Prisoner dies when guards too busy to help – the case of Anna Kingi

Eva BradleyIn November 2011, the Waiikato Times reported that a Hamilton woman died in prison of a heart condition after her calls for help were ignored by guards. An inquest into the death of Anna Selina Kingi, 41, at the Auckland Coroner’s Court heard that Ms Kingi was found dead in her cell at Auckland Regional Woman’s Facility (in 2008) more than an hour after she activated her alarm.  She was mother of seven children (see photo) and grandmother of one and had been in prison for just under a month when she died.

The inquest heard that Ms Kingi was scheduled to see a doctor the day before she died, but the doctor was too busy and did not see her.  When she became distressed the next day (November 10, 2008), Ms Kingi pressed the emergency alarm in her cell  but prison guards ignored the call. One guard, whose name was suppressed, said she heard the alarm, but was busy so she just asked through the intercom if Ms Kingi was alright.  There was no answer. So she ignored it, did not send anyone to check, did not record the call and did not refer it to the incoming shift.

A few minutes earlier, another guard who was supposed to visually check her cell, failed to do so.  Three minutes before Ms Kingi pressed her cell alarm, she walked past Ms Kingi’s cell without looking in. She told police that rather than look in the cells, she fastened her digital ID to a broom handle, reached up and swiped the card over a sensor to make it look like she had done her rounds.

Cardiologist Dr Jim Stewart told the inquest Ms Kingi died of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy – an inherited disorder that causes thickening of the heart, making it hard for the heart to pump blood. He said normally there was a lead-in tachycardia (rapid beating) when the disorder led to a fall in blood pressure.  He said defibrillation or CPR could have worked if performed  in the first five minutes after the alarm. When Ms Kingi’s body was discovered more than an hour later, it took 13 minutes to get the keys and open her cell.  The inquest was told that at the time the prison had only one defibrillator and custodial staff could not have accessed it anyway.

This story is typical of the quality of healthcare offered to prisoners.  It is not dissimilar to the case of Justin Rys who also has a heart condition and has sleep apnoea. Mr Rys has to wear an oxygen mask while he sleeps – otherwise he stops breathing during the night placing additional stress on his heart.

While Mr Rys was in Rimutaka prison on remand earlier this year, the machine which pumps the oxygen broke down. For two weeks, nursing staff ignored his pleas for help. It was only when his lawyer intervened that Mr Rys was taken to hospital and given a new oxygen pump. If it hadn’t been for his lawyer, My Rys might also have died in prison.  Prison guards and nursing staff at Rimutaka clearly would not have cared.


In April 2014, five years later, the Corrections Department “apologised unreservedly” and made a confidential payment to Ms Kingi’s seven children after the family initiated court proceedings. See: Apology, payout over prisoner’s death. Her children chose to sue Corrections’ chief executive Ray Smith after meetings between the parties failed to resolve matters,


Judicial insanity – man sent to prison 38 times – Steven Bunyan

A story in the Taranaki Daily News reports that 33 year old sickness beneficiary Steven Bunyan, has just been sent to prison for the 38th time. He was jailed for assaulting a family member (apparently his mother), contravening protection orders, breaching court release conditions and repeat drink-driving. He was jailed for 10 months and disqualified from driving for 12 months and one day.

Bunyan’s mother wrote in her victim impact statement that he reverted to his old ways when staying with her in Okato, that he was taking drugs and ‘always spaced out’. She said she had to think about the effect on the wider family. Judge Roberts noted Bunyan had nine previous convictions for assaulting women and his mother was one of three women who had protection orders against him. The judge said it was clear his problems were more than just alcohol-related and that he had anger issues.

Untreated mental health problem

No kidding!! It seems fairly obvious Bunyan has a mental health problem as well as a drinking problem. What possible benefit does the judge think this man – or society – will gain by sending him to prison again? He needs a psychiatric assessment and dual diagnosis treatment – in other words, integrated treatment for his mental health problems as well as his addictions.

There are at least three reasons Bunyan’s not getting this kind of treatment.

