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Terminally ill man’s fight to see his son

A terminally ill man says the government committed a human rights violation by refusing visitation rights to his son in prison.
The father, who the Times-Age has agreed not to name, feared he would die before he saw his son.
However, after inquiries by the Times-Age yesterday Rimutaka Prison has permitted the man an urgent visit today on compassionate grounds.
Rimutaka Prison director Dennis Goodin admitted the refusals “should not have happened”, and has apologised for denying
the man visitation rights.
The father said he had not seen his son since he was remanded in custody from a Wairarapa address four months ago.
“I’m terminally ill, and because of what’s going on, I want to see my son.
“I do not know how much time I have left, and he is in there as he couldn’t cope with me dying.
“Yes, he committed a crime and has to be accountable for his actions, but they can’t breach his human rights.”
In-person visits with family are a human right for prisoners.
Goodin said that as soon as he became aware of the refusals, he instructed staff to approve a visit on compassionate grounds.
“A visit has been approved and will be taking place tomorrow [Saturday, November 26].
“A member of my team has also contacted the prisoner’s father to apologise at what must be a difficult time for him and the family.
“I understand that the father had visited the prison asking about how to visit his son and had been told visits weren’t possible.
“This should not have happened.
“His request should have been brought to my attention immediately and I am meeting with my team this afternoon to remind them that I do have the discretion to permit visits in extenuating circumstances such as these.”
Minister of Corrections Kelvin Davis said he was not aware of the case until yesterday.
“I am disappointed Corrections were not able to make the right decision earlier.
“While I understand the man will now be allowed to visit his son immediately, this should have happened far quicker.”
Davis said Corrections was facing serious staff shortages which was making visitation difficult.
“There is a recruitment plan in place to address this but in the meantime it is essential that Corrections still considers compassionate cases and makes exceptions when appropriate, especially in circumstances like this.
“I will be making my view clear to Corrections.”
The father said he was lucky if he got a phone call from his son once every three days.
His son told him that he was allowed out of his cell for one hour a day.
“He’s been sitting in there for four months.
“The prison also justified the [lack of] visits by giving every prisoner a $5 phone card. It’s 30c a minute for a local call, and 50c a minute for a cell phone call.”
Goodin said that while many prisons were now open for visitors, staff at Rimutaka were working to resume visits and activities as quickly as possible.
He said that $5 phone cards were made available to all prisoners as part of their response to the pandemic, and the prison continued to provide them on a weekly basis.
“Prisoners in the high-security units at Rimutaka are receiving a minimum of 1.5 hours out of their cell per day.”
The father said he received a phone call from a prison staff member yesterday saying they were “wanting to resolve the issue”.
However, he said he wanted to know how many other people had found themselves in his situation.
“It’s not just on me – there’s other families too, y’know.
“They’ve got the right to see their children, their fathers, their mothers.”
The Human Rights Commission [HRC] said it was deeply concerned with the lack of visits.
“The Chief Commissioner is concerned that many prisoners are unable to have in-person visits from whanau and some prisons have stopped or severely limited access to rehabilitation programmes,” an HRC spokesperson said.
“These issues all stem from staff shortages at Corrections.”
They said HRC was in contact with Corrections on the matter, and had been receiving regular updates from Corrections on their staffing issues.
“Face-to-face visits with whanau and rehabilitation programmes are a human right.
“If Corrections are putting a limit on that human right, it must be temporary and short-lived.
“They need to provide a timeline for reinstating visiting rights.”

George Shiers
George Shiers
George Shiers is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age interested in politics and social issues. He reports regularly on a range of topics including infrastructure, housing, and transport. George is also the Tararua reporter and helps cover police, fire and court stories.

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