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Rimutaka Prison.

Written By: - Date published: 7:03 am, January 28th, 2018 - 51 comments
Categories: class war, crime, health and safety, human rights, Kelvin Davis, Politics, prisons, Privatisation, Social issues, workers' rights - Tags: ,

People trying to smuggle themselves across borders or seas in shipping containers often die. We know this. And I’m not trying to compare what follows to the deliberate killing of hundreds or thousands of prisoners in Afghanistan by way of “transporting” them in container trucks. But to be blatantly honest, it was memories of seeing men herded into shipping containers from that time that jumped immediately to mind when I read of the prisoner conditions at Wellington’s Rimutaka Prison. (link)

What is this country that we live in?

Unventilated metal shipping containers that have been untilised as cells since 2010, and a Corrections Dept blowing the whole thing off because the 73 prisoners held in those conditions are outside until 5 p.m.?!

To hell with being outside in this weather! How much shade is there in a prison complex? Well known for their verdant leafy shadows, are they? (Hint: that’s an aerial shot of Rimutaka Prison used on the front of the post).

But hey!

National commissioner of Corrections Jeanette Burns said a heat management plan was in place across the country, and prisoners in the container unit at Rimutaka – the only of its kind in the country – were being provided with cold and frozen water, as well as fans.

“We are working on interim solutions to reduce the discomfort caused by the heat, while ensuring that safety and security are not compromised,” she said.

So, what’s this “safety” she speaks of? Obviously not that of the prisoners. And how in the hell can Kelvin Davis, according to “Stuff” say he has “yet to form a view” because he hasn’t visited Rimutaka?

On that note, I’m sorry for submitting a post that no-one can comment on, because, y’know, unless you have been in Rimutaka Prison it’s obviously just not possible for you to form an opinion or have a view on men being held in metal containers.

Further reading –  Press release from the Howard League for Penal Reform

Update/edit – The following photos aer of the completed prison block. Stuff had used a photo from the construction phase. Can’t say I’m impressed by that. (h/t Joe90).

 

 

51 comments on “Rimutaka Prison. ”

  1. koreropono 1

    I vaguely recall a bit of controversy around the shipping containers back then, I didn’t realise they had become a thing as all went quiet in the media on the matter. I think the shipping containers are indicative of how prisoners are treated across prisons throughout New Zealand. These are not places to rehabilitate, these places are for punishment, to make the deviant more deviant, to reinforce a criminal underclass that was pending since many of the prisoners were babies.

    I have worked in a prison but not for the prison in the past. My immediate impression started pre-prison entry where people have to undergo “training” to go in and the “trainer”, whether he knew it or not, openly dehumanised the prisoners throughout the ordeal that was our training. He continually referred to the prisoners as “shit heads” to a group of professionals (psychologists, lawyers, social workers and other outside contractors). Leaving the “training”, I was left with the impression that these guards were the saddest human beings I have met and I felt a great deal of anger about how the prison population were reduced to, “shit heads”, thugs, meth heads, the worst of the worst criminals, they were not even referred by their Christian names, instead they were identified by surname and gang affiliation.

    The “training” offered no back story, nothing about the abuse that many of the prisoners had endured growing up in dysfunctional families, and often a more dysfunctional welfare system, only to be re-abused once they hit the criminal justice system, by other prisoners and many of the prison staff. Or the fact that many of the prisoners are forced into gang life, too afraid to leave (that can mean death), men having to put on a facade whilst surrounded by other men who behave staunchly…but this is just an act, an act of survival in place that if you show weakness, will be exploited. These are the stories one hears when men can drop the facade and talk in confidence away from others who may hurt them.

    In the prison itself, there are the obvious ‘peacock’ type displays of the prisoners, men merely asserting their position to keep themselves safe as best they can. I was struck by many of the guards, who were, in my opinion a certain personality type, aggressive, bullying type individuals who took pleasure in the power wielded over other human beings. I remember one guard’s behaviour toward every human being he encountered, including the contracted providers, he was just a surly, mean little prick and I wondered how long it would be before he got his head kicked in…part of me felt he’d deserve what was coming to him (even though I don’t condone violence).

    I also became immediately aware of the inconsistency of the prison, where the rules changed frequently, leaving both the prison population and contractors uncertain about what the new rules would be on any given day. Where one guards decision would be contrary to another guard’s decision five minutes earlier, leaving men upset, and angry, there was always anger in that lifeless, soulless place of concrete, glass, metal and not an iota of shade in any of the out door areas that I visited.

