.  In 2011, 241 prison staff were assaulted and 862 prisoners were assaulted by other inmates. In May 2010,  Jason Palmer, became the first officer to be killed in a New Zealand prison after he was punched by an inmate. Surely it wouldn’t do any harm to give prisoners decent food with adequate vitamins and minerals. It might even help reduce the number of assaults. It would certainly add to our reputation as a civilised country – instead of one that breaches basic human rights.

Officers look up prisoner’s anus – 84 times in three weeks.

Kim Dotcom recently spent a month on remand in Mt Eden prison after the Solicitor General bowed to pressure to have him extradited to the United States.   The police took away his cars and froze his bank accounts.  In prison, Corrections took away his blankets and deprived him of sleep – they woke him up every two hours. Dotcom said he was treated like a convicted criminal – as if depriving convicted criminals of sleep was a legitimate practice.

Sleep deprivation cells

It’s not legitimate. Sleep deprivation was declared illegal under Article 3 of the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. New Zealand signed the convention in 1985.  Then there’s Section 5 of the Corrections Act (2004) which requires the Department to ensure prisons 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.”   Rule 31 states:  “All cruel, inhuman or degrading punishments shall be completely prohibited.”

The management of Corrections just ignore all this – sleep deprivation is a deliberate and daily practice in New Zealand prisons. What’s worse, it’s reserved primarily for those who are least able to cope with it – prisoners who are suicidal and psychologically vulnerable. The Corrections Department even has special cells for suicidal prisoners with camera surveillance 24/7 so the prisoner can be observed at all times – including on the toilet.  Anything the prisoner might use to commit suicide is taken away; they’re not allowed underwear, clothes, sheets or blankets – in case they rip them up to use as a rope.  All they get to wear is a canvas tunic. It’s so tough it can’t be ripped – and it’s very uncomfortable.

Throughout the night, the lights come on automatically every 30 minutes, so staff can see if the prisoner is doing anything – other than sleeping.  Euphemistically, the Department calls these ‘At Risk’ cells. In reality, they’re Sleep Deprivation cells and Corrections has 160 of them.

The naked squat

Sleep deprivation is not the only breach of UN Rule 31.  Another is ‘the naked squat’. I heard about this from a prisoner who spent a weekend in these so-called ‘At Risk’ cells. Immediately after being sentenced, he was taken to the Receiving Office at Rimutaka prison. There he was told to strip naked in front of four officers, and crouch down so the cheeks of his bum spread apart. Two officers got down and looked up his anus – to see whether he had a cell phone, drugs or other contraband hidden up there. Then he had to stand and hold up his penis and scrotum so they could see if he was hiding anything under his genitals. Finally they looked under his armpits and into his mouth.

After this inspection, the prisoner was asked: “How are you feeling?”  He replied: “A bit delicate.” That was enough to warrant a trip to the ‘At Risk’ cells.  Two officers escort him, and hand him over to another set of officers – who tell him to strip off once again. He protests – somewhat timidly – saying he’s just been searched five minutes ago. But it’s in the rules. All prisoners being admitted to the At Risk/Sleep Deprivation cells have to be searched.  So once again, he strips off and does ‘the naked squat’ while more officers eagerly examine every orifice.

In the morning, he’s taken to the shower block – where pretty much everything he does can be observed. Once he’s brought back to his cell, he has to do the squat again.  Then he’s taken to a different cell to have breakfast. He asks why? No one seems to know. After breakfast, he’s brought back and once again, the officers examine his anus and genitals. The same thing happens after lunch and after dinner. He’s required to perform ‘the naked squat’ every time he comes back to his cell. Why? Because he’s a prisoner, a species less than human, and it’s in the rules. In the course of one weekend, he had to spread his cheeks 11 times.

Another extremely vulnerable prisoner was kept in these Sleep Deprivation cells for three weeks. Imagine that – anxious and suicidal, nothing to do, no TV, no distractions for three weeks on end – except the lights turning on and off all night; and nothing to look forward to except the intense embarrassment of performing the naked squat in front of prison officers who want to examine every orifice four times a day. Don’t forget, this is all happening in a secure environment where the prisoner has no contact with the outside world – where it is simply not possible to find anything to put up your arse, except perhaps a piece of soap from the shower.  But why would you want to do that? This prisoner endured this indignity four times a day for three weeks – that’s 84 times. How degrading is that?

Anal analysis

The ideal treatment for depressed or suicidal patients would generally include emotional support, counselling and/or antidepressant medication. For such patients, getting a good night’s sleep is paramount.  Treatment should focus on improving the prisoner’s state of mind.

