Torture in New Zealand 2 – forcing prisoners into withdrawal

Governments wanting to impose pain and suffering on prisoners have an array of physical and psychological techniques at their disposal. In western democracies, the use of physical torture is hard to hide so creativity has been required to develop techniques that leave no marks; one of most well-known is ‘waterboarding’ – practised on prisoners at Guantanamo.

Pharmacological torture is another technique employed in Guantanamo. This involves the forced use of drugs to cause pain or sedate victims so they are more likely to talk. A variation on this theme involves taking medication away from prisoners who need it. This can also cause intense suffering and distress, especially if the medication is addictive.  Forcing prisoners into rapid detoxification or to go ‘cold turkey’ is also a form of pharmacological torture.

Prisoners denied methadone

The New Zealand Corrections Department employed this technique for 35 years by taking methadone off opiate addicts who committed crime and ended up in prison.  The Department’s “Protocol for Methadone Treatment Programmes in Prisons” says they did this to “reduce and, or, eliminate the dependency on addictive drugs by people remanded in, or sentenced to prison.”  It didn’t work.  Forced withdrawal in prison is not a recognized treatment for drug addiction and most of these prisoners relapsed as soon as they were released.

The reality is that methadone programmes substantially reduce criminal offending by removing the need for addicts to commit crime to get their fix.  It was not until 2008 that the Corrections Department crawled out of its pre-historic mind-set and allowed prisoners to stay on methadone for the duration of their sentence.

But management’s prejudice towards the use of any kind of addictive medication in prison persists.  Their disapproval is formalised in Section 6.1.1 of the Department’s Medicine Policy. This tells prison doctors that:

“Prescribing medication that can be misused/abused or has some economic value in a prison environment (or example benzodiazepines, opioids, zopiclone) is actively discouraged. A clinically suitable alternative medication or treatment option is preferred.”

In response to an Official Information Act request, the Department advised that there is no list of suitable alternatives.  This means that when prisoners are ill, or critically injured, and are in severe pain, the Department expects doctors to prescribe panadol.  The Ombudsman identified the over prescribing of panadol in a report issued in 2005 titled:  Investigation of the Department of Corrections in relation to the Provision, Access and Availability of Prisoner Health Services.

Denying opiate painkillers to prisoners in severe pain is tantamount to torture – and has contributed to a number of deaths in prison. Richard Barriball committed suicide in Otago prison within a week after the prison doctor took away three different pain medications he had been prescribed by specialists at Dunedin hospital. His story is described in a previous post on this website.

 Prisoners denied non-addictive medication

It’s not just pain killers. Non-addictive drugs are also taken off prisoners.  In The Effects of Imprisonment on Inmates and their Families Health and Wellbeing, Dr Michael Roguski and Fleur Chauvel interviewed 63 New Zealand inmates, chosen at random, about their medical treatment in prison. The authors wrote:

“Temporary and permanent discontinuation of medication occurs when prisoners are remanded, sentenced to prison and/or transferred between prisons. Permanent discontinuation appeared to be more geared towards medications with specific street values…”

A previous post, The Ritalin Rules in prison, describes the difficulties that prisoners with ADHD experience obtaining ritalin in prison.  However, prisoners on anti-depressants or anti-psychotic medication, with almost no street value, often have that discontinued as well.  Roguski and Chauvel went to say:

“Inmates prevented from accessing medication experienced extreme anxiety. Some of this anxiety was attributed to concern over ensuring one’s health care is maintained and the fact that discontinuation, even temporary, can be life threatening.

“Severe distress was reported by participants who had had their medications permanently discontinued. This was especially true in situations where inmates experienced a forced “cold turkey” withdrawal (i.e. no substitution or countdown). Most dramatic negative outcomes were reported by people who had a forced withdrawal from benzodiazepines and when psychiatric medication was not reinstated.”

In other words, even though prisoners on methadone are now able to stay on it, other medications are often temporarily withdrawn or permanently discontinued.  Prison doctors who comply with this practice and refuse, because of prison policy, to prescribe medications which are clinically justified are in breach of their medical ethics.

Refusing to provide a prisoner with appropriate medication is tantamount to torture. In February 2013 Juan Méndez, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, issued a report and accompanying press release which said:

“Medical care that causes severe suffering for no justifiable reason can be considered cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and if there is State involvement, it is torture.”