Short sentence syndrome

Let’s assume he first went to prison at the age of 20. If he’s been to prison 37 times before and he’s only 33, that means he’s been in prison an average of three times every year of his adult life.  In other words, Bunyan is a victim of the short sentence syndrome – he gets released halfway through each sentence (that’s the law for anyone given a sentence of less than two years) and never becomes eligible to attend rehabilitation in prison. (He’s probably never appeared before the Parole Board either – that requires a sentence of more than two years). When he gets out, he starts drinking and taking drugs immediately and before you know it, he’s breached a protection order or assaulted someone, and is back before the judge.

Judicial failure to assess

That leads to the second reason he’s not getting the treatment he requires. Judges have the capacity to order psychiatric assessments and alcohol and drug assessments prior to sentencing. They can even delay sentencing until an offender has completed a treatment programme. But they rarely do. AOD assessments are ordered for only 5% of offenders – even though 80% of all offending occurs under the influence of alcohol and drugs.

The ‘bad’ vs ‘sad’ approach

In Bunyan’s case the judge seems aware that he has a problem with alcohol – but doesn’t seem to be aware that Bunyan has a mental health problem. Why? Probably because Probation Officers are not trained to screen offenders for mental health problems. Probation reports are likely to describe Bunyan as a recidivist offender who repeatedly breaches court orders and for whom the only appropriate sentence is imprisonment.

Given that he’s been in the system for most of his adult life, it’s quite on the cards Bunyan attended rehab somewhere along the way. If he did, it obviously didn’t help. Probably the main factor leading to treatment failure is actually the failure of the treatment provider to assess and diagnose the patient’s co-existing mental health disorder.

Let’s say Mr Bunyan was seriously abused as a child, bullied at school and has undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder and lifelong feelings of depression. Let’s assume that at the age of 14 he started smoking cannabis and found this provided some relief from his symptoms – which included nightmares and hyper-arousal. At age 16 he started binge drinking and 17 years later (now aged 33), he’s dependent on both and has a short fuse – which leads to serious problems in his relationships with women.

Is rehab going to help? Not likely. Such a person needs a psychiatric assessment and a treatment plan which addresses both the underlying mental health problems and the addiction. Did any of this abuse or trauma happen to Mr Bunyan? I don’t know. But something sure did. The kind of problems he has don’t come from nowhere. Unfortunately, the justice system hasn’t taken the time to find out. It just chucks him back in prison as if more punishment will solve the problem. The sentencing  judge didn’t even bother to impose any release conditions on him.

The cost of failure

But let’s not forget that spending a year in prison costs the taxpayer $90,000. In 13 years, it appears Mr Bunyan has so far cost the taxpayer about $1 million. If this keeps up until he’s 50, it will cost nearly $3 million. What a complete and utter waste of money.  A private psychiatrist might charge $2,000 to do an assessment. Eight weeks treatment would cost about $6,000. Treating Mr Bunyan’s problems from a health perspective instead of a justice perspective might actually solve the problem – and save the taxpayer a fortune. No wonder Charles Chauvel wants to abolish short prison sentences.

Mr Findlay – 20 years in prison with no rehabilitation

Mr Findlay (not his real name) was referred for an alcohol and drug assessment by the Parole Board in March 2009. At the time of the assessment, he was 39 years old and had been in prison for a total of 20 years. He was serving a life sentence for stabbing a young man to death in a street fight just a few weeks after his 16th birthday. At the time of the assessment, he had been released on parole twice and recalled twice, and was seeking to be released on parole for the third time.

History of offending

Mr Findlay started drinking at the age of 13, and occasionally smoked cannabis. Prior to the murder, he already had eight convictions in the Youth Court – for shoplifting, burglary and theft from cars. He was already getting into in trouble and a week before his 16th birthday he was convicted of aggravated assault. Six weeks later he got into the fight in which the other young man died.

Once Mr Findlay was sent to prison, he smoked cannabis virtually every day. He spent ten years in prison before being released on parole. Once he got out, he carried on smoking cannabis but also started binge drinking. In the next five years, he incurred a further 12 convictions mostly for fairly minor offending (careless driving and fighting in a public place) before being recalled to prison again. He served another two years before being released a second time.

When Mr Findlay got out this time, he started using (and dealing) methamphetamine. He incurred another three convictions – for disorderly behaviour, dangerous driving and possession of methamphetamine – and was recalled to prison again. He is still in prison six years later.

Family background

Mr Findlay said his father was involved with the Mongrel Mob.  His mother did not want him raised in a gang environment, and gave him to his grandmother to look after.  He said his childhood was fairly normal up to the age of six – when his grandmother died.

