Simple low-cost changes can lower prison suicides, but will they be implemented?

THE CORONER may have found a way to drastically reduce the country’s high prison suicide rate – but whether Corrections moves on his recommendations remains to be seen.

More prisoners are killing themselves than ever before with the suicide rate in New Zealand prisons now around 11 times higher than in the general population.

In the past five years alone there have been 31 suicides and at least a further 100 failed attempts at prisons around the country.

The suicides were spread among 14 prisons with seven – or 20 percent –carried out at Christchurch Men’s Prison, five at Rimutaka Prison, and three each at Auckland Prison, Northland Region Corrections Facility, Waikeria Prison and Whanganui Prison.

Bradley Steven Twidle is one of those 31 inmates who committed suicide while in the official custody and care of Corrections. He took his own life in December 2013 after asking to be segregated from a man who had been convicted of sexually assaulting him.

A police investigation into Twidle’s death found that he’d worked in the prison laundry, where he was considered a good worker, on the morning of December 6, 2013.

However, when a prison worker came to his cell to get him to work he’d appeared “slightly distracted” and was twice asked to get moving.

Twidle returned to his cell at about 11.10am and was alone until his cellmate was escorted back at 2.02pm.

That was when prison staff found Twidle dead in his cell.

Although his death was needless at the time, it might now provide the catalyst for changes, which could drastically reduce the suicide rate in prisons right across the country.

According to prison psychologist Roger Brooking, the only real viable option for inmates contemplating suicide is hanging..

But Brooking says even that can be difficult as modern prisons are designed to ensure there are no obvious ligature or hanging points.

Despite such difficulties, samurai sword killer Antonie Dixon hung himself by covering up the camera with wet toilet paper for five hours while he slowly ripped up the canvas tunic – and no one intervened.

Coroner CJ Devonport has ordered that no mention be made of how Twidle committed suicide, but has recommended that funding be sought to replace the open safety rails on prison bed bunks with solid wood guards.

He also wants the ladders on the bunks replaced with solid box steps similar to those installed at New Plymouth Remand Centre.

A prison source said the rails allowed inmates to tie a sheet around them and hang themselves. He believed if the Coroner’s recommendations were followed it could lead to a drastic reduction in the number of suicides in prisons across the country.

“At Paremoremo they use the sprinkler pipe as well, but the guard rails are easier and more commonly used. If they were all replaced, it’d make things a hell of a lot more difficult for inmates considering suicide,” the source said.

“In terms of the cost, it wouldn’t be much. But who knows what Corrections will do. It says it is serious about reducing suicide and making prisons safer for inmates but when it’s presented with a solution it usually does nothing but sit on its hands.”

The inmate said he had recommended similar changes to those recommended by the Coroner in an affidavit he had filed with the Coroner into the suicide of Joshua Mark William Tryselaar.

Tryselaar hung himself in his cell.


cookStephen Cook is a multi award winning journalist and former news editor and assistant editor of the Herald on Sunday.

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