The research on familicide all points to Robin Bain as the killer

david-bainFamilicide is the name given to a particular kind of multiple murder – where one member of a family kills virtually everyone else in the family. If the perpetrator commits suicide afterwards (which occurs in 60% of such cases), it is referred to as familicide-suicide.

In June, 1994, David Bain was accused of shooting all five members of his family – the crime of familicide. He was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison – although according to Canadian judge Ian Binnie ‘no plausible motive ever emerged’.  He spent 13 years in prison before a retrial, at which he was found not guilty.

Throughout this process, David’s defence team argued that Robin Bain killed his wife and children while David was out delivering newspapers; that he typed the cryptic message found on the family computer (‘Sorry. You are the only one who deserved to stay’) and then shot himself – in a case of familicide-suicide.

Ian Callinan: forced to stand down in Australia because of perceived bias

Binnie said David should get compensation. The Government didn’t like that idea and shopped around for another judge – one who was willing to write a report declaring that David didn’t deserve it. They found one in Ian Callinan QC, who had a history of bending the rules in Australia.

So far, not much has been reported in the New Zealand media about Callinan’s dodgy legal ethics or the extraordinary flaws in his compensation report. But there’s a wealth of information available on the David Bain Campaign website.


But there’s another side to this story which has not seen much daylight either. A systematic review of the literature on familicide  found a number of common factors in such incidents. The first is that in 95% of cases where both parents were killed, the perpetrator was the father. Only 1% of familicides are committed by an adult son. The researcher wrote:

“In cases where (one of the) sons killed both parents, the research indicates that the perpetrator is always either severely abused, suffering from severe mental disorders (usually psychotic) or psychopathic. There are no identified cases where the son exhibits none of these pathologies and does not commit suicide.”

Robin Bain fits the profile for familicide

Second, many of these fathers displayed symptoms of depression prior to the killings and a number of Robin Bain’s professional colleagues testified to this effect. Fellow teachers described Robin at the time of the killings as “deeply depressed, to the point of impairing his ability to do his job of teaching children”.

He also published graphic and inappropriate stories of violence and killings by his 9-year-old pupils in the school newsletter; one of those stories involved the murder of an entire family. The president of the Taieri Principals’ Association at the time, found this “unbelievable” and regarded the publication of these stories as “the clearest possible evidence that Robin Bain had lost touch with reality due to his mental state” (Privy Council, 2007, para 41). The publication also suggests Robin had possibly been planning to kill his family months in advance.

It appears Robin Bain never sought professional help for depression, but this is another point of commonality; fathers who commit familicide tend to view themselves as the head of the family, and “control their outer image closely, rarely confiding in people or seeking help”. The fact that family and friends said Robin appeared to be happy is consistent with other familicides; such men internalise their personal sufferings in order to maintain appearances.

Angry vs despairing perpetrators 

The literature also suggests there are two types of familicide perpetrator. At one end of the continuum, there is the angry type – men who have displayed a well-established history of anger and hostile behaviour, especially towards women. For this type, the killing of one’s partner and children is an act of revenge or punishment, usually following parental separation. At the other end of the continuum, there is the despairing type of perpetrator who has no previous history of hostile behaviour and is generally well regarded in the community. This description applies to Robin Bain.  For this type, familicide, followed by suicide is “an escape both for himself and his family from an intolerable future”.

In addition to feelings of depression and anger, the literature shows that familicide is generally preceded by a prolonged build-up of shame. This usually follows parental separation or a serious breakdown in the relationship; loss of employment or significant financial losses may also be involved.  These lead to a psychological loss of control and/or a perceived loss of social status.   Robin Bain also fits this profile. He and Margaret had been estranged for several years and by all accounts, he was unfulfilled in his job. He had applied for a number of other teaching positions, but was unsuccessful.

But for Robin Bain, there may have been an even greater source of shame. He was a Christian, a Freemason and a respected member of the community. At the second trial, witnesses said he had been committing incest with his youngest daughter, Laniet, ever since the family came back from Papua New Guinea. If indeed he had been molesting her, this would have created intense feelings of guilt and internal conflict. It seems that “despair is the end-state for these perpetrators”.

The triggering event

The research also found that in most cases of familicide there is usually some kind of triggering event, one which leads to a sense of “ignominy, terminal public shame, mortification and self-disgust”.  Testimony at the second trial suggests Laniet was about to reveal to the rest of the family what her father had been doing to her. It seems the potential loss of face Robin Bain was facing was so great, he not only killed everyone else in the family (except David), he also shot himself. This is another point of commonality.  In over 60% of familicide cases, the offender subsequently commits suicide.

In summary, David Bain did not have an identified motive, did not have a mental health disorder and did not commit suicide. Robin Bain did, or had, all three. In every single aspect of this case, it is Robin Bain rather than David Bain, who fits the profile of the typical perpetrator of familicide, followed by suicide.

Arthur Taylor subject to cruel inhuman treatment – Ombudsman: chief executive implicated.

Arthur TaylorDuring his current incarceration in Paremoremo, Arthur Taylor has got right up the noses of Corrections officials by repeatedly taking them to court. He asked the High Court to rule that the National Party’s blanket ban on prisoners voting contradicts human rights – which it does according to the European Court of Human Rights. He appealed the smoking ban introduced by Judith Collins – and won the legal battle forcing the Government to change the rules in order to win the war.

Mr Taylor has become something of a ‘prison lawyer’ and for a while was allowed to store his legal files in a separate room. Not surprisingly, Corrections management don’t like him, and in June 2011 he was placed on ‘directed segregation’ after he was allegedly caught with a cell phone in his possession.  (If the Department’s cell blocking technology actually worked – current cost $13 million – Mr Taylor would not have been able to use a cell phone, but that’s another story.)

Directed segregation

IsolationDirected segregation means the prisoner is locked in his cell 23 hours a day and unable to communicate with other prisoners.  According to the Ombudsman, this “allows a prison to restrict or deny a prisoner the opportunity to associate with other prisoners thus reducing any influence or risk that they may present.”  However it may “only be imposed when absolutely necessary to protect the security, good order and safety of the prison, and should only be imposed for the period that such a risk exists.”

Segregation in prison is a punishment of last resort so is usually imposed for only 14 days.  Arthur Taylor was kept in segregation for more than eight months.  He complained to the Ombudsman who took the matter seriously and released a 34 page report titled the “Management of Arthur Taylor at Auckland Prison between 15 June 2011 and 30 April 2012”.