But the prisoner is not really human. He’s barely an animal, so the treatment is focused on his anus – and keeping him awake for days on end. This is an appalling abuse of power – and a breach of the Corrections Act and United Nations Conventions.  Dotcom was right. He was tortured. When this sort of abuse happens in other countries, Amnesty International and a few academics are quick to point out the perpetrators. Meanwhile, the abuse of sleep deprived prisoners in New Zealand has been going on for years.  The Corrections Department is obsessed with this anal analysis  – unfortunately, the rest of us don’t seem to give a shit.

Roger Brooking

Author of Flying Blind – How the justice system perpetuates crime and the Corrections Department fails to correct

Drinking too much water to be an offence

A Bill has just passed its first reading in the New Zealand Parliament which will enable prisoners to be charged with an offence for drinking too much water.  Corrections Minister Anne Tolley said:  “The Bill will make it an offence for a prisoner to ‘waterload’ prior to a drug test. This means that a prisoner can be disciplined if they are found to be attempting to dilute their urine sample by intentionally drinking large amounts of water prior to being tested.”

This is nonsense – prisoners don’t know when they’ll be tested. The drug tests are generally random so it’s virtually impossible to ‘intentionally’ drink large amounts of water prior to being tested.  If a prisoner is thirsty and drinks a lot of water, and if a random drug test is done soon afterwards, this will now constitute ‘misconduct’.

Double jeopardy -‘bashful bladder’

When prisoners are made to do a drug test, there are usually two or three prison officers watching. Some people find this so off-putting they can’t pee. The inability to pee in front of others is a well-known psychological condition called paruresis – sometimes referred to as ‘bashful bladder’. The condition affects around 7% of the population.  Those with mild paruresis are able to urinate in certain circumstances but incapable in others. In British prisons, paruresis is considered a valid reason for a prisoner’s inability to produce a sample and is not to be construed as an offence. However, in New Zealand, failing to supply a sample in prison is classified as ‘misconduct’ – and is automatically assumed to indicate a positive result.

If a prisoner has any misconduct offences on their file in the six months before appearing at the Parole Board, their chances of being released are substantially diminished. In prison you have to keep your nose clean (and now your bladder empty) to have any chance of release. One female prisoner I worked with developed paruresis after being sexually abused. She was charged with misconduct when she failed to produce a sample in front of three officers.  She appealed to a visiting Justice of the Peace to have the ‘misconduct’ removed from her file but the process took so long she ended up serving her whole sentence.

Another case involved a young female prisoner who has been in prison for seven years without using drugs. She was doing well and had been given privileges such as a minimum security classification, living in a self-care unit within the prison and for the last two years working outside the wire on day-release.  She was almost ready to be released. When asked to provide a random urine sample, she was watched by an officer for 5 hours. She couldn’t provide enough urine for the test and was deemed to have refused. She was charged with misconduct and punished. Her security classification was raised to medium-high; she lost her job; she was taken out of self care and put back into a mainstream unit. Now she is so depressed she feels like giving up.

A male prisoner diagnosed with prostate cancer was also affected by paruresis and told me can’t pee when officers are watching.  The prison medical staff know he has had cancer but won’t accept that he has paruresis. They told him he would have to pay for a private psychiatrist to come into the prison to make a diagnosis – at a cost of about $5,000.

Denial of rehabilitation

This Bill provides one more mechanism for punishing rather than rehabilitating prisoners.  Any ‘misconduct’ in prison (such as a positive drug test or failing to provide a urine sample) leads to a denial of privileges – including attendance at rehabilitation programmes.  Prisoners with drug problems have to give up drugs first and have a record of good behaviour before being allowed to attend drug treatment.  Now it seems they have to stay thirsty as well. If they drink too much water and have diluted urine – that’s misconduct – meaning no rehabilitation.

There is no need for this punitive piece of legislation.  The number of prisoners caught smoking cannabis is on the decline. In the last few years, Corrections has tightened up security and fewer drugs are smuggled in. In 2010, only 10.5% of prisoners tested positive on random drug tests – the lowest result since drug tests began in 1998.   In contrast to this, in 2011, only 1,255 prisoners attended rehabilitation programmes targeting their offending. That’s about 5% of the 20,000 people who end up in prison each year. The Department doesn’t need to be more rigorous about drug testing.  It needs to stop putting up barriers and put more prisoners into rehabilitation.

