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The Uses and abuses of solitary confinement of children in State-run institutions in Aotearoa New Zealand independent report finds use of solitary confinement in State care was widespread and routine for decades, and that its use did not adhere to national regulations or international law. 

The Royal Commission has funded a number of independent experts to submit reports exploring issues relevant to the Inquiry’s work. This report was submitted by Sharon Shalev – an international expert on the use and consequences of solitary confinement and other restrictive practices in institutional settings. 

The report looks at the use of solitary confinement as a “behavioural management tool” for children and young people in State care settings and the impacts it has had on survivors. It discusses whether solitary confinement facilitates abuse, and whether it could be considered a form of torture.   

The report finds that the extensive use of solitary confinement illustrates systemic, institutional ill treatment. Survivor and witness statements spanning 30 years confirm that tamariki were held in so-called ‘secure’ rooms in many residences, which were small cells sometimes made of concrete. Duration of stays lasted from a few days to several weeks. In at least one case, a 13-year-old boy had been recorded as spending 320 days in the Kohitere Secure Unit. 

The report notes that human beings are social creatures. Being isolated from human company and human touch is painful and profoundly damaging to the health and wellbeing of individuals. Shalev states that considering that many tamariki are likely to have experienced trauma prior to being placed in care, and further trauma due to the placement itself, adding solitary confinement to the mix makes it a particularly toxic one with potential life-long repercussions for the individual concerned. 

The report finds, even allowing for differences in thinking and understanding of child development and child psychology at the time, solitary confinement practices were not only contrary to human rights law, but they were also contrary to basic principles of kind and compassionate treatment. The use of ‘secure’ rooms and units for children persists and continues to be a source of grave concern. 

Sharon Shalev makes the following key conclusions and recommendations: 

  • Secure Care rooms are inappropriate for housing children and young people and their use should stop. 
  • Distressed children and young people must not be placed in the stressful conditions of Secure Care rooms.
  • Secure Care rooms should be better furnished, made more child friendly, and contain means for children and young people to occupy themselves whilst in the unit. 
  • Secure Care unit outdoor yards should include exercise equipment, a basketball hoop and other means for children and young people to physically exert themselves. 
  • Systems for electronically recording and analysing all uses of Secure Care rooms must be urgently developed and installed in all residences. This should include data on ethnicity, age and other protected characteristics.

**Disclaimer: The opinions, findings and recommendations expressed in independent reports are the writers’ own and do not necessarily reflect the view of the Royal Commission.** 

Uses and abuses of solitary confinement of children in State run institutions in Aotearoa New Zealand

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