Extensions to 14 day penalty

The prison manager has to have a valid reason to extend a segregation order. So prison Residential Manager, Tony Queree, wrote a memo saying it was “clearly evident that prisoner Taylor has taken excessive advantage of the unit staff efforts to support him in the preparation of his (legal issues). No matter where we place him, he has continually shown that he presents a significant ongoing threat to the security and good order of this institution.”

Bev WakemThe Ombudsman (Beverley Wakem) could find no evidence that Mr Taylor continued to pose a risk to the security of the prison beyond the initial 14 days.  She contradicted Mr Queree’s assertions noting that:

“No incident reports, misconduct paperwork, or file notes were attached to support Mr Queree’s contention that Mr Taylor remained a threat to the security and good order of the prison… Mr Queree did not provide any information which showed the risk remained, and as such, an extension was required.

“The reference to the assistance provided to Mr Taylor for his legal matters does not appear to be valid… as approval had been given by the Department for Mr Taylor to have an office area, and there was a legal obligation for the Department to provide assistance to prisoners for the preparation of legal proceedings.”

Nevertheless, Mr Taylor ended up in continuous segregation for the next eight months – because management regard him as a litigious and difficult prisoner.  Not only was he isolated from other prisoners, for much of the time he was also denied his entitlement to exercise for an hour a day and was allowed only one five minute phone call a week. The Ombudsman was highly critical of virtually every aspect of Mr Taylor’s segregation and said:

“In many cases most, if not all, of Mr Taylor’s rights and entitlements listed on the management plan were restricted despite no risk being identified in relation to those areas… There are no documented reasons for the decision to deny (him) the ability to associate with other prisoners.”

The High Care Unit

NZ prisonAt one point, the prison manager placed Mr Taylor in what is known as the High Care Unit (HCU). This used to be known as the At Risk Unit but these cells were decommissioned years ago because of their run down condition.  At Risk Units are designed to prevent suicidal prisoners from committing suicide and operate in most New Zealand prisons.  They’re more like sensory deprivations cells – with no TV, no radio, nothing to read and no visitors allowed. The inmates hate them.

Putting psychologically vulnerable prisoners into such conditions was criticised by the Ombudsman in the 2011 OPCAT reportbecause the units are focused on custody rather than treatment.”  That report described the detrimental impact on prisoners “who had been detained in at risk units for several months, often in strip conditions, and with limited opportunities to interact with other.”  The Ombudsman has also noted that Corrections uses At Risk cells to ‘manage’ prisoners who will often “drift in and out of the At Risk Unit whether they are at risk of self-harm or not.”  

The Ombudsman was particularly concerned about conditions in the Auckland HCU, as there was no power or running water and nearby lights were left on all night. Leaving the lights on for months on end contributes to sleep deprivation – one of the ‘clean’ torture techniques used by regimes which claim to respect international law and human rights.

The psychological impact

Noting that Mr Taylor was held in these segregated conditions for months on end, the Ombudsman said “Denying a prisoner the ability to associate with other prisoners is a significant restriction to the prisoner’s rights, and can have significant impact on prisoners’ well-being and mental state of mind if the denial of association is for extended periods of time… The placement of Mr Taylor into the HCU, along with the restrictions imposed by the management plan… was more akin to a punishment regime. Further it appears that his placement into the HCU had the effect of exacerbating his behaviour rather than improving it.”

Peter WilliamsThis should come as no surprise. Retired defence lawyer, Peter Williams QC, who has extensive knowledge of prison conditions, discussed the issues in a Herald article: Jail isolation breaks souls and minds. The question is – does this constitute torture?

The Ombudsman seems to think so. In yet another OPCAT report, Monitoring Places of Detention (2013), she wrote:

Segregated prisoners at Auckland and Mt Eden prisons had particularly bad living conditions… Most prisoners placed on directed segregation were not receiving a daily minimum entitlement of one hour in the open air….The lack of appropriate management facilities at Auckland prison… is exacerbated by a lack of stimulation for those held on long-term segregation.

“Accommodation for those prisoners currently undergoing a period of segregation is well below standard and could be considered cruel and inhuman for the purposes of the Convention against Torture.”

Don’t rock the boat

In other words, the Ombudsman specifically describes the treatment of Mr Taylor as a ‘punishment regime’ which  ‘exacerbated’ his behaviour and depicts the segregation cells in Paremoremo  as ‘cruel and inhuman’.  She excuses herself from doing anything about this by putting the words ‘could be considered’ in front of ‘cruel and inhuman’.  What this seems to mean is that until a prison official is actually charged and convicted, it’s a moot point.

But the Ombudsman is not about to rock the boat. If she had been willing to take a more proactive stance, the United Nations and the New Zealand police would have to be notified and then a prosecution could then be initiated against the prison managers and Corrections chief executive, Ray Smith.

Ray SmithMr Smith would be accountable because section 58 of the Corrections Act says the chief executive has to be informed of any directed segregation “and the reasons for it” and a directed segregation can only be extended beyond 14 days if “the chief executive directs that it continue in force”.  Mr Taylor was subject to directed segregation for eight months – which indicates Mr Ray Smith is complicit in his ‘treatment’.

The potential penalties for Mr Smith are serious. The NZ Crimes of Torture Act – which includes cruel and inhuman treatment – says anyone who “conspires with any other person to commit an act of torture” or “is an accessory after the fact to an act of torture” is liable to up to ten years in prison.

Who you’re gonna call?

The reality is that describing what happened to Arthur Taylor and other segregated prisoners as torture – and suggesting the chief executive should be prosecuted, would likely lead to a media frenzy. It would be politically disastrous for the Corrections Department, the National Government and possibly for the Ombudsman.  No wonder she was reluctant to notify the United Nations or the police.

Graham McCreadyIn the absence of a more definitive statement from her, will the police prosecute anybody? I doubt it. So who you’re gonna call?

Graham McCready  of course.

Abused inmate with complex-PTSD spends 35 years in prison with no treatment

Trevor is 61 years old. He lights fires when he’s drunk. He has 17 convictions for arson but is usually so drunk when he sets fire to something, he doesn’t even remember doing it.  His lawyer asked me to conduct an alcohol and drug assessment on him late last year after yet another arson conviction.

Torture image

Trevor’s mother was an alcoholic.  As he was growing up, his parents fought and argued finally splitting up when he was just seven.  During the conflict and confusion, Trevor was shunted between his parent’s homes before they both gave up on him and put him into the care of the state – at the age of nine. Over the next few years he lived in half a dozen foster homes, occasionally going back to stay with his mother for a few months, before she kicked him out yet again.  He started drinking when he was 12.

