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Prison conditions

Written By: - 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: , , ,

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.

27 comments on “Prison conditions ”

  1. Sacha 1

    Corrections is being very slippery with the words it is using and feeding to the Minister – that these particular prisoners did not make complaints does not mean none were made.

    As I posted on the other thread, from p38 of that Ombudsman's report:

    In my survey, 77 percent of respondents said they did not have faith in the complaints process. Seventy-eight percent of survey respondents reported they did not feel complaints were dealt with promptly, and 75 percent did not feel they were dealt with fairly.

    • lprent 1.1

      That was my impression as well. It just reeks of a PR cover-up and flips me from merely irritated to deeply suspicious.

      I think that a deep external enquiry not only into this particular event but also into the institutional processes that mean that inmates (and their lawyers) aren't complaining is in order.

      The conditions described for that wing of the prison look appalling.

      • Sacha 1.1.1

        Because the replacement prison is being built, I imagine the usual bureaucratic inertia about fixing the old one applies.

        However it would be good change management to fund tangible improvements there in the meantime, including building better trust and communication before the muster is shifted. Budget needs to be added accordingly. Guess journalists and MPs can ask the right questions about that.

        What does this say more broadly about how seriously Corrections takes the Ombudsman's statutory role in the system if they believe they can thumb their nose at repeated findings of fault?

        • lprent 1.1.1.1

          However it would be good change management to fund tangible improvements there in the meantime, ….

          Guess journalists and MPs can ask the right questions about that.

          More likely they'll do what they did and are still doing with things like the rolling disaster that is children in care from the 1950s onwards. Write a few stories about it, do some minor grandstanding, and eventually wind up with a royal commission – without ever really getting to grip with the issue.

          That appears to have been another systematic case of complaints being ignored and 'lost'. FFS the royal commission into abuse in care has problems even finding out how many kids were in care at any point in time or where they were. Not only for stuff in the past but even quite recently.

          What does this say more broadly about how seriously Corrections takes the Ombudsman's statutory role in the system if they believe they can thumb their nose at repeated findings of fault?

          What it says is that the Ombudsman roles in NZ including the IPA need more teeth. More resources and a clearer ability to lay charges against individuals inside the states structures for a lack of responsibility for their sustained dereliction of duty – including up to the heads and former heads of the public service.

  2. Sacha 2

    "We have got this big washing machine where people are going in dirty and coming out extremely dirty.”

    How apt.

  3. Forget now 3

    Back when I was in prison, before 2000, there was already a fair bit of crowding and not a lot of rehabilitation. Especially in the older places like the Victorian bricks of the old (now closed) Dunedin prison.

    Slang term for the place was; "the monster factory", which may no longer be current, but none the less accurate for that.

    • lprent 3.1

      While the old Victorian prisons did look like a structural hellholes the whole intent of replacing them was to relieve over crowding so more rehab could take place. That was why they were funded.

      Somehow idiots like Judith Collins seemed to think that it was just a excuse to allow them to warehouse more people.

      This is the chart of prisoners per 100k population two decades of continuous growth due to stupid populist legislation driven by knee-jerk voters. You can't see anything similar going on with increasing resources to deal with the incarceration rate. Only with building more prisons to (at best) maintain the over crowded state.

      Prison rate per 100k population in NZ 2000-2018

      Labour is just as complicit. Those sharp rises in the mid-2000s were a direct result of the legislative changes being done then in response to the lazy calls for lock-em up and throw away the key morons.

      • Forget now 3.1.1

        It'd be interesting to see the prison population rate against the criminal offences for the same time period. The crime rate was trending down last I heard, certainly no explosion of lawlessnesss that might explain those prisoning rate!

        Also it's not just prisoners who get institutionalized, guards too; get unhealthy in an unhealthy environment. Surely that's an issue that a Labour party can get behind, even if they don't care (to be seen to care) for prisoners themselves.

        Prisoners told investigators that if they didn't take part in the fight clubs, they would be pack-attacked by gang members later… allegations of savage attacks by gangs, beatings of prisoners by staff, and the deliberate outing of child sex offenders by prison staff to the general prison population.

        Prison staff also told the investigators the fight clubs were taking place when there weren't enough staff on the wings.

        "It was basically a jungle," said Labour Party corrections spokesperson Kelvin Davis.

        He said Corrections did nothing about it.

        "The report focused on the making sure that the staff weren't doing anything illegal, but they totally ignore the fact that prisoners were getting their heads punched in. I just think it's institutional neglect."

        https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/political/317637/prison-fight-clubs-'it-was-basically-a-jungle'

        So the concept of institutional neglect is not new to the current Minister for Corrections. Why is anyone taking anything Corrections says at face value?

