New Zealand Law Society - Independent report calls for action on seclusion and restraint practices

Independent report calls for action on seclusion and restraint practices

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An independent report outlines a number of serious concerns about New Zealand’s seclusion and restraint practices, says the Human Rights Commission.  

The report, Thinking Outside the Box? – A Review of Seclusion and Restraint Practices in New Zealand, by international expert, Dr Sharon Shalev has been released today (27 April) by the Commission.  

It was commissioned to provide an independent perspective on seclusion and restraint practices in several different detention contexts and to identify areas of best practice, as well as areas that require improvement.  

Earlier this year the Chief Ombudsman released his own report into the way the Depart of Corrections managed some at-risk prisoners.


The Chief Human Rights Commissioner, David Rutherford, says while the report makes for sobering reading, the focus should be on how the recommendations can be used to reduce the occurrence of seclusion and restraint and, in circumstances where it is necessary, to improve practices.  

“Dr Shalev is an international expert with extensive experience in looking at detention facilities in particularly the United Kingdom and America. Her findings, and a number of other recent reports, have outlined areas of concern in relation to New Zealand’s current seclusion and restraint practices.   

“The report indicates that seclusion and restraint may not always be used as a last resort option, as required by international human rights law, and several of the rooms and units being used do not provide basic fixtures such as a call-bell to alert staff, a toilet, or fresh running water.” 

Chronic cases

The report also highlights the number of ‘chronic’ cases where solitary confinement and restraint were used for prolonged time, and systemic gaps, particularly in relation to the care of those who are mentally unwell.   

“Concerns have been raised about both general seclusion and restraint practices within mental health and disability settings as well as the problems faced by corrections and police staff when dealing with detainees who are experiencing serious and acute psychiatric events, which they are not always well equipped, or best placed, to deal with,” Mr Rutherford says.  

“These matters are particularly concerning, given what seems to be New Zealand’s high propensity to use seclusion and restraint. The focus must now be on improving the situation. Dr Shalev’s report provides an important catalyst for further discussion about these issues.” 

Dr Shalev has made a number of recommendations including:  

  • Stopping the use of equipment such as restraint chairs and restraint beds.
  • Making sure that rooms and cells are of a reasonable size, are clean, safe, well-ventilated, well-lit and temperature controlled and that basic requirements around access to fresh air and exercise, food and drinking water are always be met.
  • Decommissioning facilities that are not fit for purpose.
  • Ensuring all cells/rooms are equipped with a means for attracting staff attention
  • Thorough records and data are kept, indicating start and end times of seclusion and restraint periods and any efforts at less restrictive methods, and regularly analysed for trends in ages, ethnicities and gender.

In her report, Dr Shalev also noted the work being undertaken by Te Pou o te Whakaaro Nui (“Te Pou”) to reduce the use of seclusion and restraint in the mental health, addiction and disability sectors, which could potentially be applied to other detention settings.

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