The abuse 

Not surprisingly Trevor grew up feeling anxious and insecure. At age 16, he was sent to Lake Alice hospital where he was given shock treatment.  That really pissed him off and a couple of days later, he set fire to his bed.  That was the first one.  Two years later, he ended up in prison – where he was repeatedly raped by an older prisoner. The abuse went on for three years. By the time he got out at the age of 21, Trevor was suicidal, filled with rage and didn’t trust anyone. He was deeply, deeply disturbed.

As soon as he got out of prison Trevor started drinking.  He’s been in and out of prison ever since – 15 times to be precise.  He drinks, generally commits some petty offence, lights another fire and watches it burn. That’s when the police come and arrest him.  At the age of 61, he now has over 100 convictions and has spent 35 of the last 40 years in prison.  He has no friends, no support in the community and says he feels safer in prison.

Each time he ends up in court, the judge usually wants to know why he lights fires – and they wonder if he’s insane. Sometimes an enlightened judge orders a psychiatric assessment. Just before I saw him in 2013, Trevor had been interviewed by a clinical psychologist and a psychiatrist.  I read the reports. They both decided he wasn’t insane – but neither of them made a diagnosis. They didn’t seem to know what was wrong with him. 


I believe I do know what’s wrong with Trevor: he has Complex-Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This is an enduring version of PTSD which results from prolonged exposure to interpersonal trauma. The trauma is exacerbated when it occurs in the context of captivity or entrapment and affects the development of the victim’s thinking and personality. Individuals with complex-PTSD generally experience a profound sense of emptiness, chronically low mood and social isolation – combined with intense anger and rage.

At the age of 61, Trevor experiences all of these and still thinks about what has happened to him every day. But he is polite and articulate.  Talking about his life in a calm manner, he simply said: “What a lot or people have done to me is unforgiveable.”  But when he gets out of prison, he drinks to help him forget about it. He lights fires when he’s drunk because that’s what he learnt to do at age 16 when he was disempowered, lonely and distressed. These days, it returns him to the safety of prison.

Trevor has now spent 35 years inside. During this time, he has never even been diagnosed with PTSD let alone had had any counselling or treatment for it. The psychologist who interviewed him in 2013 wrote:

“Trevor Xxx was interested in receiving therapy with regard to his angry feelings, attachment issues and sexual abuse. Sexual abuse victimisation can be addressed by ACC sensitive claims. Therapy in these areas is likely to reduce his risk of reoffending.”

No therapy was provided. In my report to the court, I wrote:

“The Department should have provided counselling for Mr Xxx’s childhood trauma 40 years ago. Having then allowed him to be raped and abused in prison, the Department should have provided therapy every time he subsequently ended up in prison. If it had, it is possible Mr Xxx would no longer need to anesthetize himself with alcohol every time he gets out.”

The cost of insanity

Trevor is far from insane. He has both insight and intelligence. He knows he’s an alcoholic; he knows he lights fires when he’s drunk and he knows that makes him a risk to society. He also understands that society has to be protected from someone like him. He even knows the system sucks and he’s not going to get any help in prison. He told me the Corrections Department doesn’t have the resources to provide him with a psychologist to actually try and help him.

He’s absolutely right about not getting any help. But he’s dead wrong about the resources. It costs the taxpayer $100,000 a year to keep someone in prison. After 35 years, the Department has already spent $3.5 million just locking him up. If he lives another ten years and spends most of that in prison, Corrections will spend another $1 million on him before he dies. So you can’t tell me they haven’t got the resources to help him – it’s the system that’s insane, not Mr Xxx.

Officers ‘justified’ in suffocating suicidal prisoner to death – the case of Nicholas Harris

The coroner’s report into the death of Nicholas Harris in Waikeria prison last year was released recently. In the process of trying to stop him from committing suicide, six or more prison officers held him down and restrained him – till he suffocated to death.

Harris had only been in prison a few days and was being held on remand.  He had recently been released from a psychiatric hospital but his mental health problems which were not picked up by prison staff at the intake assessment. The coroner found that: “The assessment of Mr Harris fell short of the national requirement. In particular, the Principal Corrections Officer and the nurse who consulted on that assessment did not make enquiries relating to Mr Harris’ mental state.” 

On the morning of January 9, 2011 a staff member issued a “code blue” when CCTV footage showed he was planning to kill himself.  Officers entered the cell with the intention of relocating him to the “at risk unit” where he could be monitored more closely.  There were six of them.  Harris was already lying on the floor. They held him face down and applied ‘approved methods of restraint’ to control him.

The cause of death

Corrections told the coroner that “Mr Harris violently resisted the application of these holds, and additional officers were called to assist.” After a struggle that lasted about five minutes, Harris was restrained and handcuffed.  At this point, staff noticed he was not breathing.  The coroner found that the cause of death was “asphyxia of an undetermined cause, initiated either by self-strangulation or pre-existing medical condition, but in combination with restraint, with an underlying condition of morbid obesity with secondary dilated cardiomyopathy (heart disease)”. 

‘Asphyxia’ means suffocation and the coroner says it was of ‘undetermined cause’. No it wasn’t. It was caused by five or six officers sitting on top and restraining him – clearly described in the coroner’s report as a “seething mass of humanity”.  See his report here.  The coroner appears to have said the cause was ‘undetermined’ because there were health issues involved and by law, he is not allowed to apportion blame – merely to identify the circumstances of the death and make recommendations for change.

Deaths in police custody

The same limitation applies to the Independent Police Conduct Authority. It investigates complaints against the police – including deaths in police custody. It can make recommendations for change, but also has no power to prosecute.  Earlier this year, the IPCA released a report titled Deaths in Custody after 27 people died in police custody in the last ten years. Seven of them died when officers were overly vigorous in their use of restraint

Five of those who died had underlying medical conditions. Three suffered from heart disease – they collapsed and died after physically struggling against the restraint that was applied to them – just like Nicholas Harris.  Three died from positional asphyxia – being pushed down on the floor, handcuffed from behind – just like Harris; a number were arrested for violent behaviour at the time they collapsed – just like Harris. One death involved a police officer applying a neck hold to someone who was resisting arrest.

Of the 27 deaths in police custody, the IPCA said in over half of them, “the actions of the police fell short of the expected standards” and in four cases, the failings were serious. The report recommended that Police “ensure that the training provided to staff reinforces the dangers associated with restraining people in a prone position with their hands tied behind their back”. However, not one police officer was prosecuted.  Only two officers even faced disciplinary action – one received an ‘adverse report’ and the other received a written warning.

