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The Assistant Māori Commissioner for Children, Glenis Philip-Barbara, is urging Corrections not to close youth units or house rangatahi among the male adult prison population.
Philip-Barbara says the Office of the Children's 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. The youth units in question are at Christchurch and Hawke's Bay prisons.
“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,” Philip-Barbara said in a statement Saturday.
“It is unsafe in every conceivable way for very young prisoners to be housed with adults."
Philip-Barbara says she is "heartened" Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis has expressed concerns about possible plans to mainstream young prisoners.
"However, I would like to have Corrections rule out the idea – particularly for the young person aged just 17," she says.
“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."
Philip-Barbara says Corrections must "put the wellbeing of young prisoners first."