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Call to keep teen prisoners out of mainstream prison

Media releases

4 December 2021

The Assistant Māori Commissioner for Children is urging Corrections not to close youth units or house rangatahi among the male adult prison population. 

The Office of the Commissioner has sought assurances from Corrections that young people aged under 18 are not housed in youth units, under threat of closure to free up space for Covid-19 infected prisoners.

“Last night we were advised that one 17-year-old is among prisoners held in a youth unit that may be temporarily closed. In my view this young person must not be placed among adult prisoners in the mainstream prison,” Assistant Māori Commissioner Glenis Philip-Barbara says.

“It is unsafe in every conceivable way for very young prisoners to be housed with adults.

“I was heartened to hear Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis express his concerns about possible plans to mainstream the young prisoners, however I would like to have Corrections rule out the idea – particularly for the young person aged just 17.

“While the Children’s Commissioner only has a legal mandate to advocate for young people aged under 18, we share the concerns of others about wellbeing of all teenage prisoners who could be moved into the adult wings.

“Teenagers brains are still developing and are deeply impacted by their surroundings. They’re not safe physically or mentally in a mainstream environment with adults. This is why youth units were established in the first place.

“We will remain in contact with Corrections as they work through this important issue. We appreciate the challenges of responsibly dealing with the risks of Covid, but urge the department, in managing this, to put the wellbeing of young prisoners first,” Ms Philip-Barbara says.