Paragraph 54 of his report says:

“Denial of pain treatment involves acts of omission rather than commission, and results from neglect and poor Government policies… (It) will constitute cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment… when the suffering is severe (and) when the State is, or should be, aware of the suffering, including when no appropriate treatment was offered; and when the Government failed to take all reasonable steps to protect individuals’ physical and mental integrity.”

Paragraph 55 says:

“When the failure of States to take positive steps… condemns patients to unnecessary suffering from pain, States … violate an affirmative obligation under the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment (A/HRC/10/44 and Corr.1, para. 72).”

Paragraph 56 says:

“Governments must guarantee essential medicines – which include, among others, opioid analgesics – as part of their minimum core obligations under the right to health, and take measures to protect people under their jurisdiction from inhuman and degrading treatment.”

When the Corrections Department, on behalf of the New Zealand Government, coerces doctors to breach their medical ethics, primarily by acts of omission, this imposes inhuman and degrading treatment on prisoners. This is a form of psychological torture; and such practices produce the same rates of PTSD as physical torture.

Torture in New Zealand 1 – the so-called At Risk cells

In 2009 Dr Michael Roguski and Fleur Chauvel interviewed 63 New Zealand prisoners chosen at random asking questions about their treatment in prison. In a report titled The Effects of Imprisonment on Inmates and their Families Health and Wellbeing, the researchers document a number of inhumane and degrading practices which cause intense psychological suffering; these produce the same level of trauma as physical torture techniques.

These inhumane practices are part of daily life in New Zealand prisons.  One of the most abusive is the use of ‘At Risk’ cells. These are special observation cells for potentially suicidal prisoners.  The prisoner’s clothes and underwear are taken away and replaced with a ‘suicide proof’ canvas tunic. There’s no TV, no radio, nothing to read and no visitors are allowed.  The prisoner is locked up in a small cell 23 hours a day – with one hour for exercise in a slightly bigger cell. The camera is on 24 hours a day, and the lights come on at night every 15 minutes so officers can check that the prisoner is still alive – although sometimes they don’t check and the prisoner still dies.

Sleep deprivation

Perhaps the most inhumane feature of these At Risk cells is the lights turning on and off so the prisoner can’t sleep. So if he wasn’t suicidal when he came in, he soon will be.  Keeping someone awake for days on end causes a range of physiological symptoms  including headaches, anxiety and impaired cognitive functioning. It also causes high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease, and can lead to depression, hallucinations and psychosis.  The effects are so debilitating, the United States uses sleep deprivation to torture prisoners at Guantanamo.

Placing a prisoner who is already disturbed into a cell where he is unable to sleep is about as barbaric as it gets. And yet this is exactly what the Department did with Antonie Dixon who has a long history of mental illness. He was in the At Risk cells for months before he finally killed himself.  He covered up the camera with toilet paper and somehow managed to hang himself with a rope made out of the ‘suicide proof’ canvas tunic.

Dixon should have been in a psychiatric hospital where he could receive proper psychiatric treatment.  The fact that he managed to commit suicide after months and months in an At Risk cell highlights the pain and suffering he experienced.  Even if Corrections didn’t physically torture him, psychological torture produces the same trauma as physical techniques. What happened to Dixon was torture – pure and simple.

Fear of going to At Risk

Dixon’s case is one of the worst. But out of the 63 prisoners that Roguski and Chauvel interviewed, nearly half had been diagnosed with a psychiatric condition prior to their incarceration.  Bearing in mind, the suicide rate in New Zealand prisons is 11 times higher than in the community. And on any given day, 20% of New Zealand prisoners are ‘thinking a lot’ about killing themselves.  That’s about 1,700 prisoners who are potentially suicidal on a daily basis – out of a total of 8,500. Dr Roguski says these prisoners are so afraid of going to At Risk, they often refuse to ask for help.  He wrote:

“Participants (in the research) who were experiencing depression and suicidal ideation made decisions not to seek intervention for fear of being placed in the At Risk unit.”