This is because the IPCA has no power to prosecute – that’s up to the police. But the police are not keen to arrest their own officers – even when the IPCA has pointed out that serious failings were involved.  Police are equally reluctant to charge Corrections officers whose failings have contributed to the death of prisoners in their care – and about 80 have suffered ‘unnatural deaths’ in the last ten years. Each death was examined by the coroner – who, of course, doesn’t blame anyone. That’s over 100 people who have died in custody in the last ten years – and not one police officer and not one corrections officer has ever been charged.

That’s unbelievable. Is it really possible that over 100 people can die in police and corrections custody in the last ten years, and not one officer is prosecuted?  Suppose 100 law-abiding citizens died in dubious circumstances from unnatural causes – and the police failed to prosecute anyone.  There would be a national outcry –  Garth McVicar would have an apoplectic fit and heads would roll.  But when 100 prisoners die – who cares?  Certainly not McVicar. It seems there’s one law for Police and Corrections officers in New Zealand – and another for the rest of us.

A sick joke

The reality is that Nicholas Harris was killed by prison officers who, theoretically, were trying to save his life. Actually they were more interested in restraining him – even though he was already lying on the floor. They entered his cell, jumped all over him and suffocated him to death – an obese, suicidal prisoner with a heart condition – in a bizarre attempt to stop him from killing himself. It sounds like a sick joke – except that it’s true. The coroner not only said this was justified, he was so unconcerned about the way Harris died, he didn’t make a single recommendation for change. He didn’t even recommend that Harris should have had a psychiatric assessment when he was admitted to prison – or that he should have been given medication to calm him down.

And yet on the coronial services page of the Justice Department website, it says in bold letters: A coroner speaks for the dead to protect the living.   The people being protected are Police and Corrections officers.

Life is cheap in New Zealand prisons – the suicide of Kerry Joll

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.

How police and probation harass prisoners on parole – the case of Tony Maude

In 2007 I was asked by the district court to conduct an alcohol and drug assessment on Tony Maude who was facing charges of selling methamphetamine. Maude was exposed to drug use at an early age. He started smoking cannabis at the age of 10, using speed at 13 and drinking at age 15. When he was 22, he attended rehab at the Salvation Army and managed to get his drinking under control.  But it wasn’t long before he started using methamphetamine instead and eventually began selling it to feed his habit.

He got busted by police and was sentenced him to prison for six years. Mr Maude knew he needed help and while in prison, he attended individual counselling for 18 months and was then admitted to the Drug Treatment Unit. He successfully completed the programme and was released on parole in May 2010 – after serving more than three years in prison. But police and probation wouldn’t leave him alone. Since being released, Mr Maude has been recalled to prison four times to finish serving his sentence.

First recall

As part of his parole conditions, Maude was required to attend another rehabilitation programme in the community. He was half way through this when he was asked by the programme facilitators to describe a potential high-risk situation and how he would cope with it.  He made one up and described an imaginary situation in such a realistic way, that the facilitators thought it had actually occurred and passed the story on to probation. Instead of checking the details, his probation officer immediately told the police Mr Maude had breached his parole conditions. Police arrested him and sent him back to prison. When Mr Maude appeared at the recall hearing a month later, it was clear to the Board that the facilitators, the Probation Service and the police had all got it wrong – and ordered Mr Maude to be released.

Probation then tried to breach him for failing to complete the rehabilitation course (because he was in prison) and hauled him back into court. His probation officer received a serious reprimand from the judge for his treatment of Mr Maude and for wasting the court’s time.

Second recall

When he got out, Maude went to live with a friend at an approved address. He had only been there about a month when his mother died after a long battle with cancer. But his probation officer didn’t care. He was miffed at being told off by the judge and now had it in for Mr Maude. Shortly thereafter the police raided the house pretending they were looking for methamphetamine.

Police found a cannabis plant growing in a wardrobe – in the bedroom where his friend slept – who was also the owner of the house. They arrested Mr Maude and sent him back to prison – but didn’t arrest his friend who owned the cannabis plant. The friend appeared at the recall hearing a month later and testified that the cannabis plant belonged to him not to Mr Maude. For a second time, the parole board agreed that Mr Maude had not reoffended and released him immediately.

Third recall

During the ten months that Mr Maude had been on parole, he started going out with a female friend he had known for many years.  His probation officer was aware of the relationship and had even let them go on holiday together. He gave Mr Maude special permission not to report into him during the week they were away. About a week after his second recall hearing, Mr Maude and his partner became engaged.

By now he had a different probation officer. Feeling happy about his engagement, he told his new probation officer the good news. Three days later, he and his fiancée were both served with a non-association order. After being honest with probation about his situation, Mr Maude ‘felt gutted’. Nevertheless, he stayed away from his fiancée and the relationship came to an end.

Mr Maude had also told his probation officer that he had some work organised doing up cars and asked for permission to start.  His probation officer gave him the go ahead.  Lo and behold, a few days later, the police came to the property where he was working. They found Mr Maude and rang probation to check that he was allowed to be there.  The probation officer told the police officer it had been approved and he was allowed to work.

Later that night, Mr Maude’s sister rang him up and told him that the armed offenders’ squad had been round to her house wanting to arrest him.  Mr Maude turned himself in six weeks later and the Probation service told the Parole Board he had been “working without written permission”. This time the Board officially recalled him to prison – even though the Corrections Department is supposed to help prisoners find work because  having a job on release reduces the risk of re-offending.

Fourth recall

Since working on parole was a minor breach, Mr Maude was eventually released again – still on parole for his original offending (selling meth). This time, he lived with friends at an approved address in Seaview.  However, he began to get depressed because the house was unsuitable to bring his children to. (On top of all his other problems, Mr Maude had also been trying to gain custody of his five year old daughter in the Family court.) Mr Maude was also beginning to feel that no matter what he did, the police and the probation service seemed to be out to get him.  He bumped into a friend who offered him a smoke of methamphetamine. In a moment of weakness, he accepted the offer – and started using again.

Eventually Mr Maude found a nice three-bedroom home where he could have his children and the probation service approved the accommodation. He had only been in the house for three weeks when he was raided by the police – yet again.  This time they found a small amount of methamphetamine. He pleaded guilty and was returned to prison to serve out the remainder of his original sentence

Recommendation to the Court

Ever since he was first released, on parole Mr Maude has been harassed by the police and probation service. During this time, his mother died, his engagement broke up and his ex-partner took off to Christchurch with his daughter and the police raided every house he stayed at.

Mr Maude relapsed under the overwhelming stress of this combined series of events. In my report to the Court, I concluded that, although he relapsed, Mr Maude does not require any further drug treatment. “What he needs to be left alone by the police and probation service to get on with his life.” (Posted with Mr Maude’s permission.)

