Suicide surge in increasingly crowded prisons

It has been well known for some time that prison space has been under pressure due to increasing prisoner numbers, but the Government does not seem to have acted with urgency. There may be a cost.

NZH: The number of people trying – and succeeding – in taking their lives while in prison has surged during the inmate boom


    • The prison population went from 9273 prisoners in March 2016 to 10,712 in March 2018;
    • There was one suicide from March 2016 to August 2017 then six suicides in the next six months;
    • Over that same time period, there were 20 suicide attempts in the first 18 months and then 19 in the next six months;
    • Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis says more is being done for mentally unwell inmates;
    • Barrister calls for inquests into deaths to examine management and mental health support.

There has been a surge in prison suicides and attempted suicides by inmates over the months in which Corrections struggled to contain a ballooning prison population.

It has raised concerns that the unforeseen blowout in prison muster numbers after years of “tough on crime” policies is extracting a human cost beyond that elsewhere in our communities.

The new data comes as Minister of Justice Andrew Little prepares to ask Cabinet to back the removal of the Three Strikes law, leading to National reviving its “tough on crime” call and a promise to bring back the law if it’s scrapped.

Details of the suicides and attempted suicides, revealed through the Official Information Act, show one suicide occurred in 18 months from March 2016.

There were then six suicides in the next six months.

Over that same time period, there were 20 suicide attempts in the first 18 months and then 19 in the next six months.

Of those, eight were female prisoners even though women form just 7.4 per cent of the prison population.

The prison population grew from 9273 prisoners in March 2016 to 10,712 at the beginning of March this year. The rapid rise forced Corrections to expand capacity by introducing double-bunking across the network and reopening old prison units.

Victoria University criminologist Dr Liam Martin cautioned against concrete conclusions from the data because of the small time frame but “the up-tick is clear”.

He said prison had much higher rates of suicide because of mental health issues, social isolation and violence – and was known to be exacerbated by crowding.

This adds the pressure on plans (or lack of) to build more prison beds, and also suggested changes to bail and three strikes laws.


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  1. Zedd

     /  6th June 2018

    The big question being.. “why are NZ prisons ‘bursting at the seams’ ? ”
    maybe; lack of mental health facilities & drug rehab. centres ??
    ‘Just Lock ’em all up’ seems to the mantra for at least the last 9 years.. under Natl !

    • alloytoo

       /  6th June 2018

      Or perhaps they committed violent crimes, just a thought……

      • Gerrit

         /  6th June 2018

        We should celebrate the freeing up off another bed in the prisons…does anyone care about a convicted villain committing suicide?

        Darwin’s natural selection in progress…good.

        • Blazer

           /  6th June 2018

          a ‘villain’…..

          1- a character in a story or play who opposes the hero
          2 : a deliberate scoundrel or criminal
          3 : one blamed for a particular evil or difficulty
          automation as the villain in job … displacement —M. H. Goldberg
          4 : villein
          5 : an uncouth person : boor

      • Zedd

         /  6th June 2018

        what.. all of them ?

        stats show that at least half of prison inmates have mental health issues &/or drug use/addiction issues.. they should probably NOT be in prison.. but ‘in treatment’ (IMHO)

        • alloytoo

           /  6th June 2018

          In prison and in treatment are not mutually exclusive.

          Neither is “In Community” and “In treatment” for that matter, however let us not forget that primary purpose of prison should be to protect society at large, then treatment, then rehabilitation and punishment.

          • Zedd

             /  7th June 2018


            I think you need to listen to alternatives.. Prison is used as place to lock up, people who are seen as ‘harm to society’ mostly using a punishment first principle.

            There is reportedly very little; treatment or rehab. going on in them.
            I hear that many.. ‘minor offenders’, come out worse than they went in ?!

            I had a mate (many moons ago) who was in Mt Eden, for a few months & told me ‘it was often easier to get drugs (from weed to smack) on the inside than out !!

  2. Gezza

     /  6th June 2018

    Makes you wonder how many are motivated by being double bunked with a prick who makes their life a misery.

  1. Suicide surge in increasingly crowded prisons — Your NZ – NZ Conservative Coalition

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