It gets worse. These At Risk cells are not just reserved for the suicidal.  The Department also uses them for prisoners who are merely upset or tearful.  One man in Roguski’s study described how he ended up in At Risk:

“When I came from the court house it was close to midnight ’cause I was waiting all day for a verdict. Then I come in, got strip searched and everything, and then they go to me, “Are you alright? “ “Yeah I’m alright.” But I had a bit of a tear in my eye because I was thinking about my kids. Then they go, “How about we just put you on observations for the night?”

They were like, “Don’t worry you will just be here for the night until we sort it out”. One night turned into three weeks and I told them every day, “Mister can I go back to remand?” … “Yeah, hang on we’ll sort it out.” Three weeks later I was still in At Risk… I was going nuts.”  (Anaru, Māori man, 18–25 years)

Some prisoners have spent months in these appalling conditions. In response to an Official Information Act request, the Department advised that in 2011, over 3,000 prisoners were placed in these At Risk cells. That’s more than one third of the entire prison population. One prisoner spent almost an entire year in one – 349 days to be precise.  Maria McDonald, Assistant General Manager, Prison Services who replied to my OIA thought this was totally justified. She claimed this occurred because:

“The prisoner may not have presented with a treatable mental illness and forensic treatment may not have been identified as the appropriate form of clinical management.”

Yeah right!   Based on his research, Dr Roguski came to an entirely different conclusion about the use of these cells.  He wrote:

“It was generally felt that officers, and some medical staff, automatically channelled prisoners into At Risk, or left them there for inappropriate amounts of time, due to lack of training and a limited availability of medical professionals to deal with possible mental health crises. As a result, participants related that if prisoners appeared to be emotional then they would be placed in an At Risk cell.”

According to the Ombudsman“Prisoners will often drift in and out of At Risk Units, whether they are at risk of self-harm or not.”

The reality is that officers can only channel prisoners into At Risk if a prison nurse gives their permission and signs the appropriate form. In other words, its prison nurses, rather than the officers, who are endorsing the use of these torture cells.  What’s truly remarkable is that before publication, Dr Roguski showed his report to Corrections management to obtain their feedback. He said he was quite surprised they didn’t disagree or express an objection to any of his findings.

80% of countries use torture – New Zealand is one of them

When it comes to torture, there’s no shortage of means or methods. Some techniques – like having your toenails pulled out or being forced into unnatural stress positions – induce physical agony. Here’s a list of the ten most frequently used physical torture techniques. Other techniques like sleep deprivation or waterboarding induce intense psychological distress rather than physical suffering. Here’s a list of 11 psychological techniques used on prisoners at Guantanamo which the US government referred to as ‘enhanced interrogation’ techniques – as if they were not really torture.

To the average coward like myself, having my toenails extracted with a pair of pliers sounds a lot worse than being water boarded.  But a report in the March 2007 issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, says psychological techniques – such as exposure to adverse environmental conditions, forced stress positions, hooding, blindfolding, isolation, forced nudity, threats, humiliating and degrading treatment –  cause just as much trauma and distress as physical techniques.

This is because psychological techniques produce physical effects – and vice versa.   For instance, keeping someone awake for days on end causes a whole range of physiological effects including headaches, impaired memory and cognitive functioning, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, stress, anxiety, depression, hallucinations and psychosis.  In other words, it can drive you crazy.

In other words, there is very little distinction between physical torture and “other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.”   This conclusion is backed up by the  New Scientist which says research on 300 torture survivors from the former Yugoslavia shows that prisoners subjected to psychological torture  experienced just as much mental anguish (measured by rates of post-traumatic stress disorder) as those who were physically tortured.  New Scientist quotes US Senator John McCain, who was captured and tortured in Vietnam, who says:

“If he were forced to make a decision between enduring psychological or physical torture, he would not hesitate to pick the latter”.

80% of countries use torture

We tend to think that torture is practised mainly in dictatorships, former communist countries, third world countries – and by the United States at Guantanamo.  But according to Christian Davenport, Professor of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland, 80% of the countries in the world torture someone in any given year.  Although physical torture is less common in democracies, the 80% figure includes the use of psychological techniques that do not leave permanent marks or other evidence of physical trauma. Davenport says:

“Research shows that torture is depressingly common, and that democracies have led a global shift to ‘clean’ techniques that make torture harder to detect.”