Corrections Department’s treatment of Stewart Murray Wilson

Graeme Burton spent 14 years in prison  – doing next to nothing – before he was released and killed Karl Kuchenbecker. Murray Wilson, aka the ‘Beast of Blenheim’ –  committed his crimes well over 18 years ago. He’s been sitting in prison ever since – also doing nothing – and the whole country (well, Wanganui anyway) is up in arms. Why? The ‘doing nothing’ in prison seems to be the problem.

For many years Wilson was held in Rolleston Prison, a low-security prison with a sex offenders unit that delivers group-based treatment to child sex offenders – just what Wilson needed.  But  Corrections refused to put him into this programme because he would not acknowledge  his guilt. That’s very strange considering the entry criteria for this programme state that “denial or other cognitive distortions related to offending behaviour” are an indication of suitability for the programme.

Wilson clearly lacks insight, but it seems Corrections wouldn’t even let him see a psychologist. Speaking via video link to the High Court at Wellington in June 2012, Wilson complained, not for the first time, that he had even been denied counselling with a psychologist for the same reason – he would not admit he was guilty. He said he has had only four hours counselling in the 18 years he has been in prison.

Dealing with denial

Being ‘in denial’ is not uncommon and is often an issue when dealing with drug addicts and alcoholics.  ‘Ambivalence’ is similar – a state of mind where the drinker or drug user is aware they have a problem but is not yet willing to address it.  Alcohol and drug counsellors work with ambivalence and denial on a daily basis by using ‘motivational interviewing’ – individual counselling designed to enhance insight and motivation. It requires a non-confrontational approach to the client and the ability to ‘roll with resistance.’ Once rapport has been established using these techniques, then more in-depth treatment can begin.

Unfortunately, it seems Corrections psychologists were not able to establish rapport with Wilson. He refused to even meet with the psychologist who wrote the final damning risk assessment on him and so she prepared her report from information on his file.  Apart from the dubious ethics involved in writing a report without talking to the subject of that report, why would Wilson not want to meet with her? Probably because Corrections psychologists are generally employed to write risk assessment reports rather than provide therapy – and she had already written a number of negative reports about him.   That’s probably where the ‘four hours counselling’ went that Wilson was referring to. Clearly there was not a lot of trust between Wilson and this particular psychologist.

Wilson’s background

This is not surprising. Wilson comes from a background that makes it very hard for him to trust anyone. His parents were both alcoholics and it appears he was sexually abused as a child himself.   As a teenager he was hospitalised for a long period in psychiatric institutions, and had little in the way of education. Given his personal limitations, that puts the onus on Corrections psychologists to make more of an effort. But they didn’t. They appear to have met with him only four times in 18 years and declared him unco-operative. They wouldn’t allow him to attend any counselling or attend treatment in the sex offenders unit unless he admitted his guilt.

The most pathetic part of  this farce is that Corrections claims it cannot compel offenders to attend rehabilitation programmes. That makes no sense at all. The police have the power to arrest criminals; the court has the power to send them to prison; but Corrections claims that once in prison they can’t compel anyone do a programme. That’s bullshit.  He’s in prison for God’s sake – attendance should be compulsory – especially when international research indicates that compulsory treatment is just as effective as voluntary treatment. The same research also shows that long term programmes work better than short-term programmes – because they give an offender time to become engaged in the process.  That’s why the sex offenders’ programme is the longest the Department provides  – it takes nine months and reduces the risk of re-offending by more than 50 per cent.

Setting offenders up to fail

Unfortunately, Corrections never gave Wilson a chance. They seemed to think he had  to have the necessary insight and motivation right from the start.  That’s just totally unrealistic.  The majority of offenders are also alcoholics or drug addicts who are often unmotivated, in denial or ambivalent at the start of a rehabilitation programme – but become engaged once it gets going.

The reality is that Corrections was responsible for rehabilitating Wilson but made almost no effort to do so.  All they did with him in prison is isolate and contain him – for 18 years. Now he’s being released to Wanganui under the most stringent conditions ever imposed on anyone ever released in New Zealand. That’s  more containment. The people of Wanganui have made it very clear they don’t want him. That’s more isolation.

Someone who knows something about rehabilitation is Victoria University Professor, Tony Ward, a clinical psychologist with expertise in sexual offenders.  He described the fervour at Wanganui’s public meetings as a type of “moral panic” and said that given Mr Wilson’s age, he was unlikely to reoffend.  “The reoffending rate for very high risk people over 60 is about six per cent.” Professor Ward said the best way to rehabilitate sex offenders was to keep them in the midst of other people – where they could be watched – and give them support.”

This is all so familiar. Graeme Burton committed two murders under the influence of alcohol and drugs. Corrections had him in their custody for 14 years and never put him into a programme to address the core issue – his drug addiction.  They also ignored the recommendations of six expert reports pointing out that drug use was a risk factor for Burton and did not bother to provide the Board with an alcohol and drug assessment on him despite a statutory obligation to keep the Board informed about all aspects of his offending.

The Department had Wilson in custody for even longer – 18 years, and they’ve done exactly the same thing – nothing.  One can only conclude that Corrections is deliberately setting up Murray Wilson to fail – just like they did with Graeme Burton.

Diabetic dying to get out of prison

Jane Wilson is 36 year old drug addict. She was referred to me for an alcohol and drug assessment after being charged with possession of methamphetamine for supply.   She started using meth about ten years ago and began selling to friends and acquaintances to fund her habit.  She had also been smoking cannabis since she was 14 – usually on a daily basis.  I interviewed her in July 2012 in Arohata prison – by which time she had been on remand for three months as her case slowly winds its way through the courts.

This is not an uncommon story – except that Ms Wilson has diabetes, diagnosed at the age of 11. So for 25 years she has been injecting herself with insulin on a daily basis and usually requires five injections a day.

Diabetes requires careful management.  Diabetics are supposed to test their blood sugar levels four or five times a day in order to know how much insulin to inject. A normal reading is between 4.00 and 7.00 mmol. Readings below 4.00mmol are potentially dangerous as the brain is being starved of oxygen – a condition known as hypoglycaemia. The patient becomes weak, anxious and confused and if the blood sugar level continues to drop, they may become comatose and die.

Diabetics generally carry barley sugars or something sweet to give their sugar level a rapid boost if it drops too low.  Soon after arriving in Arohata, Ms Wilson was given a supply of glucose tablets and the prison nurse gave instructions that she was to have these with her ‘at all times’. The nurse then went on leave for eight weeks. Apparently believing that inmates cannot be trusted, even with glucose, prison officers took the tablets off her and kept them in the office. So whenever her blood sugar tested low, Ms Wilson had to press the emergency button in her cell and ask for help.

