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Public health experts call for use of “tie-down” practice to be abolished in NZ prisons

Wellington campus

Friday, 12 April 2019

Paula King image
Dr Paula King

A University of Otago public health physician and researcher and her Australian colleague welcome news that the use of “tie-down” practice will be abolished in New Zealand prisons.

Senior Research Fellow in the Department of Public Health at the University of Otago, Wellington and Public Health Physician, Dr Paula King, and GP and Public Health Physician at Griffith University Australia, Dr Julia Carr, say prison practices of physically restraining people at risk of self-harm or suicide are cruel and inhumane.

Dr King says the practice is not acceptable in the health and disability sector and raises significant ethical issues for health professionals involved.

“We have called for the use of “tie-down” to be abolished in New Zealand prisons, and for all health professionals to refuse to participate in this inhumane practice.

“We welcome the recent statement from the Department of Corrections that the use of “tie-down” will be abolished in New Zealand prisons.”

Julia Carr image
Dr Julia Carr

In the latest issue of the New Zealand Medical Journal, the pair has written an article drawing upon two recent reports from the Chief Ombudsman that describe the prison management of people assessed at risk of self-harm or suicide, as cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of punishment.

The reports show people in prison were mechanically restrained on “tie-down” beds or in waist restraints with their hands cuffed behind their backs over prolonged periods of time. The practice occurs at the direction of, or with approval by health professionals.

The pair believe more specific guidance is needed for all health professionals working in coercive environments, emphasising their obligation to uphold patients’ rights and provide humane, effective and compassionate care in these settings.

However, in response to media inquiries following the 9 April 2019 pre-publication release of their article in the New Zealand Medical Journal to media, the Department of Corrections has stated it will now be moving to abolish the use of “tie-down” in New Zealand, Dr King says.

“We are very happy that the Department of Corrections has signalled they will make this change.

“Moving forward, Government needs to ensure that people in prison at risk of suicide or self-harm receive humane, evidence-based care, and that there is sufficient forensic mental health capacity and capability in the health sector for timely access to equitable, high-quality, culturally safe services for this high-needs population.”

For further information, contact:

Dr Julia Carr
Griffith University, Australia
Email carrjuliamerle@gmail.com

Liane Topham-Kindley
Senior Communications Adviser
Tel +64 3 479 9065
Mob +64 21 279 9065
Email liane.topham-kindley@otago.ac.nz