The Prison Industrial Complex
I think there is something terribly wrong with our prison system and the public perception of it. There were a flurry of stories in the weekend papers about a Corrections Department in free fall. The near collapse system is groaning with over crowding and under funding and is producing prisoners who on release are committing worse crimes.
The natural fear and anger that comes from being the victim of crime has warped into something that ends up supporting a system that only exacerbates the culture of violence inside prisons. The problem with having an intense culture of fear and violence in prison, is that it makes any chance of rehabilitation that much more difficult. The environment of the actual prisons needs to be changed and we need to start seeking better solutions than jail, and the jails we do have should be built with rehabilitation foremost in it’s design (needless to say the function of keeping prisoners in jails would also be high on the agenda).
Corrections chaos sparks Nats outrage
Allegations of prisoners receiving drugs and cash in court and probation bungling over killer Graeme Burton points to widespread incompetence in the justice system. Nicola Boyes reports.
The Opposition is demanding a sweeping and independent inquiry into the Department of Corrections as fresh evidence of corruption and incompetence is revealed. The Corrections Minister wants an immediate report into allegations of corruption at Rotorua District Court after a Sunday Star-Times investigation found Corrections officers are allowing inmates' families and friends in the court's back door, bringing in food, drugs, money and other contraband. This comes on top of yesterday's revelations by the Dominion Post that police had begged the probation service - run by Corrections - to recall Graeme Burton to jail five weeks before he allegedly went on a shooting rampage.
Simmering below these headlines has been a stream of serious allegations including:
Claims by a Dutch couple recruited to work at Rimutaka Prison that officers were being bribed by gangs and prisoners had unlimited access to drugs.
Claims that a smorgasbord of drugs is available to Mt Eden prison inmates, sold under guards' noses.
Reform programmes being run in the prisons leading to higher rates of recidivism.
A Star-Times inquiry showing a Rotorua police jailer has been charged with supplying methamphetamine to inmates.
Claims from the Prison Officers Association that prison managers turn a blind eye to violent assaults in prisons in order to claim bonuses.
This month's release of a convicted rapist, who raped a tourist in an Auckland backpacker hostel, into an Auckland boarding house.
Similar concerns about the need for an independent anti-corruption taskforce have been aired about the British Prison Service. The BBC yesterday reported that guards accepted that drugs were necessary in the prison environment to encourage discipline. Violence in New Zealand's prisons is being blamed for the defection of large numbers of prison guards recruited from Holland and the UK. The department held two overseas campaigns - one in Samoa in 2004 which cost $124,837, and one in Britain and the Netherlands in 2005, which cost $291,516 (including two weeks' accommodation on arrival in New Zealand).
Of those offered jobs, 43% of Dutch nationals, 41% of British and 14% of Samoans turned them down. Of those who came to New Zealand, 24% of Dutch prison officers and 13.5% of British officers have left.
Corrections Association boss Beven Hanlon says the Dutch recruits "really struggled" with the cultural differences. "They are used to a very open, very safe prison system there, which is largely non-violent. Our prisons are very violent places and that has been a big culture shock for them."
The saddest thing about the entire Graeme Burton fiasco is that the whole thing seems to have been so predictable. How on Earth could someone with a violent background be released straight from segregation inside to the freedom in the outside world with no adjustment period? Am I surprised that Graeme exploded into violent rage at everyone and everything after being released minus any adjustment programme in what seems to be a parole decision made not based on public safety, but on overcrowding grounds.
Am I surprised that after a slow news day when all the media suddenly carried ‘Public Enemy Number One’ news broadcasts of Burton (for what at the time was only a breach of parole), that an ill-adjusted Burton freaked out and went on the rampage? Not that any of this is in any way a defense for Burton’s horrific actions, but there are reasons why these things happen, and if we don’t try to understand the reasons, we are not going to be able to change the paradigm of this debate.
Take Bailey Junior Kurariki – his case touched the same raw nerve that Don Brash’s ‘Maaaari get too much’ did on talkback radio land, there was this warped perception that trying to defend their actions as those of stupid, stupid children seemed to many the worst extremes of political correctness gone mad and there was a national outcry to punish this little punk. I remember arguing at the time that this all felt far too knee jerk and that sending a 12 year old into our under resourced youth prison system for 7 years had more chances of creating a monster than a reformed citizen, and here we are now fretting that his release date is around the corner, knowing full well that his experiences inside during such an important personality growth stage will hardly lean him towards a bright future. Wouldn’t we all feel safer if we knew Prisoners would get the chance to rehabilitate inside so that on their full sentence release we could trust the system rather than the continuation of the current retribution culture that doesn’t work.