Darius Rejali, professor of political science at Reed College, and an internationally recognized expert on government torture and interrogation, agrees.  In Torture and Democracy, he says that as democracy and human rights spread after World War II, so too did the use of “clean” techniques using electricity, ice, water, noise, drugs, and stress positions.  Led by the US, Britain and France, he argues that democracies not only tortured, but “set the international pace for torture”.  Perhaps it should be no surprise that after the September 11 attack on the World Trade Centre,  54 different countries  were willing to help the CIA outsource torture through the use of ‘extraordinary rendition’.

Definition of torture

The Human Rights Data Project  says both physical and psychological torture techniques are breaches of human rights and defines torture as:

The purposeful inflicting of extreme pain, whether mental or physical, by government officials or by private individuals at the instigation of government officials. This includes the use of physical and other force by police and prison guards that is cruel, inhuman, or degrading, and deaths in custody due to tangible negligence by government officials.”

Torture in New Zealand prisons

In New Zealand, the Crimes of Torture Act was passed in 1989 and made all forms of torture illegal. This has not stopped the Corrections Department from using cruel, inhumane and degrading practices on prisoners.  For instance, every year, more than 3000 prisoners a year are forced to suffer sleep deprivation and social isolation in the At Risk cells in our prisons. Exacerbating the cruelty, this form of torture is reserved for prisoners who are already suicidal or psychologically vulnerable.  They are also humiliated by having to perform the naked squat three or four times a day.

Thousands of prisoners are also subject to a form of enhanced pharmacological torture.  Instead of being given drugs which cause pain, prison doctors in New Zealand are told to take medication off prisoners who are in pain. Section 6.1.1 of the Department’s Medicines Policy “actively discourages” doctors from prescribing opiate (pain killers), benzodiazepines (for anxiety),  ritalin (for ADHD) – or any drug which might be ‘traded’ in prison. In some prisons, this policy appears to include anti-depressants and anti-psychotic medication. In other words, prison doctors are encouraged to breach their medical ethics, ignore the welfare of their patients, and allow them to suffer.

Then there’s prison dental torture. The Department has a ‘minimum dental services policy whereby prisoners with toothache or an abscess can have the tooth extracted – but are generally not allowed to have fillings. Long term prisoners, with a sentence of more than one year, may receive fillings provided their teeth were in good condition prior to coming to prison.   But there are lengthy waiting lists. Prisoners serving less than one year (80% of all those in prison), are told to wait till they get out to see a dentist.  The Ombudsman has described the pain and suffering this policy causes and wrote: “It is regrettable in a society such as New Zealand that a person deprived of their liberty can suffer needless dental deterioration while in the care of the State.”

Official reports on the treatment of prisoners

In recent years, there have been four investigations into the medical and dental treatment of prisoners in New Zealand.

In 2005, the Ombudsman published an Investigation of the Department of Corrections in relation to the detention and treatment of prisoners, which expressed concerns about the adequacy of mental health care, medical care and dental care in prison.

In 2009, Dr Michael Roguski and Fleur Chauvel interviewed 63 prisoners chosen at random asking questions about their medical ‘treatment’ in prison. They released a report titled: The Effects of Imprisonment on Inmates and their Families Health and Wellbeing. This documents a series of cruel and inhumane practices which are part of daily life in New Zealand prisons.

Partly based on Dr Roguski’s report, in 2010, the National Health Committee published Health in Justice: Improving the health of prisoners and their families and whanau. It said medical treatment of prisoners was so poor that the Government should “consider the case for transferring responsibility for prisoner primary health care from the Department of Corrections to the health sector.”

A more detailed investigation of prison health care was conducted by the Ombudsman in 2012: Investigation of the Department of Corrections in relation to the Provision, Access and Availability of Prisoner Health Services. Although the Ombudsman stopped short of using the word torture, this report also describes a litany of inhumane and degrading practices masquerading as medical and dental treatment.

All of these reports describe cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of prisoners in New Zealand. Most of the pain and suffering is result of ‘tangible negligence by government officials’ – although the Department’s ‘discouraged medication policy’ and ‘minimum dental services policy’ formalise this neglect and make it official policy. The three most recent reports all provide case histories and quite graphic details of the suffering these practices impose. But there’s one thing missing from all three reports.  The authors haven’t had the courage to name this ‘treatment’ for what it really is – institutionalised, psychological and pharmacological torture.