After her death, Mr Findlay went to live with his mother for the first time. By this stage, she had a new partner and four more children.  He said his mother and stepfather both drank heavily and his stepfather abused and tortured him. He described an incident in which his stepfather forced him to hold a clothes peg between his teeth and then poured water down his throat – somewhat akin to water boarding.  He said his stepfather sometimes made him lie in the bath full of cold water for hours on end and forced his mother to make sure he stayed there.

Mr Findlay described another incident in which his stepfather threatened to kill him by shoving an electric jug cord down his throat while it was plugged into the wall. During this period of his life, he was beaten and bruised and often went to school with no breakfast.  He began stealing food off other children. Not surprisingly, his teachers became concerned about his welfare and took him to a doctor. He was diagnosed with malnutrition and a hernia and admitted to hospital.

Mr Findlay’s stepfather forced his mother to say she was responsible for Mr Findlay’s scars and bruises, and the police subsequently charged her with assault.  He was removed from his mother’s care and placed in a foster home.

Over the next few years, Mr Findlay lived in more than a dozen different foster homes and was sexually abused. He shifted from one school to another.  At the age of 13, he was sent back to his mother – who by this stage was no longer living with her abusive partner. However, Mr Findlay said that because his mother never protected him from the abuse, he hated living with her and ran away. He was sent to two different boys’ homes and at age 14, was placed in yet another foster situation. He says he was still in foster care when he was sent to prison at the age of 16.


As a result of being tortured and abused as a child, Mr Findlay appears to have developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A month before the murder (after being charged with aggravated assault), he was interviewed by a probation officer and a psychiatrist. Neither of them made any mention of the abuse or the torture and the psychiatrist failed to make a diagnosis. An opportunity to intervene was lost and a month later, Mr Findlay killed someone.

Once in prison, three different psychological reports on Mr Findlay all described the way he was treated as ‘exposure to pathogenic care’ – meaning he was treated so badly, it was likely to lead to physical harm or ‘disease’. But once again, there was no mention of sexual abuse, no diagnosis and Mr Findlay never received any therapy.

Despite spending 20 years in prison, and seeing more than a dozen psychologists over this time, Mr Findlay was never diagnosed with PTSD and never required to attend drug treatment – either in prison or on the two occasions he was released on parole. However the three most recent psychological reports had all advised the Corrections Department and the Parole Board that he needed drug treatment.  The Department ignored the recommendations until 2009 – when the Board finally ordered an alcohol and drug assessment to be done.


I interviewed Mr Findlay and concluded that he appeared to have PTSD at the time of the murder and that his subsequent offending history had been driven by his mental health problems and his addictions – none of which had been treated despite spending 20 years in prison.

I recommended that Mr Findlay should attend the Drug Treatment Unit in prison. Mr Findlay has now completed that programme and said he gained a lot from it. He appears to have developed increased insight into himself and into the factors which led to his offending. He appeared before the Parole Board again in 2011, and once again, is working towards release. Eventually, he hopes to be sent to a supervised half-way house in the community.

Footnote on costs

 Before attending the Drug Treatment Unit, Mr Findlay had been in prison for nearly 20 years – at a cost of about $90,000 a year. In other words, nearly $2 million was spent keeping him in prison before he was required to attend a rehabilitation programme targeted at his primary offending issue (alcohol and drug dependence). During those 20 years, he was released twice with his addictions untreated and relapsed immediately.

Let’s rob another bank – the case of Craig Andrew Blair

In September, the Dominion Post reported the sad case of Mr Craig Andrew Blair who robbed a bank in Rotorua – not for financial gain but so that he would be sent back to prison. He went into the bank, approached the teller with a note demanding money and said he had a gun in his bag. After being handed $1,140, Blair walked 400 metres to the Rotorua Police Station to give himself up. No weapon was found.

At sentencing, his lawyer told the Court that Mr Blair couldn’t cope living on the outside. He had no support and spent the money he was given on leaving prison (usually $350) on alcohol. The probation report said Blair had psychological problems and suffered from depression. Not surprisingly, the report also said he was unmotivated – generally one of the main symptoms of depression. The judge sentenced him to two years and nine months jail.

