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SocietySeptember 25, 2019

Corrections apologises after epileptic inmate left in faeces overnight

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An investigation has been launched after an epileptic inmate was left in a soiled cell following a seizure over the weekend.

An inmate was left traumatised and covered in excrement overnight following an epileptic seizure at Christchurch Men’s Prison.  

The man, who The Spinoff has chosen not to name, collapsed in his cell around 10.30pm on Saturday night. Despite repeated calls for help from other inmates – including the man’s son – family say guards took 40 minutes to attend the incident, then refused to enter the cell due to a perceived risk to their safety. Corrections disputes the length of the delay.

No ambulance was called and no medical care was administered by guards. Once the seizure had subsided, a nurse conducted a face-to-face assessment. The inmate, who had soiled himself during the seizure, was given a rubbish bag and plastic gloves and told to “clean himself up,” his daughter Stacey Harvey-King told The Spinoff. 

The man was kept in his cell until the following day, when he was allowed to shower. The family are outraged, says Harvey-King. 

“Our prisoners are still human and deserve the right to medical care. I’ve dealt with his seizures all my life and I know that he should have been taken to hospital, an ambulance should have been called. He should have been on a 24 hour watch.”

“My brother is traumatised, he was locked in a different cell and not able to help his dad. We know someone who died of a seizure at 23 and that’s in my brothers head – dad could have choked, he could have banged his head. There were three or four guards watching him standing outside, four of them could have put a pillow under his head or put him on his side.”

Harvey-King said she had contacted Christchurch Men’s Prison and been told her father had revoked his complaint. Harvey-King denies the complaint was revoked, and said her father fears repercussions should he press ahead. Corrections denies a complaint was laid. 

Ben Clark, Corrections’ Southern Regional Commissioner, said he had apologised to Harvey-King, and that an internal review had been launched. Clark said acting prison director Dave Miller will also meet with the inmate and apologise.

“I acknowledge there are areas of this incident that we can learn from and improve on. I appreciate that having a seizure can be a frightening experience, for the person and for those that witness it. Our duty of after care to this prisoner did not meet the standard that I would expect and the lessons to be learned around safety, security and welfare will be a focus of our internal review.”

Minister of Corrections Kelvin Davis said he became aware of the incident following The Spinoff’s enquiries and sought an urgent briefing from Corrections. He said he was disappointed with Corrections.

“What happened here simply wasn’t good enough. It’s disappointing that Corrections’ duty of after-care to this man fell below their own standards, and my expectations as Minister.”

Corrections recently launched a new departmental strategy which aims to place the wellness and wellbeing of people at its heart, Davis said. 

“One of the key outcomes for this strategy is the humanising and healing of those in Corrections’ care – that they are treated with respect and that their dignity and mana is upheld. 

“As we move forward with implementing and embedding this new strategic direction, it is my very strong expectation as Minister that we ensure mistakes like the ones made in this case don’t happen again.”

Emmy Rākete, spokesperson for People Against Prisons Aotearoa said the incident was “a continuation of the abuse of prisoners that saw the last prison director, John Roper, fired.”

“The so-called recidivism reduction plan that Corrections announced a few weeks ago trumpets that the Department will ensure a minimum standard of health and hygiene for people in its custody. If Corrections does not fire all of the guards complicit in leaving an epileptic man lying in his own faeces, how can the public have any confidence in it?”

Roper was sacked last year after it was revealed his staff had illegally spied on inmates. He had been on gardening leave for 16 months. In April, 2017, Roper received a warning after a prisoner self-harmed while locked outside in an exercise yard for several hours. Roper had warned staff they would face the consequences for leaking information to media.

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