- Date published:
12:56 pm, January 4th, 2021 - 27 comments
Categories: Andrew Little, crime, Judith Collins, Kelvin Davis, national/act government, politicans, Politics, prisons, Social issues - Tags: corrections, prison, prison violence, riots
Statements by the Minister for Corrections and Corrections themselves asserting that there had been no complaints about prison conditions at Waikeria, in the face of the Ombudsman’s report, just look to me to be pure sophistry and bullshit. The report on conditions in the high security make grim reading. Even ignoring the inmates protest – I want to protest about the waste of my taxes in providing such a unproductive, inhumane and outright evil environment.
What is evident to anyone with half a brain, is that overcrowded and penitential conditions provide the ground conditions for rioting – and also do nothing to diminish re-offending on release. A lack of reported complaints about conditions followed by a riot about purportedly about conditions makes this following set of statements suspect.
The prisoners allegedly never raised any concerns about their living conditions before starting the riot on Tuesday last week.
Lightfoot says no complaints had been lodged and Davis does not believe the 16 men rioted for the reasons they stated they were, he told media today.
Davis did not speak out in fear of encouraging other prisoners for taking similar action, saying the inmates wanted political attention from the rioting.
Asked about his apparent lack of communication amid the rioting, Davis says his role was to leave the response to the experts.NZ Herald: “Waikeria Prison rioters surrender after six-day stand-off; jail conditions not reason for unrest, says Kelvin Davis“
My immediate response was to ask myself about the existence of any complaints process, and the likely response of the prison authorities to complaints. My second is that is the riot wasn’t about conditions – then what in the hell was it about? And why aren’t we being told what the suspicion is? In the meantime, I’ll happily view that as just being the political equivalent of simple vapour ware or bullshit.
I completely agree with Kelvin Davis that the minister should not interfere in operational matters for political reasons. However raising public and political attention to a problem is a completely legitimate – even if unlawful acts are required to make the point of the protest apparent.
I have been known to do that myself – it is called protesting and freedom of expression. Generally those doing such actions are well aware of potential consequences and choose to do them to make a point knowing that there will be consequences.
The actions are a matter for the courts to judge on, as I am sure that they will. In the meantime the rest of us can have a look at what prompted the riot and look to see if the concerns raised need to be dealt with.
Of course, I take the point about copycat rioting. It would be be counter-productive in the court of public opinion. This riot to me seems to have already made the point about conditions in at least one part of the prison system. It is up to Corrections and their Minister to refute with evidence. Something that they currently appear to not being interested in.
But now that the riot is over, I want to know if the claims made by inmates about the conditions were correct. So far everything that I have seen tends to indicate that the rioting inmates in the high security section at Waikeria have a point.
Just reading the sections about external investigations into the current prison system and this particular prison are grim and point to systematic problem with conditions and over population in our prisons.
While Corrections make claims about the lack of complaints, that doesn’t appear to constrained the small and underfunded Ombudsman’s office from finding them. I can see why the Human Rights Commission has called for an inquiry.
I suspect that the real problem is somewhere with the complaints process inside Corrections. A lack of complaints when the conditions are known to be bad even to Corrections and given to the Ombudsman over successive reports should have been an obvious sign that the complaints system in this prison simply wasn’t functional.
The Human Rights Commission has called for an inquiry to be launched into the incident.
Chief Commissioner Paul Hunt says it’s a mistake to see it as an isolated one-off.
“Whatever triggered this protest, poor prison conditions are a vital part of the context.
“Last August, the Ombudsman published a report on Waikeria and concluded that the high-security complex is no longer fit for purpose.
An Ombudsman’s report released in August 2020 found conditions at Waikeria in some cases failed to meet minimum UN standards.
The Ombudsman found meal times across the prison did not reflect usual meal times, and many inmates voiced concern about water quality.
Some cells were run down, with chunks of vinyl missing from floors, some windows did not have curtains and toilets did not have lids.
Lightfoot says work has been underway to improve the conditions of the prison since the report.
The closure of the top jail was imminent, with Corrections building a new facility to replace it which is due to be finished next year.NZ Herald: “Waikeria Prison rioters surrender after six-day stand-off; jail conditions not reason for unrest, says Kelvin Davis“
It is probable that some of the damage was due to prisoners themselves. However just looking at the photos and details in the Ombudsman’s report about the high security section of the prison indicates a environment that largely supports the rioting prisoners claims.
