New Zealand Law Society - Prison cell 'double-bunking' changes inconsistent with UN Rules

Prison cell 'double-bunking' changes inconsistent with UN Rules

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A proposed law change making prison cell sharing or ‘double bunking’ the norm is inconsistent with New Zealand’s obligations under UN Rules relating to treatment of prisoners, the Law Society says.

The New Zealand Law Society has presented its submission on the Corrections Amendment Bill to Parliament’s Justice select committee. It says removing the current legislative preference for single-cell accommodation is inconsistent with the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.

The UN Rules allow for shared cells but only where there are special reasons, such as temporary overcrowding. Currently, New Zealand corrections legislation reflects the UN Rules’ preference for single-cell accommodation.

However, the bill would make shared cells the norm, rather than the exception in special circumstances.

“While cell-sharing may be unavoidable in some cases, it should not be the legislative norm,” Law Society spokesperson Katherine Anderson told the committee.

“A 2006 inquiry into a cellmate murder in the UK concluded that single-cell accommodation helps to reduce the risk of conflict between prisoners and recommended the UK Prison Service should put a high priority on eliminating enforced cell-sharing,” Ms Anderson says.

“The bill also removes the current requirement for Corrections instructions to ensure the use of shared cells is safe, secure, humane and effective, and does not require that prison managers ensure prisoners accommodated in shared cells are carefully selected,” Ms Anderson says.

The Law Society says the current preference for single cell accommodation is consistent with the UN Rules and should be retained.

The Law Society has also raised concerns about other aspects of the bill, including the use of mechanical ‘tie-down’ restraints on prisoners in hospital, and management of prisoners at risk of self-harm. The Law Society has recommended changes to improve the bill’s clarity and workability, and compliance with domestic and international human rights standards.

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