    I remember reading an article ( I can’t recall what the article was called but may have been written by Greg Newbold) about how the conditions in the prison reinforce criminal behaviour, with some indepth explanations around the psychology of criminal thinking and how it is reinforced – this is a lot more complex than simply hanging out with other prisoners but reinforcement comes by way of how a prison operates. Such things as an unpredictable environment, changing rules and even down to the militant routines that on a psychological level prevent prisoners from developing their cognitive skills beyond the thinking that leads to criminal behaviour.

    The shipping containers in Rimutaka in my opinion simply reinforces the dehumanisation of prisoners, they are reduced to cargo, unworthy of proper facilities, the inhumane conditions in these shipping containers reinforces how undeserving the prisoners are of anything that marks them as human beings, not deserving of understanding, love or belonging in civil society – these men, many taught from babes that they are worthless have been fast tracked into the prison system from the moment they were born.

    • I vaguely recall a bit of controversy around the shipping containers back then, I didn’t realise they had become a thing as all went quiet in the media on the matter.

      Strange that eh?

      You’d think the government mistreating prisoners would be worth a story or two.

    • Michelle 1.2

      It is a part of the our brighter future we never received

  2. Molly 2

    My partner and I were just talking about this post and also did not realise that the shipping containers went ahead, despite the controvesy at the time.

    The conditions in these cells will be threatening to human life. the provision of cold water and fans (hand held BTW) is not a reasonable response.

    To me this is where we would see the true application of manaakitanga, if this situation is rectified immediately despite political and financial costs.

    Thanks also for the relating of your personal experience, I agree with your thinking on the effects on prisoners of inconsistent and brutal treatment.

    (Sorry, meant as a reply to koreropono above)

  3. JanM 3

    It is a disgusting way to treat any human being and we need to be collectively ashamed. How can we point fingers at Australia’s atrocities when we do this!

  4. Rosemary McDonald 4

    Don’t knock shipping container accommodation just because the fwits at Corrections didn’t do their homework.

    http://www.iqcontainerhomes.co.nz/

    • Bill 4.1

      Sure.

      But then there’s this route.

      In a first for Rimutaka Prison, a group of prisoners have built a 3 bedroom house as part of their construction programme.

      But…

      WelTec […] will have it moved off-site in the New Year. Wet areas, flooring and kitchen will be added afterwards.

      (Click link for picture)

      http://www.corrections.govt.nz/news/latest_news/first_house_build_for_rimutaka_prison.html

      • Rosemary McDonald 4.1.1

        Ye olde weatherboard house…awesome.

        BUT…probably not a goer in a prison due to fire risk?

        But…I get that it would be excellent rehab to get residents to actively participate in upgrading facilities.

    • Dv 4.2

      Surely a heat pump or two would solve the problem, or is that too simple?

      • Rosemary McDonald 4.2.1

        heat pumps…expensive to install and expensive to run.

      • Molly 4.2.2

        According to the link above for the Howard League for Penal Reform, this is the bare minimum that they believe is required, along with a removal of prisoners with conditions that impose higher risks from overheating.

        The current offer from Corrections:
        “Corrections are addressing the problem with ice water and hand held fans for the prisoners. We also understand that they are going to bring in more staff so that the prisoners in these cells can have longer unlock hours. This has not happened yet.

        Hand-held fans? FFS. Moving hot air from one point to another. Used as a dessication process in dehydrators.

        • Rosemary McDonald 4.2.2.1

          “Howard League spokesperson Madeleine Rose says that at the very least prisoners with heart conditions, elderly or infirm must be immediately removed from these cells. Air-conditioning units must be installed immediately. This is a serious health and safety issue and “the last thing we want is an avoidable death from these conditions”, says Rose.”

          Oh that non-criminal sick and disabled New Zealanders had such advocacy…

          http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11982566

          • Molly 4.2.2.1.1

            It’s not a question of one or t’other Rosemary.

            Both groups are treated appallingly by successive NZ governments and both attitudes and resources need to be addressed immediately.

            I always read with dismay your posts on how the government adds to the hardships of our sick and disabled, and have supported a very close friend as she has battled for help for her child.

            This would not be happening in a compassionate society, where we should be aspiring to be.

            Humane and considered treatment of those in our penal system, also would be an expression of a compassionate society. Not instead of – as well as.

            • Rosemary McDonald 4.2.2.1.1.1

              “It’s not a question of one or t’other Rosemary.”

              On one level…I get this.

              On another level…where cold, hard logic lives…it comes down to $$$ and expectations/entitlements.

              What have successive governments been happy to spend per year per prisoner?

              Compare that with the spend on non-ACC sick and disabled…and more often than not after a long, drawn out and often adversarial needs assessment. Every single dollar is grudgingly given as if it were coming from the pocket of the bureaucrat.

              A prisoner is mistreated, dies or suicides and there’s investigations and reports and maybe someone sues….