This robbery was almost identical to another committed by Blair three years earlier. In 2008, he also robbed a bank in Te Puke in order to get himself returned to jail. According to the summary of facts in that case, Blair entered the bank carrying a backpack. He took a deposit slip and wrote on the back of it: “I’ve got a gun in the bag. Give me the $ or I’ll kill you.” The teller handed over $650. Putting the money in his backpack, Blair left the bank, walked about 20 metres away and sat down on a park bench until the police arrived to arrest him.

On that occasion, the judge also ignored probation and psychological reports indicating he needed help and sentenced him to 2½ years in prison. It’s now 2011 – deja vu.

The lack of rehab in prison

Mr Blair clearly has significant psychological problems. He suffers from depression and has a drinking problem. He knows how to cope in prison but lacks the skills and the support to cope on the outside. It’s a sad and pathetic case. But the real tragedy is the extraordinary lack of rehabilitative support offered by the Corrections Department to assist offenders with mental health and substance abuse disorders – either in prison or on release.

It’s not known if Mr Blair attended substance abuse treatment in prison – but probably not. Less than 5% of the 20,000 people who end up in prison each year are able to attend. Even if he had attended, this would not have helped if his underlying depression and lack of coping skills were not addressed at the same time. ‘Best practice’ requires patients with co-existing mental health and substance abuse disorders to receive integrated treatment for both disorders.

The lack of support on release

Blair has now been released into the community twice without support, adding to his fragile state of mind. New Zealand has only two halfway houses funded by the Corrections Department and less than 1% of inmates are released into them (compared with 60% in Canada). At the very least, he should have been released into a residential treatment programme – not left to roam the streets and drink himself into a stupor.

This case is an indictment of the judicial system as well as of Corrections. Two different judges ignored psychological reports and sent this sad and depressed individual into a prison system which is incapable of assisting people with complex psychological problems. By the time he finishes his current stint, he will have been in prison for at least five years – at $90,000 a year. This will end up costing the taxpayer at least $450,000.  Compare that with Prozac – which costs about five cents a day. Or two months in rehab – which costs about $6,000. Society is no safer because Craig Blair is in prison. When he offends, he doesn’t hurt anyone. And when he gets out, he’ll just do it again.

Time for an inquiry

Keeping people in prison, failing to treat the causes of the offending and releasing them without support, destroys lives and is a waste of financial resources. When the Government is facing the biggest deficit in its history, its time New Zealand re-assessed this deceitful strategy. In 2008 Simon Power called for an inquiry into the availability of rehabilitation in the justice system. Then he became the Minister of Justice and didn’t want one. Still more deceit. Labour MP Rick Barker has also called for in inquiry into recidivism calling it an ‘intractable problem’. It’s high time an inquiry took place.

The tragic case of body builder Justin Rys

Justin died today 5 June 2015 at the age of 38. RIP, Justin, a big man with a big heart.

This is a sad story. It’s about a man with an obsession – an obsession which is so out of control, it’s killing him. That man is Justin Rys, New Zealand’s most successful body builder. He has won a number of titles in his short life including Mr New Zealand, Mr Australasia and Mr Oceania.

To help build body mass, Mr Rys uses steroids, growth hormones and other drugs. The steroids have enlarged and weakened his heart, which has led to breathing difficulties.  By the time he was 24, his heart was already so weak that he collapsed one day and had to be taken to hospital. He was told he could be dead within five years. But Mr Rys was a driven man and figured he had nothing to lose – and now he was going to die anyway. Once he got out of hospital, he continued using body building drugs and working out.

Fantasy (GHB and GBL)

One of the drugs he used was GBL a Class B drug with the street name – Fantasy. GBL promotes the body’s production of growth hormone and strengthens muscle tone. In the US, it is used as a treatment for cataplexy – a condition in which patients lose muscle tone and collapse.  Mr Rys began using GBL at age 19. Eventually he was taking up to 120 mls a day – enough to kill a recreational user. (A recreational dose, inducing a pleasant sense of well-being, is about 2 – 4 mls.)

GBL was made illegal in New Zealand in 2002 by which time Mr Rys had already been using it for five years. In 2007, at the age of,  he was arrested for importation and given a nine year sentence  – reduced on appeal to seven years. He was released on parole in 2010. Soon after, he headed to Fiji where steroids and GBL could be legally purchased at chemist shops. Not surprisingly, his heart condition deteriorated rapidly. He returned to New Zealand after only two months, collapsed getting off  the  plane and spent 10 days in  hospital. This time the specialists told him he probably had only 12 months to live.