These requests were met with a variety of unhelpful or insulting responses such as:  “I hope you’re not cunting us around Wilson.”  On another occasion when her blood sugar was down to 2.4mmol, an officer said: “We can’t be doing this every night Wilson.” On yet another occasion, about half an hour before dinner was due to be served, her blood sugar dropped to 3.4mmol. She pressed the buzzer twice and was ignored twice. She had to ask the officer who brought the dinner to give her some sugar as well.  Next day Ms Wilson told a nurse what had happened and was assured the officers would be spoken to.  Later that day, a male guard said: “We don’t appreciate being complained about so don’t be expecting any favours.” Another officer told her: “It’s not all about you Wilson.”

In the report which I provided to the judge, I pointed out that this situation was making Ms Wilson very anxious. She was so upset she cried virtually every day, and became so depressed she needed antidepressants. She was afraid she might die from a hypoglycaemic attack because the prison officers just didn’t care. In my report I wrote:

1)      Ms Wilson’s situation is complicated by diabetes. Her concerns about the quality of care she currently receives significantly exacerbate her underlying anxiety.  Ms Wilson worries that she might die in prison because prison staff either don’t care or don’t know how to assist her regulate her blood sugar levels – especially at night when medical staff are not available. 

 2)       Corrections Department rules make it difficult for Ms Wilson to gain effective control of her blood sugar levels. I spoke to the specialist diabetic nurse (at Kenepuru Hospital) who expressed particular concern about the last meal of the day in prison being served at 4:30 p.m. She said that to maintain control of their blood sugar levels, diabetics need to eat six meals a day and need supper before going to bed in order to avoid developing low blood sugar during the night. She said that ‘low blood sugar is an extremely dangerous condition’ for Ms Wilson.  

 3)      In a recent report on the health of prisoners, the Ombudsman reported that: “Prisoners continue to complain that the national menus implemented by the Department do not consider the specific health needs of prisoners, especially diabetics.” Ms Wilson’s GP and the specialist diabetes nurse both expressed concern about the fatty prison food which is not good for diabetics.  They both felt that the prison regime with limited physical activity makes it even more difficult for a diabetic to manage blood sugar levels which require an appropriate balance between food intake and physical activity.

After nearly four months on remand, numerous hypoglycaemic attacks and one emergency visit to hospital, Ms Wilson eventually appeared in Court. The judge showed compassion and released her on electronic bail while her case proceeds. But if she receives a sentence of more than two years, she will have to go back to prison where she will be exposed to the same kind of treatment all over again.

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.

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

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.

The ritalin rules in prison

ADHD stands for attention hyperactivity disorder. Kids who’ve got it are either inattentive, hyperactive, impulsive or sometimes all three – and it affects between 3% and 5% of school age kids. As at July 2009, there were 760,859 children attending school in NZ which means somewhere between 23,000 and 38,000 children have the disorder.

According to a New Zealand support group, as many as two-thirds of children with ADHD have additional problems. 30-50% will have conduct disorder – a childhood behavioural problems which sometimes leads to anti-social personality disorder in adults.  20-25% of those with ADHD will have anxiety problems. Generally 20-30% of ADHD children also have learning problems and struggle to read and write.  For approximately 75% of those with ADHD their symptoms continue into adulthood, although levels of hyperactivity may decrease with age.

What causes it? It may be genetic. But whatever the cause, the majority of evidence suggests that in those with ADHD, the frontal cortex of the brain under-performs  leading to a loss of attention,  planning and impulse control. It responds to stimulant medications (including ritalin). Although ritalin is a stimulant, paradoxically it has a calming effect on people with ADHD. This is because it stimulates the frontal cortex which generally improves concentration and impulse control for the sufferer.

Dr Paul Taylor, a paediatrician in Nelson, estimates that about 43% of those who end up in  prison have ADHD.  That means in New Zealand prisons, there are currently about 3,700 prisoners who may benefit from ritalin or a similar medication.  In 2012 I made an official OIA inquiry to the Corrections Department asking how many prisoners were currently prescribed ritalin (or an equivalent). The answer was 17.

Risk factor for substance abuse and offending

When ADHD is not treated, it becomes a significant risk factor for substance abuse and criminal offending.  So treating it is especially important for those who end up in the justice system. When left untreated, prisoners with ADHD struggle to concentrate in rehabilitation programmes and may become disruptive.  This happened to Mr Chris Wills, an inmate in Mt Crawford prison, who I interviewed prior to his parole board hearing in 2012.  Mr Wills has a long-standing drug problem and for many years self-medicated his ADHD with methamphetamine (another well-known stimulant). Eventually he sought help from mental health services in the community and was prescribed ritalin. He ended up in prison shortly thereafter, and without consulting a doctor, prison management took him off it.

Sometimes prisoners’ behavioural problems become so bad, the prisoner ends up in 24 hour lock-up. This happened to Mr Kurt Winklemann  who was sent to prison for an assault in 2008; he had ADHD and was also denied ritalin when he got to prison.  His behaviour deteriorated and he ended up in the ‘management unit’ for difficult prisoners.  Rehabilitation programmes are not available in the management unit. To get into rehabilitation, you have to behave yourself first – without your medication.

Drugs of abuse

The Department generally justifies the denial of ritalin to prisoners on the grounds that it is a drug of abuse.  So is methadone.  But offenders who are sent to prison while on  methadone  still get  it  – because opiate addicts on methadone are less likely to re-offend when they get out.  In 2011, 89 prisoners were on methadone.  It’s dispensed in a controlled environment under strict supervision – and there is absolutely no reason why ritalin could not be dispensed in the same manner.

Inmates are also not generally allowed opiate based pain killers either – no matter how much pain they’re in. If a prisoner requires hospital treatment and is given morphine for pain relief,  once they return to prison, the morphine will be terminated.  This is because the Department regards opiates as drugs of abuse. So if a prisoner gets stabbed, has a broken leg, or a tooth removed, no matter how bad the pain is, probably all he will get is Panadol.

Back to the ‘ritalin rules’. On February 12, 2012 the Herald on Sunday ran a story about Mr Wells and Mr Winklemann.  Acting National health manager for the Corrections Department, Bronwyn Donaldson, was quoted as saying that “Ritalin was available for some prisoners. An alternative was given to inmates who are at risk of abusing the drug.”  Really? In 2010, there were 560 teenagers in New Zealand prisons and over half  have ADHD. In my work as an alcohol and drug counsellor, I have interviewed dozens of prisoners with this condition. Not one was on ritalin or any other medication.

