Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Privacy in prison

Skimming through the Ombudsman Annual Report looking for information about complaints concerning the OIA, I came across the following. It bothered me enough to stop and re-read it. The deprivation of any privacy must be utterly dehumanising.

Of course our inclination is to put ourselves into such a situation and feel repelled by the deep indignity of such monitoring (which was a surprise to me.) Then our next inclination is to remind ourselves that the subjects of such questionable scrutiny have in many cases treated others to far worse. Also, I am assuming, the monitoring is done to protect prisoners from themselves. I'd be interested in your reaction:

Privacy issues
By their very nature, prisons house difficult to manage, sometimes dangerous and often vulnerable prisoners who can push boundaries and challenge the system. In coercive environments such as prisons, there is a danger that security is overemphasised to the detriment of the dignity of prisoners. This year we found examples where we consider order and security prevailed too easily over dignity and fairness.
In Youth Units, double cells are monitored on camera and have limited privacy screening around the toilet/shower area. In Waikeria East, 7 cells (the old at risk cells) are monitored on camera but house mainstream prisoners.
In Northland Prison, prisoners in Separates cells are required to shower in an external yard which is monitored on camera.
As well as being monitored on camera, women in the Separates cells at Auckland Women’s Prison can be observed by prisoners and staff from both the corridor and the cell opposite using the toilet and shower. In the At Risk Unit, cells are monitored by cameras, including the unscreened toilet area. Cameras in both units are monitored by staff in the office and in “Master Control”including by officers of the opposite sex in the course of their work when female staff are unavailable. At Auckland Women’s Prison just over 41% of officers are male.
The ability to view naked female prisoners in the shower and undertaking their ablutions is of great concern.
We consider this to be significantly degrading treatment or punishment under COTA. The ability to view male prisoners in the shower is similarly degrading. We recommended that cameras should not cover toilets and shower areas. This was not accepted by Corrections.


Brendan McNeill said...

Prison is a dehumanising experience as this article highlights.

Perhaps the 'right to privacy' is lost when you are sentenced to prison?

S. Beast said...

Just...ewww. I can understand the need for coverage over toilets and showers as prisoners would exploit lack of coverage, but the idea that men can "observe" female prisoners in such intimate environments belongs on Slutload (or similar), not in the Department of Corrections policy manual.

Dave Christian said...

Never forget that some prisoners are innocent.

However, even with the guilty, we have to be clear if we wish to entirely alienate them from normal society. I can't see how this would be a good thing either from the soft or hard-on-crime POV.