This is seriously compulsive behaviour and one can’t help but wonder why someone would do this to themselves. The reality is that Mr Rys is driven by something stronger than drug addiction. He has muscle dysmorphic disorder, sometimes known as megarexia. When he looks in the mirror, he sees himself as small even though he looks massive compared to you and I.  Megarexia is the opposite of anorexia in which those afflicted are so obsessed with their weight, they may starve themselves to death.

When Mr Rys got out of hospital, his heart specialist told him he had to lose weight – no easy task for someone with megarexia. But he tried and over the next six months he lost about 20kg. But losing weight made him depressed and he didn’t feel any better. He was going to die anyway so what difference did it make – the allure of the Fantasy came back to his mind.

It was then that Mr Rys discovered a beauty product called EzFlow Tip Blender which was 70% GBL, 30% alcohol and available on TradeMe  This product is used by beauticians up and down the country and imported into New Zealand by a company in Whakatane. The owner of this company said she had been importing it since 2003 (after GBL was declared illegal). She even has a dangerous goods certificate from the Customs Service giving her permission.

After further investigation, Mr Rys found that GBL is also a naturally occurring by product in the manufacture of wine and most wines contain small quantities. It’s also used in a variety of industrial products. The fact that GBL is present in so many other products and EzFlow Tip Blender was being imported with the blessing of the Customs Service lulled Mr Rys into a false sense of hope – or fantasy – perhaps EzFlow Tip Blender was not an illegal product. So he imported large quantities for his personal use from the same company in the United States that the beauticians in New Zealand get it from.

One law for Justin Rys…

The Customs Service didn’t like that. Mr Rys was known to have a criminal record. So they prosecuted him and charged him with importation of a Class B drug. They didn’t charge beauticians who had been breaking the law for nine years; nor did they charge anyone importing wine containing GBL. As far as the Customs Service is concerned, there seems to be one law for Justin Rys and another one for everyone else using this product.

Mr Rys is currently on remand in Rimutaka prison.  His health is so poor, he takes seven different medications. His heart is so weak, he gets short of breath and struggles to breathe at night. He has apnoea – he stops breathing when he falls asleep and requires an oxygen mask to assist his breathing. Without the mask, he almost suffocates in his sleep which wakes him up.  This happens dozens of times a night.

Recently, the machine which drives the oxygen into the’ mask stopped working. After a distressing and sleepless night, Mr Rys advised the prison nursing staff that he was couldn’t breathe and needed a new machine. The nurses ignored him. Mr Rys advised nursing staff every day for the next 2½ weeks that he was suffocating in his sleep and needed help.  He could easily have died during the night but the nurses didn’t seem to care. It was only when Mr Rys’ lawyer contacted the prison manager about the problem that any action was taken. The next day, he was taken into Hospital and given a new machine. Even with the mask, the fact remains that because of years of steroid and other drug use, he has severe health problems and could die at any time.

No treatment

Mr Rys’ addiction is unusual. He has two drivers for his drug addiction – muscle dysmorphic disorder which is a life threatening mental health condition and the addictive nature of the drugs themselves. Making matters worse, he has never had any treatment. He had a few counselling sessions with a psychologist in prison and subsequently had one session with a psychiatrist at the Wellington hospital alcohol and drug service (CADS). Unfortunately, the psychiatrist didn’t think he needed to see him again and discharged him.

In other words, Mr Rys’ obsession with muscle size has not been understood as a life threatening condition by psychiatrists, let alone by the Courts or by Corrections Department psychologists. Instead of receiving treatment, he has been hounded by the Customs Service and punished by the justice system. Instead of being sent to a clinic where he could receive specialized care for his condition he has been sent to prison where his health needs are largely ignored.

Unusual or not

This is an unusual case – or is it. In fact there are hundreds of people in prison with alcohol and drug problems driven by mental health disorders that have never even been diagnosed, let alone treated. This is one of the reasons that so many offenders relapse and re-offend as soon as they get out – and why 52% of prisoners New Zealand are back inside within five years. Mr Rys’ case is not unusual. It’s just that he’s a big man with a big heart – and he stands out in a crowd, especially a crowd of beauticians.