              Not so when disabled and sick suffer the same fate…the H&D Commission is a toothless wet bus ticket issuer on a good day…and sadly, those of us willing to step up and do some activism are few and far between.

              yes I do get that it doesn’t have to be one or t’other…but Molly I do sometimes despair…

              • Kay

                +1000 Rosemary 🙁

              • Molly

                I despair too Rosemary – and you are right to remind others (myself included) of the lack of support and resources for our sick and disabled.

                And advocates for penal reform, are also right to remind us of the failure of the system to provide for humane treatment and positive rehabilitation outcomes.

                If we break it down into economic terms – as we have been taught to do – before we even discuss the end goals, then we continue to set different priorities depending on our own energies, lives and passions. And nothing will get done.

                If we all agree on insisting that government creates a compassionate society, then that can only be achieved by systems that deliver better outcomes for those on benefits, those who are incapacited or disabled, those held in our penal system and the wider society.

                If $ can be found for RoNS and relocating the America’s Cup base on the waterfront, it is not the finances that are missing it is the political will.

    • Molly 4.3

      The issue is not around using shipping containers as living quarters. It is around the living conditions provided by the shipping container cells in use at Rimutaka Prison.

      The contrast between well-designed and badly-designed living spaces, with the same basic building materials can be huge.

      These non-shaded, barely adapted, non-ventilated containers – are not suitable for the use to which the Corrections system has placed them.

      And given the temperature forecasts over the next couple of months, immediate decisions and actions are necessary.

    • Michelle 4.4

      the f..wit you refer to Is Judith Collins she was proud of these containers we need to lock her in one of them for a day or and see how she like it

  5. tc 5

    A half decent MSM would’ve been all over this for years as quite frankly it’s 3rd world behaviour IMO from a govt institution with developed nation resources.

  6. One Anonymous Bloke 6

    So I suppose we’ll have to wait for Arthur Taylor to enforce the Health and Safety Act, because everyone else has been defunded /sarc

  7. Shona 7

    My shame of being a New Zealander grows every time I read about our prison system. @ koreropono your informative comment made me weep.

  8. Antoine 8

    Maybe we need to build some more prisons

    A.

  9. adam 9

    We never did get that prison reform did we.

    And where is the prisoners hero Kelvin on this again? MIA?

    Mind you with the Aussies sending back NZ criminals at more than one a day no one wants to open this can of worm. Of wait they not all criminals, some are just family members who have a family member who may or may not have gang connections.

    https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/88671246/dozens-of-australian-deportees-are-being-sent-to-nz-on-a-weekly-basis

    We really just don’t give a rats, as long as we can sweep it under the carpet in the next news cycle.

  10. Kay 10

    You ask, “who are the bigger criminals”?

    I’m actually inclined to say the great NZ vindictive public who want everyone locked up for everything, and are more than happy to be manipulated by the “tough on crime” rhetoric from politicians of most stripes after their votes. It’s now so ingrained into the general psyche that any party proposing to DECREASE the prison population is likely to lose votes.

    Those of us who can think logically know that the majority of currently detained people don’t actually need to be in a physical prison, @$100,000/yr or whatever the going rate is. There are plenty of ways to punish crimes without actual incarceration and the ongoing consequences, and that cost a lot less to boot. (NB- well aware there will always be some people who must be separated from society).

    So- less people in prisons = fewer beds needed= no shipping containers.
    But with the exception of the Greens, not a hope any of this coalition will let themselves be seen as “soft”, no matter how practical it is. Why Joe Public doesn’t seem to mind their hard earned tax $$ being unnecessarily spent on prisons is beyond me, yet to follow on from Rosemary, disabled/ill these same people mind a lot…

    • DoublePlusGood 10.1

      I agree, I think the only way you can successfully market it to the NZ vindictive public is to wave eye-watering savings of tax dollars expected if the government can close some prisons.

  11. fender 11

    The lowlife that stabbed my son is on holiday at Rimutaka, so forgive me for not caring if he happens to melt from the heat that the WHOLE COUNTRY is suffering from at present.

    • MsJasmine 11.1

      +1 who cares if it’s uncomfortable for them it’s hot for everyone can’t do the time don’t do the crime let them suffer.

      • adam 11.1.1

        How do you measure humanity and suffering MsJasmine? Because I find prisons odd, I want a perpetrator to know what they have done to me and mine. I don’t want an outside force incarcerating them as a form of revenge. I want the perpetrator to learn from their mistake, own it, and take responsibility otherwise me and mine are not getting justice.

        I’m saying forgiveness is essential, but don’t confuse me with being soft. If someone won’t own their actions, nor take responsibility, or learn – then they should face the harsh reality of me and mines revenge.

        But a third party doing things like this at Rimutaka Prison out of stupidity and laziness, I will not accept in my name a member of the wider community. I think it hurts us all. Mind you, without restorative justice I can’t see stupid or lazy in our bureaucracy ending anytime soon.

