Mental health inaction will fuel prison harm

An increase in the number of unnatural deaths and self-harm incidents in prisons are further evidence of failings in our health and justice systems, and show the urgent need for a mental health enquiry, the Green Party said today.

Corrections data for 2015/16 shows there were 11 unnatural deaths in custody, as many as the two previous years combined, and 26 self-harm threat-to-life incidents, six times as many as in 2014/15. Suicide is the most common form of unnatural deaths in prison.

“Our national suicide rates are tragically high, and people in prisons should be able to access the mental health care that they need,” said Green Party corrections spokesperson David Clendon.

“The lack of investment in proper mental health care is both contributing to the prison population and endangering the lives of people inside prisons.

“We’ve seen our mental health system being stretched past breaking point in the community, and prison mental health services are dealing with the same issues further down the line.

“Many inmates are likely to underreport mental health issues because Corrections’ methods of dealing with them are traumatising.

“Corrections have admitted that more than 60 percent of inmates have mental health or substance abuse problems, but the Government won’t step up to prevent these issues from putting inmates at further risk but instead is investing in locking more and more people up.

“A comprehensive mental health inquiry could help us to better understand this crisis, and prevent people with mental health problems from falling into the justice system and becoming another statistic in our ballooning prison population.

“Māori are much more likely to commit suicide than non-Māori, and with Māori overrepresented in the inmate population, the need to address mental health in prisons is even more pressing.

“The Government needs to face up to its duty of care for all New Zealanders and commit real funding and energy to helping solve the mental health crisis,” said Mr Clendon

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