Teen in solitary or bad company
Katie* is 17 years old. Her day consists of watching television and sleeping in her cell at Auckland Region Women’s Corrections Facility.
Katie’s lawyer, Scott Leith, says his client is allowed out of her cell for one hour in the morning and one in the afternoon to spend time with two other prisoners in segregation.
Those two hours are spent with Tania Shailer, who is serving the longest sentence for child manslaughter in New Zealand – 17 years.
The other woman has been jailed for offending against children but cannot be named due to suppression orders.
Leith said he was concerned for his vulnerable young client.
Corrections’ deputy national commissioner Andy Milne said staff had worked to make sure Katie’s time was ‘‘constructively occupied’’.
He said she had time in the gym with the other segregated prisoners, visits to the prison library, educational activities and recreation time in the yard.
‘‘Safety is our top priority, and approval would not be provided for this prisoner to mix with others if it had been assessed as posing any risk to her safety.’’
He said they were constantly monitored and there had been no incidents.
Stuff asked Milne whether it was appropriate for the 17-yearold to spend time with Shailer and the other prisoner. So far there has been no response.
Leith said Katie’s situation had only changed in the past four weeks. Prior to that she spent three months in solitary confinement, spending 23 hours a day in her cell.
Leith said Katie’s only daily contact with a human being was when she was let out of her cell by a guard, taken to the exercise yard and left there for sometimes just an hour a day.
Her daily routine had been like that since August.
Leith said initially Katie was deemed a vulnerable prisoner because of her young age and her diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
That vulnerability meant that, under prison rules, she couldn’t be put with the general adult prison population until she turned 18 in February 2019.
The Parole Board has urged prison authorities to ‘‘give prompt and careful’’ consideration to moving Katie to another prison or a youth justice facility.
Corrections said Katie had been allowed to mix with the two other prisoners since a board hearing in September.
Katie is serving a prison sentence of five years for aggravated robbery, kidnapping, assault with intent to rob and theft.
At sentencing, Judge Paul Kellar said Katie had struggled with drugs. In a letter, she had described methamphetamine as evil; ‘‘that is undoubtedly, absolutely right’’, Kellar said.
Katie was 16 when she was sentenced. She spent the first part of her sentence in a Youth Justice facility before being released on parole to attend Youth Odyssey House, a live-in drug rehabilitation centre, in March.
Her discharge summary showed she initially did well, displaying a positive mood and ‘‘great resilience’’.
However, later during unsupervised leave, Katie was found to have a cellphone which was against the rules.
She was also talking to ‘‘unapproved contacts’’ and staying out to the limit of her curfew before ringing staff to say she’d missed the bus and asking to be picked up.
‘‘Given the length of time [Katie] had been in treatment her behaviours began to demonstrate that the programme was no longer therapeutically beneficial for [her].’’
Leith said as a result she was sent back to prison in August.
At a Parole Board hearing in September, Leith argued Katie should be put in the care of her mother.
He said any potential risk to the community needed to be balanced against potential risk of the teenager being held in prison in solitary confinement.
The board said a paramount concern was protection of the community and called for a report on Katie’s mother’s home.
It also called on Corrections to explain why Katie was being held in ‘‘alleged effective solitary confinement and why it has not been dealt with’’ by moving her to another prison or a youth justice facility. * Not her real name
‘‘Safety is our top priority, and approval would not be provided . . . if it had been assessed as posing any risk to her safety.’’ Corrections’ deputy national commissioner Andy Milne