Prison abolitionist organisation People against Prisons Aotearoa has erected a replica cell in Aotea Square, in protest against solitary confinement.
Installed on Tuesday morning, the clear-walled, roofless, simulated cell is a tight fit and showcases the existence and cruelty of solitary confinement to the public.
Spokesperson Emilie Rākete says that most people are unaware of the sequestration of prisoners in solitary confinement. The replica cell intends to bring solitary confinement “out of the prison basement and out onto the street where the public can see it”.
Prisoners in solitary confinement are often subjected to austere conditions including no social or physical contact with other people, poor bedding and sanitary facilities, and little access to natural light.
Minister of Corrections Kelvin Davis has denied the use of solitary confinement in prisons.
Speaking with Te Karere’s Irena Smith, Davis says that there is a difference between solitary confinement and segregation.
“Segregation is used to protect the prisoner getting hurt or from hurting others,” says Davis.
Advocacy group People Against Prisons Aotearoa uses the United Nations’ definition of solitary confinement which is the social and physical isolation of prisoners for 22 hours or more a day.
Isolation of this sort often has adverse effects on the well-being of prisoners, negatively impacting mental health.
Department of Corrections statistics shows that the prison population has a suicide rate six times that of the general population.
According to Rākete, the use of solitary confinement is torture and is, therefore, a contravention of the UN Convention against Torture, of which New Zealand is a signatory.
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