Amnesty International is calling for transparency from the Government on what is happening in New Zealand’s prisons as we navigate COVID-19 – particularly on lockdown hours in cells.
The concerns come following several reports from different people and organisations that prisoners are being held over 22 hours on “lockdown”, when they are not allowed out of their cells. Human rights standards that New Zealand has agreed to specify that practices such as prolonged solitary confinement are still prohibited, even during a national emergency. Solitary confinement is defined as the confinement of prisoners for 22 hours or more a day without meaningful human contact.
Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand Executive Director Meg de Ronde says requests for information from Minister of Corrections Kelvin Davis have not resulted in any meaningful response.
“We requested an urgent response on reports of extended lockdown hours in prisons across the country from the Minister and have had no information yet. We appreciate that the Minister is seeking to balance the right to health for prisoners and staff. However some rights, including the right to be free from torture and other forms of ill-treatment can never be risked, especially during a time of crisis. We were hearing concerning reports of extended lockdown periods in prisons before COVID-19, and now is not the time for things to be getting worse.”
De Ronde says the latest reports this morning of a leaked memo that discusses potentially requiring some prisoners to stay in prison past the end of their sentence heightens concerns.
“The notion of human rights for all is at the centre of a healthy and enduring response to COVID-19. There needs to be more transparency and assurances from the Government that this also includes our places of detention.”