Prisoners set up to fail

What this all means is that prisoners with ADHD  (and other mental health problems) are  set up to fail.  Not only does Mr Wills struggle to focus while attending rehabilitation  in prison, he also needs to attend a drug treatment program when he gets out. He comes up for parole shortly but two community-based treatment programs have already declined to accept him until he is stabilised on medication. Catch-22. Mr Wills is likely to relapse to methamphetamine or other drugs as soon as  he gets out.  He needs to be stabilised now – while he’s still in custody.

One more point. Appropriate medical treatment is a basic human right and the Department has a statutory obligation to provide it.  Section 75 of the Corrections Act 2004 states that: “A prisoner is entitled to receive medical treatment that is reasonably necessary” and “the standard of healthcare that is available to prisoners in a prison must be reasonably equivalent to the standard of healthcare available to the public”.

By denying prisoners access to appropriate medication, not only does the Department set them up to fail,  it is also in breach of the Act.  The Department should get its Act together – and read the rules instead of making up its own.

Another untreated drug addict – the story of William Bell

In 1997, William Bell was sent to prison for five years nine months after he attacked and almost killed an attendant at a petrol station.  At the time of this assault, he already had 102 convictions for a raft of offences including theft, fraud, burglary, aggravated robbery, assault, trespass, and possession of drugs.   He was released in July 2001 after serving 3½ years.  Based on the law at the time, he was set free after serving two-thirds of his sentence, and the Parole Board had no say in the matter, other than deciding what release conditions to impose on him.

Bell managed to find work experience at the RSA in Panmure – without the permission of his probation officer.  However, staff at the RSA apparently didn’t trust him and after only two weeks, he was ordered to leave.  Bell had experienced rejection for most of his life and couldn’t handle it. Two months later, he came back and stole $12,000. In the process, he bludgeoned and shot three people to death, and seriously injured a fourth – Susan Couch.

What the investigation missed

The investigation which followed blamed understaffing, low morale and poor management within the Mangere Probation Service.  It also blamed the police for failing to act when he committed a minor offence a month before the murders.  The focus of the investigation was on what happened after Bell was released. The fact that he had been incarcerated for 3½ years and not been required to do any rehabilitation programmes in prison was completely ignored. The most significant oversight was that he was not required to attend treatment for his alcohol and drug problem.

He obviously had one. In addition to telling prison staff about his drinking, Bell came from a family with gang connections where binge drinking and drug use were part of daily life.  According to witnesses who testified at his trial, Bell was up all night drinking and smoking cannabis before the murders which occurred at about 8.00am the following morning.   He admitted he was using methamphetamine and apparently told his family he ‘blacked out’ while inside the RSA.

In other words, Bell had a history of alcohol and drug use which began long before he was sent to prison for attacking the service station attendant in 1997. Presumably, he continued smoking cannabis in prison. At the time of his rampage at the RSA four years later, he was drunk, stoned and high on methamphetamine – and had been awake for over 24 hours. Such conditions are clearly not conducive to impulse control. The combination of three different drugs in his system, combined with a lifetime of abuse, abandonment, and low self-esteem turned out to be lethal.

What Corrections failed to do

The most damning part of this story is that the Corrections Department was well aware that Bell’s offending was alcohol and drug-related – but did nothing about it. He was supposed to see a psychologist and have alcohol and drug treatment when he got out. Common sense dictates that Bell should have seen a psychologist and had alcohol and drug treatment while he was still in prison – rather than leaving this up to an understaffed and demoralised Probation Service to organise once he got out.

But no treatment was provided, and the Corrections Department failed to provide the Parole Board with an alcohol and drug assessment describing the extent of his addictions.  At his hearing, the Board members were effectively in the dark – ‘flying blind’ to quote Judge Carruthers. If an AOD assessment had been provided even at that late stage, the Board could have released him directly to a residential treatment programme in the community.  Instead, he was released to unsupervised accommodation in Auckland where he was free to drink and take whatever drugs he could find.

The point is that the mistakes made once Bell was released may never have occurred had the Corrections Department made better use of his 3½ years in custody. The Department’s failure to address his problems with substance abuse in prison far outweighed subsequent mistakes made by the Mangere Probation Service on his release. The failure to monitor Bell in the community simply added to a long chain of errors – and highlighted a systemic failure by Corrections to address addiction issues in prison. If he had been required to attend treatment in prison, and/or if he had been released directly into a residential programme in Auckland, William Bell’s victims might still be alive today.  And Susan Couch wouldn’t have had to waste ten years of her life trying to sue the Corrections Department for damages.

James Whenuaroa – sent to prison for stealing orange juice

On January 7, the New Zealand Herald reported the story of James Whenuaroa – sentenced to prison for six weeks for stealing a bottle of orange juice from a supermarket. He told the judge he took it because he was hot and thirsty. Perhaps the most pertinent part of the story was that Mr Whenuaroa has 350 previous convictions.

What the Herald didn’t report was that Mr Whenuaroa is a chronic alcoholic who has a history of drinking methylated spirits and as a result, has some measure of cognitive impairment. Virtually his entire history of offending has occurred because of his drinking – mostly for shoplifting alcohol, being drunk and disorderly and willful trespass. He has been sent to prison nearly 40 times in the last 20 years; he’s usually in and out three or four times a year. When he gets out, he starts drinking again the same day.

The battle for a neuropsychological assessment

Mr Whenuaroa was referred for an alcohol and drug assessment at least three times – in 2006, 2007 and 2008. After interviewing him in 2006, I recommended to the Court that Mr Whenuaroa should have a neuropsychological assessment (to see what he’s capable of learning) and be referred to Moana House which is a long term rehabilitation programme in Dunedin. The judge ignored the recommendation and sent Mr Whenuaroa to prison instead.

In 2007 I again recommended a neuropsychological assessment. This time the judge agreed, but when Mr Whenuaroa appeared for sentencing two months later, the assessment had not been done as the psychologist was too busy. Moana House refused to accept him without one. He was released on to the street and relapsed immediately. Not surprisingly Mr Whenuaroa re-offended soon afterwards and was remanded in prison once again.

The assessment was finally completed nearly a year later. However, this time the Court refused to release a copy of it either to his lawyer, to Moana House or to myself. Once again, Mr Whenuaroa was released into the street and relapsed immediately. Not surprisingly, he reoffended and appeared in court again in 2008. Finally, the court agreed to release a copy of the psychologist’s report to those who were trying to help him and Mr Whenuaroa eventually made it to Moana House. However, he left after a few weeks as he wanted to go and see his alcoholic girlfriend in Taupo.

