Written By: - Date published: 12:14 pm, July 25th, 2015 - 72 comments
Categories: crime, Judith Collins, Kelvin Davis, prisons, Privatisation, Public Private Partnerships - Tags: penal reform, prison, prison violence, recidivism, serco
Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara, one of the 18 arrested during the Urewera Terrorism Raids, has written a detailed piece useful for anyone interested in finding out more about the NZ correctional system and why penal reform in NZ is absolutely necessary. (Hat tip Gangnam Style/Tautoko Mangō Mata).
– Prisons are the way they are because the public is largely uninvolved, and is not actually interested in what goes on inside.
– Most of the general public don’t actually care about what happens to prisoners – they get what they deserve … unless violence is put in the public face, as in the recent Serco revelations.
– The Justice System is determined by politicians who are keener to get re-elected than fixing up a dysfunctional prison system.
– Many of the groups that do engage with the Justice System to advocate for adjustments to the way prisons are run, are often self-serving and/or ideologically driven (i.e. Sensible Sentencing)
This sounds spot on to me. Our prison population increased 86% between 1995 and 2010. And with a recidivism rate sitting at around 50%, things need to change. We are wasting people, and we are wasting the finances of the Crown.
Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara continues:
While societies continue to create the conditions for street gangs, prisons will only perpetuate their longevity and ongoing recruitment. I saw this with my own eyes, to some extent in ACRP/MECF and in full bloom in Spring Hill Corrections Facility (SHCF).
In order for gangs to survive the onslaught of targeted policing decimating their numbers at large, they use your prison system and your tax money to recruit and train the next intake of manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors and security (foot soldiers). The gangs regenerate themselves inside the prisons.
Whether by organised fight clubs to train foot soldiers to do the muscle work, or the more common method of one on one mentoring, your tax dollar is being put to good use by gangs for their objectives. Corrections in its history in this country has never been able to prevent this from occurring, whether under National or Labour, in either private or state run prisons.
And of course, whatever Labour does with respect to Corrections – and they definitely have room for improvement – National can always do much worse:
Spring Hill Corrections Facility was built by the Labour Government and completed in 2007 to house 650 sentenced prisoners. Its initial focus was on Pacific Island prisoners, hence it has a Pacific Island focus unit called Vaka, and a Pacific Island church.
With the change of the incoming National government in 2008, the government then embarked on putting more people in prison, 1000’s more than they had bed spaces for. The then Minister of Justice Judith Collins concocted this grand idea of replacing the single bed cells in Spring Hill (and other prisons to some extent) with bunk beds. I bet Collins thought this was a clever cost saving idea, but it however led to a massive and fatal rise in violence. Every prisoner I ever spoke to pointed without hesitation directly back to that one event as the principle catalyst – deliberate over crowding.
Spring Hill now has 1050 prisoners inside cells in facilities designed to be uncomfortable for 650 prisoners. This results directly in a new level of violence that is not isolated to the world of gangs and their training regime. Everyone is susceptible to the violence that ensues from Collins’ intentional overcrowding.
Whether waiting for the one unit telephone, or microwaves, or the two unit washing machines, the result is a daily high level of anxiety that is far above and beyond the intended stress levels prisoners were meant to be under while incarcerated. After weeks of these extended lockdowns, Spring Hill turns into a sort of war zone that makes those so called fight club videos look like child’s play.
The simple truth is that NZ incarcerates too many people, we set too many young people up on a path to prison, and on release, we don’t do anywhere near enough to give these people new options in life and prevent them going back inside, creating new victims on the way. Ideologically constipated, hypocritical, pro-punishment groups like the badly named “Sensible Sentencing Trust” are given too much sway in the conversation. And now that National is signing away the Crown’s responsibilities to low accountability for-profit corporates like Serco – who make more money when there are more people behind bars – we have seen things deteriorating further.