  4. gsays 4

    Michael Moore looked at Norwegian prisons in his film Where to Invade Next?

    A stark contrast to our attitudes and systems.

    For those that prefer reading, this is from a review of the film in The Intercept:

    "The Norwegian philosophy is to create a normal environment with as few external controls as possible so that when prisoners get out, they know how to control themselves. It works so well that Norway has one of the world’s lowest murder rates, and its recidivism rate is about 20 percent, two to three times lower than in the U.S. (Moore also visits a standard Norwegian maximum security prison that’s less spa-like but totally free of the brutality and spiritual darkness of U.S. prisons.)”

    https://theintercept.com/2016/02/10/where-to-invade-next-is-the-most-subversive-movie-michael-moore-has-ever-made/

    Decriminalising cannabis would have a desirable impact on the numbers incarcerated.

    I recall reading somewhere, the term 'muster' is part of the 'unconscious bias' we tend to take about others in prison. All part of de-humanising them.

    • Sacha 4.1

      Thank you for that last point. Oops.

    • Morrissey 4.2

      ….the term 'muster' is part of the 'unconscious bias' we tend to take about others in prison.

      There's nothing unconscious or unwitting in the brutal and derogatory language used about prisoners by the likes of Ruth Money, the National Party, the ACT cult, and their megaphones in the media.

      Th 4 o'clock "news" bulletin on RNZ National today began: "The National Party says…."

    • mac1 4.3

      The word muster has meanings to do with the military, with livestock and zoology. The bias shown might be by the listener rather than the user. I've always read it with its meaning of an assembly of a unit of men from whence we get the phrase 'to pass muster'. Not to argue that prisoners don't get a bias. I've done nine 'lags' in 3 separate prisons, each of three days, running AVP courses, meeting well over 100 men. That is what they were- men.

  5. Stuart Munro 5

    Although the punitive approach of some ministers has doubtless made things worse, it must be said that a massive increase in prison populations is pretty much what you would expect from a country with the fastest growing inequality in the OECD.

  6. RedLogix 6

    Lynn

    If you want to talk prison reform, then I'm totally with you. You know that.

    But I have one simple question; do you think prisoners should riot in order to get what they want?

    • McFlock 6.1

      Basic humane living conditions were not being supplied.

      This was pointed out by prisoners and third parties. Nothing was done.

      That leaves legal action as next item in the reasonable escalation of response, but not every prisoner is Arthur Taylor. Frankly, escalating to property damage shows some restraint.

      • RedLogix 6.1.1

        So your answer is yes? Is that correct?

        If you were a staff member working in a prison how would you feel about this messaging.

        • McFlock 6.1.1.1

          I like to think I'd already be on strike rather than be party to human rights abuses. But I understand that inhuman places dehumanise anyone who comes into contact with them.

          • iwantapony 6.1.1.1.1

            Hear hear, McFlock.

            The conditions stated would also have a significant impact on the mental health of prison staff, long before prisoners took action.

          • WeTheBleeple 6.1.1.1.2

            Well said McFlock. The acceptance of ill treatment of our fellows is not acceptable in any society claiming to be free and fair.

            I've been to Waikeria. I was stuck in a remand yard with 18 mobsters at the age of 15. It was a run down shithole then – in 1982. I was double bunked with a punch drunk idiot, had no access to books, canteen or due process.

            • WeTheBleeple 6.1.1.1.2.1

              How did I get there? Well, age 14 I was wagging school (to go to the library and read as school had zero challenge for me). So they locked me up. In the boys home I met many state wards who were already completely screwed over and jaded via state care.

              One of the lads escaped after my release and came to live in our dog kennel. Yes, that's right, he preferred to live in the dog kennel than go back there.

              Unknown to me he was a one man crime wave, and already a hard drug user. So he was knocking off chemists and houses while he stayed. I got pulled in as an 'accomplice' when I was actually a naive kid fresh to the city from a small village, and trying to make friends. ASD, PTSD – desperately trying to make friends. He pinched stuff with me present, I objected, he persisted, I was thus an accomplice in three acts of petty theft. He had 57 charges most of them serious.

              In his family three kids sent to state care. Results – two boys became recidivist criminal junkies, one girl a prostitute junkie. State 'care'.

              I turned 15, and got sent to Waikeria. Guess how well that 'helped'.

        • lprent 6.1.1.2

          Perhaps Corrections should look at the complaints process from staff. Because it looks like a fucking dangerous place to be with unhappy prisoners.

          I suspect that when a public enquiry goes down that we will find repeated historic ignored warnings and complaints from staff.

          Reading the reports from the ombudsman I am pretty sure that some of the very specific information in the reports came from them.

          Have you read the last ombudsman report yet? It is the last of a series.