Roger Brooking: Author of Flying Blind – How the justice system perpetuates crime and the Corrections Department fails to correct

Prisoners bored to death and forced to sleep in the toilet – the case of Trevor Ludlow

In  May 2006, National Finance went into receivership owing more than 2000 investors about $21 million. In October, 2011 one of the former directors, Trevor Ludlow, was sentenced to five years and seven months in jail. He was found guilty of charges laid by the Serious Fraud Office relating to theft as a person in a special relationship.  He was  found to have breached the terms of the trust deed under which National Finance operated, personally defrauding investors of an estimated $3.5 million.

Since he was sentenced, Mr Ludlow has been held in Mt Eden, at the brand new purpose built prison for inmates on remand.  Ludlow is not on remand but has been kept in Mt Eden because it’s close to court and he was still facing eight additional charges of misleading investors and making false financial statements.

“Nothing to do” in prison

Mr Ludlow pleaded guilty to those charges on December 13.  During court proceedings, he broke down in tears complaining: “There is nothing to do in Mt Eden … it’s a horrible environment. It was awful to sit around all day with nothing to do. It’s terribly frustrating.”  Ludlow said he had enrolled in a correspondence class but was not being allowed to do it in Mt Eden prison.  He asked the judge to sentence him within the week because once sentencing takes place he will be moved to another prison.

Not surprisingly, there has been little sympathy for Mr Ludlow. The judge said: “I can’t help you. You’ve been found guilty and sentenced to jail.”  Callers to talkback radio commentators were even more scathing and thought that Mr Ludlow was getting his just deserts.

Fair enough. Ludlow deserves to be in prison. But his comment  that there is ‘nothing to do’ in Mt Eden prison contradicts earlier claims by Garth McVicar that the new Mt Eden prison is a  ‘better environment’ and run like ‘Club Med’.  Prisons are soul destroying environments with very little rehabilitation or work opportunities and Mt Eden is no different.

Bear in mind that Mt Eden prison is run by Serco – a private company in a private-public partnership with Government.  When the contract was awarded in 2010, former Corrections Minister Judith Collins (now Minister of Justice), said Serco had a “strong track record in running jails, and would bring fresh ideas to the prison’s management.  I’m confident that the company will bring the high standards of professionalism, safety, rehabilitation and security expected by the Government to Mt Eden/ACRP.”

Forced to sleep in toilets

Judith Collins failed to do her homework.   Serco is not the squeaky clean company she claims it to be. At a Serco run prison in Britain, prisoners have been forced to sleep in toilets because of overcrowding.  Prison inspectors uncovered the practice during an unannounced visit to Doncaster prison in 2008. The chief inspector of prisons, Anne Owers, said: “We were disappointed to find that two-person cells had been turned into three-person cells by placing a bed in the shared toilet.”

Two years earlier, the inspectorate criticised the company for “institutional meanness after finding there were inadequate mattresses, and many prisoners had no pillows, no toilet seats and nowhere to store belongings.  The chief inspector branded conditions at Doncaster as “squalid and deteriorating”.  Serco now runs four prisons in the UK.  If the Wiri prison goes ahead and Serco gets that contract as well, it will operate two prisons in New Zealand.

Conditions in New Zealand are not much better; our prisons have become so overcrowded that Judith Collins decided to put inmates into shipping containers.  These containers are quite small and some have two beds – and every cell has a toilet next to the bed. New Zealand prisoners are also ‘sleeping in the toilet.’

No rehab on remand

But let’s get back to Mr Ludlow who’s dying of boredom in Mt Eden. The Serco run Mt Eden prison was purpose built to hold prisoners on remand – those who have not yet been sentenced.  Approximately 14,000 New Zealanders spend time on remand every year.  The point is remand prisoners are not eligible to attend rehabilitation programmes because they have not yet been convicted of anything.

So it seems that Trevor Ludlow is being held in a remand prison even though he has already been convicted – but Serco is applying its (remand) rules which appear to prevent him from even starting a correspondence course – which Serco doesn’t even have to pay for because Ludlow’s  organising it himself.  Is this just another example of ‘institutional meanness’?  Ludlow needs to keep himself occupied as he almost certainly won’t be eligible to attend rehabilitation programmes in prison.  This is because he’s in his 50s and (presumably) has no previous convictions – so will be classified at low-risk of re-offending. Only medium and high risk prisoners are allowed to attend rehabilitation.

So while Trevor Ludlow does not deserve much sympathy for the fact that he is in prison, his tearful comments to the judge about prison conditions in New Zealand should not be ignored.  Mr Ludlow is currently in a prison run by a private company with a documented history of poor care and ‘institutional meanness’. Once he is sentenced on his current charges, he will be moved to a prison run by the Corrections Department – where he will also not be eligible to attend rehabilitation programmes. If he’s lucky, he just might get to do his correspondence course.  But he’ll still be sleeping in the toilet.