Suicide numbers a sign of a system under strain

The steep increase in suicides in New Zealand’s prisons is another “deeply disturbing” sign of a system struggling to cope with ever increasing prisoner numbers, the PSA says.

The prison muster has increased by 1439 in the past two years, and so has the number of suicides in prison - from one between March and August 2017, to six over the following six months.

PSA Organiser Willie Cochrane says the rising rate of suicides is a frightening sign of a system creaking under significant strain.

“It is deeply disturbing that the suicide rate appears to be climbing exponentially along with the prison muster.

“We need to give significant thought to the pressures that are causing this.”

Mr Cochrane says just as significant are figures showing the number of attempted suicides rose from 20 in 18 months, to 19 during the next six months.

“Attempts cause major stress for Corrections staff – and prisoners too.

“Add this to the existing pressures around double-bunking and a lack of rehabilitation, and you’ve got a serious issue.”

Overcrowding means prison staff aren’t able to do the work needed around suicide prevention, Mr Cochrane says.

“Under the old regime prisoners were unlocked from their cells between 7am in the morning and 8pm at night.

“That meant we could run a lot of the rehabilitation and reintegration courses for prisoners after tea. 

“But right now overcrowding means prisoners are out of their cells from 8am to 5pm, so the days are compressed, and the ability of staff to help prisoners is practically negligible.”

The Government announced 600 extra prison beds in last month’s Budget, but Mr Cochrane says that’s not enough.

“The muster is so high that 500 beds that weren’t fit for long term use have had to be reopened.

“They’re not safe environments for prison staff or inmates.

“We believe 1000 beds is more appropriate, and even then the risk of having some more significant overcrowding issues is very high.”