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To: Hon. Kelvin Davis, Minister of Corrections and Minister for Children and Hon. Kris Faafoi, Minister of Justice

Guarantee the wellbeing of young people held in Corrections Youth Units

Guarantee the wellbeing of young people held in Corrections Youth Units

The Department of Corrections is currently considering a proposal to close Youth Units in Christchurch Men’s and Hawke’s Bay Correctional facilities to make room for COVID-19 isolation units.

We strongly oppose the closure of Youth Units for this reason, and we believe another solution can, and must, be found.

We call on the Hon. Kelvin Davis and Hon. Kris Faafoi to guarantee that young people housed in the Youth Units across the country will not be moved from their current residences, and that these units will remain dedicated spaces for the rehabilitation and wellbeing of our vulnerable young people.

Why is this important?

We give rangatahi the best opportunities to grow and succeed when we ensure they are connected, well- resourced, and when they feel safe and secure. Young people living in Corrections Youth Units need the support of their whānau and communities to be accountable for their actions, and to make positive lasting changes in their lives.

Corrections’ proposal to close down the Youth Units at Christchurch Men’s and Hawke’s Bay Correctional Facilities leaves little scope to keep our young people connected and safe. Corrections has provided very limited details about their plan for the young people in its care, if these units were to close.

Human rights standards require that young people under the age of 18 are separated from the adult prison population, acknowledging that youth have different needs to adults in prison due to their age-specific cognitive development. As Corrections itself states on its website, the purpose of youth units is to provide “a safe and secure developmental environment for youth and vulnerable male prisoners.”

Placing young people into the adult population in prisons, even temporarily, would expose them to undue risk. Disrupting their relationships and programmes will undermine the rehabilitative growth and pro-social changes our rangatahi have worked hard to acquire. The harmful impacts caused by this have significant potential to be both far-reaching and long-lasting.

We firmly support the statement made by the Assistant Māori Commissioner for Children, Glenis Philip Barbara, that “it is unsafe in every conceivable way for very young prisoners to be housed with adults”. We urge the Ministers to take heed of this expert advice.

While we support Corrections’ intentions to protect our vulnerable whānau in prison from harms posed by COVID-19, we unequivocally assert that these measures must not compromise the safety and wellbeing of our vulnerable rangatahi in the care of the Department. We seek commitment from the Ministers that the Youth Units will not be repurposed, and that the young people in them will not be moved.

If the Department cannot guarantee the safety of vulnerable young people in its care, then they shouldn’t be held in prison at all. JustSpeak encourages the Ministers to revisit the suggestions we made both last year, and again this year during our most recent Level 4 lockdown: to reduce our prison population in line with international responses to the threat of COVID-19 in prisons.

Media release from Office of the Children's Commissioner:

https://www.occ.org.nz/publications/news/call-to-keep-teen-prisoners-out-of-mainstream-prison/

Media coverage:

https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/127188639/assistant-childrens-commissioner-opposes-move-to-place-teens-in-adult-prisons

https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/new-zealand/2021/12/fears-turning-christchurch-youth-prisons-into-covid-19-facilities-could-ruin-young-offenders-rehab.html

https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/457418/turning-youth-prisons-into-covid-19-wards-dreadful-mistake

New Zealand

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Updates

2021-12-15 06:57:59 +1300

100 signatures reached

2021-12-14 12:08:27 +1300

50 signatures reached

2021-12-13 19:40:16 +1300

25 signatures reached

2021-12-13 16:44:12 +1300

10 signatures reached