      • One Anonymous Bloke 11.1.2

        It’s natural and perversely comforting to indulge these sadistic vengeance fantasies, until you realise that the more your self-indulgence manifests itself in penal policy, the more the recidivism rate goes up.

        Alternatively we could do what works instead. If I say what it is you’ll lose the guts and reiterate your vengeance fantasies, and who wants to read that?

      • Michelle 11.1.3

        I still care msjasmine despite my mothers killer being in there (Rimutaka) the containers are unacceptable for a country like NZ that prides itself on human rights which is why I said Judith should be put in there (a container for a night ) see how she likes it

    • adam 11.2

      It sounds like you were not able to get any restorative justice fender?

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Restorative_justice

      The reforms we should have had should have given you and your family that option.

    • Molly 11.3

      fender, no-one would expect you to care in this regard, given your circumstances.

      That is why the burden and responsibility of humane care and treatment belongs to the state. Those who are authorised to remove liberty, also have a responsibility to administer to those incarcerated in such a way that the likelihood of reoffending when released is diminished.

      Wider society, and the country benefits when prisoners are treated humanely and resourced sufficiently for effective rehabilitation programmes. Even those who have suffered from criminal behaviour.

      • Incognito 11.3.1

        Very well said.

        Unfortunately, the State will only provide care & treatment as much as society (i.e. the taxpayers) will approve of, mostly in economic terms, as for all things nowadays …

        In our hyper-individualised society we blame everything on personal responsibility & choices. For these reasons, prisoners are treated as second-rate citizens (e.g. no voting rights) and implicitly as second-rate humans. In fact, they are/become undesirables (pariahs), outcasts. They don’t deserve much (!) care or our empathy & understanding. Similarly, rehabilitation programmes are (expensive) failures because recidivism rates are high or so the prevailing ‘reasoning’ goes. This obviously ignores that many prisoners before and certainly after their imprisonment had to row against societal ‘prejudices’ and other counter-forces and, consequently and almost inevitably, that they never stood or will stand a real change at rehabilitation to become productive consuming and tax-paying citizens who conform to the societal norm. Thus, we (must) demonise convicts and ideally exorcize them altogether. And by extension, through association, their social networks (friends, family, and …) are treated with much suspicion too and placed in ‘social quarantine’. Yet, some people call for building more prisons!!

        It’ll be very telling how this Government will be dealing with this – I have not said one word about ethnicity …

        Thank you Bill for drawing attention to this.

      • greywarshark 11.3.2

        Molly
        Thanks for pointing that out. I remember being at a meeting about prison conditions and the chap next to me said something like I think if anyone murdered someone from my family I would want them to suffer the same. He was surprised when I said that I would feel the same, and that is why justice should deal with it and not those personally involved. He just couldn’t get his head around the idea that we all live in a state that has a rule of law for such matters.

  12. The Fairy Godmother 12

    The best solution would be to decriminalise marijuana immediately and release all people in prison for marijuana offences. That should allow the Rimataka container prison to be shut down immediately as there would be room in other prisons for them to be moved to. we really need to stop locking so many people up. Imprisonment of Maori is way higher than it should be.

    • Rosemary McDonald 12.1

      “The best solution would be to decriminalise marijuana immediately and release all people in prison for marijuana offences.”

      Yes.

      And for those offenses requiring imprisonment…shorter, much shorter terms spent largely in isolation (other than staff) thinking, reading (or learning how to), getting substance abuse issues under control, dealing to health issues, learning mindfulness techniques, getting full drivers licences and defensive driving courses….

    • joe90 12.2

      Catchall drugs and anti-social behavior offenders make up just over13% (1300 inmates) of the prison population and I doubt more than 1 in 15 of those offenders are imprisoned for C class offences.

      Marijuana is a green herring.

      https://screenshotscdn.firefoxusercontent.com/images/0ed358c7-e900-4693-8988-6889f0a05dfd.png

    • McFlock 12.3

      I’m not sure it follows that either the container prison or double-bunking would the rejected if the drug laws were updated. Prisoners numbers and how we deal with them are a different issue with the same root cause, imo.

      They’ll still find reasons to lock more people up, and the Senseless Sentencing crowd will still (possibly be secretly paid to) lobby for harsher sentences in worse conditions, and prison rape will still be a bad joke rather than an issue of widespread concern.

      Fixing the MJ laws to address prisoner treatment is like putting a bandage on your right arm because your left arm is bleeding.

  13. McFlock 13

    Conditions in prison ships wasn’t a big social concern, either.

    As soon as you start treating people like cargo, it’s a concern. Regardless of the conditions or what they did. Goes for economy class on airlines, too.

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