    • lprent 6.2

      If you have approx 80% of prisoners in that prison (including low security) saying that they don't think that the complaints process does anything – would you consider that it is a viable working process? Now have a look at the photos of the high security section and tell me that even the guards couldn't have realized that was a sustainable situation..

      Now imagine that problem with the complaints has been going on for as long is apparent when looking at the various public reports on that prison.

      Blaming the inmates for not following a ineffective and viewed as useless process is just stupid. To try to divert attention from that failure in the system amounts to being criminal.

      By the look of the comments from corrections it seems like corrections have given up on the complaints process long ago. Instead they were expecting that the ombudsman system was covering their arses.

      Any rational organisation doesn't ignore complaints. They either deal with them or expect to lose clients. In the case of Corrections they will eventually lose lives when the inevitable explosion happens.

      This isn't exactly rocket science. Even an engineer knows to measure stress.

  7. Lachlan 7

    Why does the left always present themselves as nasty people with a chip on their shoulder to get their message out?

    Let's actually look at the facts now, should we?

    1. National had a far less prison population increase rate compared to the Clark government before it (even shown by one of the graphs a labourite here posted).
    2. National foresaw this issues and planned a new prison to be built with 1500 more beds which would be open now but who canceled it and further funding for prisons? Labour. Hmm. Labour has done nothing since..
    3. National had the lowest re-offending rates in the 10 years prior.

    [lprent: I have answered this comment as it did actually raise some points. The remainder of your astroturf has been swept to spam as it

    1. doesn’t offer any information of items of debate
    2. is simply snarky
    3. makes assertions of fact without backing them with links or soure
    4. looks like astroturfing.

    This site as the policy explains is for robust debate. It isn’t there for idiots to spam. Learn to debate with actual figures rather than myths, clear opinions rather than unsubstantiated (and probably false) assertions of fact.

    We run a policy that new commenters have their first comments going to probation. A moderator has to allow at least one comment to be published and the probation released. This allows bots, trolls, and idiots to be culled. In your case I haven’t released the probation so your comments will keep going to moderation. You have to convince by the content of your comment that you’re worth having around. The criteria is robust debate. So far you haven’t displayed any ability in that direction.

    ]

    • lprent 7.1

      National had a far less prison population increase rate compared to the Clark government before it (even shown by one of the graphs a labourite here posted).

      Perhaps you should read the actual post – where I point that out as well. National, being a pack of lazy fools just blindly followed a good vote catcher to the levels of stupidity (one of their characteristic hallmarks).

      Obviously you can sort of read a graph. However you examined the actual numbers, you’d see it is on 2 yearly basis. So your number manages to either miss the last year of the Key government 2017 or include the work of the Ardern government after National lost the government benches.

      2000 148/100k
      2008 182/100k = additional ~34/100k under Clark govt
      2018 214/100k = additional ~32/100k under Key govt (but includes Arden govt reduction at end of 2017 and first half of 2018)
      2020 188/100k = reduction ~26/100k under Ardern government

      If you dug deeper you’d find that the level was higher than 214 in 2017 in the last year of the Key government. The Ardern government had reduced it pretty fast.

      Basically if you want to prove your contention, then I suggest you stop trying to lie with statistics (you’re pretty bad at it) and bring your own evidence to the table.

      Try the table and sources at https://www.prisonstudies.org/country/new-zealand

      National foresaw this issues and planned a new prison to be built with 1500 more beds which would be open now

      Basically you don’t need a prison to be built when the policy is to reduce prison population by removing unnecessary and expensive incarceration. Warehousing people just because Phil Goff or Judith Collins can look tough on crime isn’t smart – it is just stupid and expensive.

      National had the lowest re-offending rates in the 10 years prior.

      So did every country in western world. It is called demographic movement. It is what happens when a population ages. You also get a lot less first time offenders even when you measure it on 100k bounds.

      However despite significantly levels of demographic re-offending and less first time offenders, National managed to grow the total population and the % incarcerated.

      How did they do that – by stupid sentencing and bail policies for that idiot of politics Judith Collins that caused longer prison time. Remand prisoners spent up to a year getting to trial. Sentenced prisoners got longer sentences.

      Your proud claim about a reduction in is largely because offenders spent more time in jail – therefore increasing the rotation time between offences. I’d have to dig out the analysis of a paper I read on it. But if you account for the extra jail time, all that happened was the reoffending rate remained similar. That in effect is an white collar accounting fraud.

      But of course people like you like being lied to and are obviously too lazy to think things through.

      Why does the left always present themselves as nasty people with a chip on their shoulder to get their message out?

      Why do the lazy myth believing people on the right always whine about how they are hard done by when less lazy people point out the hard facts to them?

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