The need for compulsory treatment

Over the years Mr Whenuaroa has been referred to residential treatment programs a number of times. But because of years of alcohol abuse, he has significant memory problems. His short term memory is so poor he struggles to remember anything he was told more than 30 minutes before.  So even when he attends rehabilitation, he can’t remember what he is taught. Because of his condition, he needs long term treatment and long-term support afterwards. But he never lasts the distance. He gets frustrated and generally walks off after a few weeks. And no one makes him stay.

Mr Whenuaroa can be made to stay in prison – for a few weeks at a time. That’s easy to achieve – even though rehabilitation is not available to the 7000 prisoners a year given short sentences.  Let’s not forget that 80% of those sent to prison each year are given short sentences and our prison system simply doesn’t cater for them. With a few exceptions, only those given a sentence of more than two years are allowed to attend rehabilitation programmes.

So although Mr Whenuaroa has been forced to stay in prison 40 times, he has never been ‘forced’ to complete a treatment programme. That’s just crazy. Mr Whenuaroa could be compelled to stay in treatment – by committing him to a rehab programme in the community under the Alcohol and Drug Act or the Mental Health Act. To put that in place takes a bit of time, thought and energy but Mr Whenuaroa has never been committed. Instead the justice system recycles him – in and out of prison, and occasionally, in and out of rehab.

The $3 million cost

Recycling is expensive. He’s already 47 years old and as a lifetime offender, he will end up costing the taxpayer more than $3 million in police, court, prison and legal aid costs. Once his health deteriorates, he will need even more assistance – from the health system. If he was compelled to attend long term treatment for 18 months under the Alcohol and Drug Act, that might cost about $50,000. Not a bad investment – both for Mr Whenuaroa and for society. All it would take is for the justice system to have enough compassion and resolve to find out what Mr Whenuaroa really needs – instead of sending him to prison for stealing a bottle of orange juice.

Graeme Burton – untreated drug addict set up to fail

Graeme Burton has murdered two people. In 1992 he was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Paul Anderson who was working as a lighting technician in a nightclub. Burton had been drinking and was found to be under the influence of six different drugs at the time.  He was released on parole after 14 years in prison without attending treatment for his drug addiction.  He soon relapsed, and during the next six months he used stand-over tactics against known drug dealers to obtain methamphetamine. He shot and killed Karl Kuchenbecker in the hills of Wainuiomata apparently hoping that police would then kill him. He was shot in the leg which subsequently had to be amputated.

Burton’s Background

Graeme Burton was adopted as a baby by an older couple.  His foster father died when he was only three, leaving his foster mother to raise him on her own.  As a result of put downs and constant criticism, Graeme grew up feeling insecure and angry with little sense of attachment to his adopted mother. He began using drugs at the age of 15 – and no doubt found they relieved much of his underlying distress.

The TVNZ documentary, ‘Beyond the Darklands’, also highlighted Burton’s use of LSD, cannabis, alcohol and prescription pills;  he used to break into chemist shops looking for benzodiazepines and committed burglaries to get money for drugs. From the age of 17, he was using drugs almost on a daily basis; by the time he was 21, he had 91 convictions for property, fraud and other drug-related crimes.

Burton’s frustrations came to a head in 1992, after he was refused entry to a nightclub. He took his resentment and rage out on Paul Anderson who worked at the club, stabbing him to death in an alcohol and drug fuelled frenzy. He was said to be ‘out of it’ on six different drugs at the time.

Burton was sentenced to life and continued using drugs in prison.  He spent 14 years behind bars but managed to avoid returning positive drug tests in the last three years before he was paroled.   He was released into the care of his biological mother whom he barely knew. She’d been living in Australia but agreed to come back to New Zealand for one month to assist her son’s ‘reintegration’.

This plan was doomed from the start. Soon after he was released, Burton started using methamphetamine and anything else he could get his hands on. His mother went back to Australia and he spent the next few months using stand-over tactics and assaulting drug dealers to feed his addiction.  Burton’s last assault on a Wellington drug dealer to obtain more methamphetamine was only three days before he killed Karl Kuchenbecker in January 2007. Altogether, his drug-fuelled rampage lasted six months before it came to an end in the hills of Wainuiomata.

Mistakes made while Burton was in prison

While in prison, Burton attended a rehabilitation programme targeting his propensity for violence – but was not required to attend treatment for his drug addiction. Numerous psychologists and psychiatrists who interviewed him before his release pointed out that his addiction had not been addressed. At the Parole Board hearing in June 2006  (at which he was released), the Board had six different reports all of which recommended alcohol and drug assessment and treatment, or identified relapse to drug use as a risk factor.  The Corrections Department refused to provide one.

The Department even ignored Section 43 (1a) of the Parole Act which requires it to provide the Board with all relevant information about factors which contribute to an inmate’s offending.  Since the Department was well aware that Burton’s offending was alcohol and drug related and since six different reports all recommended further alcohol and drug treatment, in Graeme Burton’s case,  the Department clearly neglected its statutory responsibilities.

Burton’s drug addiction was not the only factor involved in his offending. The psychologists who assessed him said he had a psychopathic personality which pre-disposed him towards violence.  To address this, in 2004, he was required to attend the Violence Prevention Unit (VPU) in Rimutaka, and some of the psychological reports indicated he made some progress on that programme.  But even if Burton had learnt anything in the VPU, whatever he learnt would have been forgotten as soon as he got drunk or took methamphetamine. Because his drug addiction was never treated, other attempts at rehabilitation were a complete waste of time.

The flawed focus of subsequent investigations

Once the subsequent investigations began into what went wrong, the focus was mainly on the mistakes made by the Probation Service and the Police after Burton’s release.  Mistakes were certainly made, but the crucial ones happened long before Burton was paroled. They were made over the entire 14 years that Corrections had him in their custody. The Department failed to treat his drug addiction, ignored the recommendations of six expert reports and failed to provide the Board with an alcohol and drug assessment despite a statutory obligation to do so.

In other words, the Department released an untreated drug addict into the community without a reintegration plan which addressed one of the main factors in his offending. Since Burton wasn’t treated in prison, on release he should have been sent to a residential treatment centre  where he would have been under constant supervision by staff for up to 18 months and drug tested regularly; if he relapsed, or misbehaved, he could have been recalled to prison immediately. If a proper reintegration plan such as this had been put in place, the outcome of this case could have been very different.

In saying that, Burton’s case is not unusual. Ninety per cent of prisoners have problems with alcohol and drugs and most are released without attending any treatment. The recidivism rate in New Zealand is 52% (return to prison) within five years. The lack of addiction treatment in prison and the failure to provide accommodation and support on release leads almost inevitably to relapse and re-offending. It sets prisoners up to fail. Graeme Burton is one of thousands of prisoners released every year who are set up to fail.