Ministry reviews court cells

17 March 2016

The Ministry of Justice has almost completed a review of court custodial cells throughout New Zealand following a death of a defendant in a cell in the Papakura courthouse last year.

The Independent Police Conduct Authority in a report released today said the condition of the custodial cell was a contributing factor in the death of Dwayne Walters on 4 May 2015.

Karl Cummins, Deputy Secretary District Courts and Special Jurisdictions, says the Ministry was saddened by Mr Walters’ death.

“We acknowledge that the condition of the cell was a contributing factor in Mr Walters’ tragic death. We want to publicly express our condolences to Mr Walters’ family.”

The Ministry is reviewing all custodial court cells. There are 367 custodial cells across 57 courts and all but nine courthouses have been reviewed. Police bring about 50,000 people into our cells for court appearances every year. Corrections and other agencies also bring many people through custodial cells every year, some on multiple occasions.

“Most courthouses were built when there were different standards and as part of the review, we assessed court custodial cells for a number of criteria, including risks to detainees, either from self-harm or assault, and to Police and Corrections staff from assaults. Despite the damage the custodial cells often suffer as a result of vandalism, most were generally well maintained,” Mr Cummins says.

“However, we also found some matters that need to be addressed in some custodial cells, including ligature points and the need for surveillance so Police officers can keep a better eye on detainees.”

While work to enhance the safety of court cells began before Mr Walter’s death, the review was undertaken to ensure a complete overview.

“As a part of the expansion of the Manukau District Court, the busiest district court in New Zealand, new cells were added allowing us to upgrade the existing custodial cells, while work is underway in Auckland’s Waitakere District Court as well. The adult custodial cells at Papakura were refurbished last year and work on the youth custodial cells is also underway and will soon be completed. We will be prioritising and completing this work as part of the ongoing planned work, especially addressing potential ligature points.”

The management of people in custodial cells involves several agencies the Ministry works closely with, Mr Cummins says.

“Different agencies are involved and custodial cells naturally house people at highly stressful times in their lives. As the IPCA notes, while the Ministry is responsible for the construction and maintenance ofthe cells, other agencies have responsibility for the custody and care of those detained in them. We will be doing this work collaboratively with our Justice sector partners and we’ll be reporting back to the IPCA on the work as it progresses.”

For more information, contact Antony Paltridge, Ministry of Justice, on 04 918-8980.

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