Most of it looks like the kind of wear and tear that should be dealt with with a routine maintenance and upgrade process. But the high security section just looks totally rundown, poorly maintained and completely over crowded. While this may please the uncivilised moralistic and judgemental philosophy of the Penitentiary movement or the advocates of simple revenge punishment, our prison system is not meant to be either. Nor would I personally want to pay taxes to support anything like that kind of prison or jail system.
Similarly the reports about the kinds of things that would induce any kind of change in life outside of prison are simply not there. Having two people crammed in a tiny cell with limited ventilation and an open toilet doesn’t look like an environment where anyone can find the space to change themselves. That coupled with the limited facilities for exercise just looks like a place to induce ill-health and social tension. It also looks like a waste hole for my taxes.
Prison in New Zealand is meant to separate offenders from society and with a few exceptions to provide a basis for eventual release back into society. Ideally with a reduced probability of re-offence. I can’t see that in the conditions described at the high security section at Waikeria. Instead what I see is a environment that warehouses people in the equivalent of factory farming crates with little to no facilities to change themselves or make themselves capable of reentering society safely.
If you look at it with an eye to the long history of modern prison systems – this kind of system is just pointless. Confinement itself is enough of a punishment. There is simply little or no point of adding additional punishments on top. You cannot coerce people to change their behaviour, you can only provide opportunities for them to change themselves.
Read for yourself. “Final report on an unannounced inspection of Waikeria Prison under the Crimes of Torture Act 1989” presented to Parliament on 25th of August.Final-report-on-an-unannounced-inspection-of-Waikeria-Prison-under-the-Crimes-of-Torture-Act-1989_1
I realise that changing the prison system is going to be slow. We have had decades of ill-considered dog-whistle extensions to the criminal code from Act, National and even Labour that have caused increased imprisonment without the required funding increases to appropriately fund the Corrections system.
Between 2000 and 2018 our prison population almost doubled – but the rate in the population rose from 148 per 100,000 population in 2000 to 214 per 100,000 in 2018 (see World Prison Brief on NZ).
That is a population independent increase in incarceration rate of almost a quarter. It was occurring at a time when rates of complaints about serious offending and the number of charges for offending in the courts have actually been reducing. See Justice data.
A large part of the direct blame for the burgeoning expansion of the prison system can be laid directly at the foot of Judith Collins in the last National/Act government. She both presided as Justice Minister over the changes to criminal legislation and tougher sentencing guidelines. Then was in charge of Corrections when the belated response of the same government to the increase in prison population caused massive budget blowouts. It was a rather classic case of National’s habitual short sighted simple-minded populist decision making without forethought by one of its prime exponents of the (lack of) strategy.
Many of those corrections to Justice and Corrections are underway. Andrew Little in particular has been well underway with his path set up on 2017 “Andrew Little says he will reduce the prison population“. Thankfully it was down to 188/100,000 in June 2020 (see World Prison Brief on NZ).
But the problem is that merely trying to reduce the rate of increase in prison populations isn’t enough. The effect of the rise in prison populations over the last decades without the required investment in rehabilitation has just caused a revolving door. This was expressed clearly by Kelvin Davis when he pointed out in 2016.
Labour Party corrections spokesman Kelvin Davis said the growing muster and its related costs appeared to show that rehabilitation measures were not working. “We are simply locking up more and more people. We have got this big washing machine where people are going in dirty and coming out extremely dirty.”
Blaming the rising costs on violence or drug-related offending was avoiding the problem, he said.
“[Most prisoners] need help because they’ve got mental health issues, they’ve had traumatic head injuries, they are damaged through being sexually violated, through family violence, drug and alcohol abuse. What we are doing is punishing people for being unwell.”NZ Herald: “Soaring cost of our prisons – $900m per year“
I’d add that gang-bashing is in the same order of issue avoidance. Just look at the substantive issues. Our prisons suffered a traumatic increase in over crowding, effectively diminished capability in rehab services and their maintenance looks appalling. Politicians and Corrections need to concentrate on fixing those to make prison less of a revolving door that damages inmates each time that they get pumped through it.
The problem now is that because of short-sighted idiots like Judith Collins, we now have a real problem still of over crowded prisons that only do part of the intended job by doing little to nothing to diminish re-offending. This government needs to do more to diminish the spiral before repeated imprisonment causes more damage to our society.