The prison health system – maybe it’s not torture, but it hurts like hell

Section 5 of the Corrections Act requires that prisons are “operated in accordance with rules …  that are based on the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.” However, in its report titled “Investigation of the Department of Corrections in relation to the Access and Availability of Prisoner Health Services”, the Ombudsman found numerous failings in the delivery of health services.  He also said the Corrections Department does not meet Article 22(1) of the UN Minimum Standard Rules – which requires every prison to have at least one qualified medical officer, who should also have some knowledge of psychiatry.

Mental torture

This rule appears to be breached by virtually every prison in the country. The Ombudsman found that “Many medical officers have limited training in psychiatry and… some prison healthcare teams had no mental health nurses to provide specialised care to those who fell beneath the threshold of severe and enduring illness.”

To put it bluntly – this is crazy.  More than half of prisoners have had mental health problems; 60% have a personality disorder; almost two thirds have had a serious head injury and 90% have a history of alcohol and drug abuse. But the level of psychiatric care in prison is minimal. In an interview with psychiatrist and Parole Board member, Dr Phillip Brinded, the Sunday Star Times reported that “If a prisoner is so psychotic they can’t be managed, they will join the ‘acute’ list and get to hospital within days, but those who are just quietly off their rocker can languish on the ‘sub-acute’ list for many months. It seems that in order to get treatment in prison, you have to go really mad.”

Dental torture

This is not the only UN Rule breached by the Corrections Department. For instance, Article 22 (3) states that “The services of a qualified dental officer shall be available to every prisoner.” That sounds reasonable.  Prisoners tend to have chronically poor oral health care and the Prisoner Health Survey (2005) found that one third of those interviewed reported having a toothache in the previous month.  However, Corrections has difficulty securing the services of dentists – presumably because the Department doesn’t pay dentists as much as they can earn in private practice. Because of recruitment difficulties, the Ombudsman reported that the Department has been flying a dentist from Wellington to Christchurch to provide dental care for prisoners at all three Canterbury prisons.

Even in those prisons where dentists are available, the waiting list is up to three months. But here’s the real toothache.  The Department has a “minimum dental services policy” whereby pain relief only is provided to most prisoners – which may include medication, extraction, or drainage of an abscess.  Early treatment with amalgam fillings – which would prevent further decay – is not provided. Now that’s really crazy.

But the pain gets worse. Prisoners near the end of their sentence are not eligible for any dental treatment at all – they just get medication. The Ombudsman gave case histories of prisoners who had severe tooth decay who were not allowed by prison nurses to even see the dentist. For some of these prisoners, the decay eventually turned into an abscess.  One prisoner reported that “his jaw ached, his glands were swollen, and he had a sore ear – and he couldn’t sleep.”  All he got was panadol and told to “see a dentist when you get out.” That may not be torture – but it sure as hell hurts – night and day – for months on end.

Lets ratchet up the screws 

The Ombudsman concluded his report with a recommendation that responsibility for the health care of prisoners should be removed from the Corrections Department entirely and given to the Ministry of Health. The MOH agrees. A study released by the Ministry in 2010 says “An inherent tension exists between a custodial role and the delivery of comprehensive, high quality health services… current institutional arrangements prevent medical professionals from fully exercising their duty of care.”

Corrections Minister, Anne Tolley, and chief executive, Ray Smith, are clearly unconcerned. They want to reduce, rather than increase, the role of medical professionals in prison. Legislation was introduced to Parliament in February giving nurses rather than medical officers (doctors) overall responsibility for the healthcare of prisoners.  Up till now, Medical Officers who are contracted to Corrections have been responsible. Being on contract, they have some independence and can make decisions based on ‘best practice’.  But prison nurses are employees not contractors  – they can be told what to do by prison managers who have no medical training whatsoever.

This legislation will increase the ‘inherent tension’ which already exists and further erode the standard of medical care in prison.  Some would say – but they’re all crims in there, so who cares?  No one in the Corrections Department, that’s for sure.  Their attitude seems to be – if we can’t torture them, let’s make sure they feel the pain.

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.

Conclusion

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.