Self-harm on the rise in NZ prisons

Four inmates have taken their own lives in southern prisons in recent years, new figures reveal.

Across the country the number of serious self-harm incidents has rapidly risen, as the Government pumps millions of dollars into mental health support for prisoners.

Figures released under the Official Information Act show there were 67 self-harm incidents that posed a risk to life in New Zealand prisons last year.

At the Auckland Region Women’s Corrections Facility alone, there were 18.

That was a significant increase on 2014, when there were 15 incidents nationwide.

Between 2014 and 2019, there were 32 apparent suicides in prisons, including two in Invercargill Prison and two in the Otago Corrections Facility.

One of those suspected suicides was 29-year-old David Joseph Jackson, of Clyde, who died during his first night at the Otago Corrections Facility in January 2016.

His mother Cathy Jackson, of Clyde, spoke to her son on the day he died.

He sounded fine, she said.

She later received a photocopy of part of a letter he had written, where he said he thought he was doing the best thing for his family, and that he had been thinking about taking his own life for "quite a while".

"We were all sort of in shock, it was really hard," Ms Jackson said.

She described her son as "quite conflicted".

He had a history of mental health issues and, while he was not diagnosed as a child, she believed now he would have been diagnosed with ADHD.

In a tragic coincidence, two other boys from Mr Jackson’s primary school class in Clyde had also taken their own lives in recent years, she said.

A coronial inquest into Mr Jackson’s death had not been scheduled yet.

Ms Jackson did not blame anyone for her son’s death, but she did want to see more communication between different agencies working in the mental health sector.

In a statement, Department of Corrections national commissioner Rachel Leota said prisoners were three times more likely than the general population to have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder in the past 12 months.

Two-thirds of female prisoners had suffered family violence, rape and/or sexual assault, and more than half had post-traumatic stress disorder.

Three-quarters had diagnosed mental health problems.

"When a person enters prison, our immediate priority is to ensure their mental and physical health," Ms Leota said.

Prisoners identified as being vulnerable to self-harm or suicide were moved to an intervention and support unit with multidisciplinary teams.

Last year the Government announced a $128.3million boost for mental health support for offenders, both in prison and in the community.

Once fully implemented, the expanded mental health services would support up to 2310 additional offenders with mild to moderate mental health needs every year.

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