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Monday, June 22, 2009

Contained prisoners - thinking inside the box.

As a gimmick it's a PR winner, and you can't blame a Minister who admires Rommel above all others to back a move to house convicts in shipping containers. As a practical solution to the overcrowding in prisons it appeals on many levels - although the dismal Corrections Dept will blow the cost out on something that should be very much cheaper than their other more orthodox projects. Given their record it's the Mt Eden redevelopment project costs that need to be scrutinised - not who will run it. Saving a million here or there for ideological point-scoring means nothing if the actual construction costs by the Dept. run over by tens of millions.

In the past I spent about 400 days up Her Majesty's arse - staying in four of her establishments - so I consider myself qualified to comment on prison conditions and the system as it relates to the people on the other side of the grille. I have no inherent issue with making a cell out of a shipping container - it need not be anything less - or more - than a conventional cell (beyond the advantage of being portable). I just have three main points in regard to where the human containerisation fits into the system:

Firstly: No double-bunking:

Double-bunking is unpleasant and unsafe. The only thing worse than being confined for long hours in a room that is basically a disabled toilet with a bed taking up half the space is having to share that tiny space with a random, potentially violent, person. While not widespread - from my talks with prisoners - cell-mates have been raped. More common are beatings and stand-overs. Having spent a few nights with a brooding cellmate who refused to speak (and was psychotically disordered) the only thoughts you have as you try not to drift off to sleep is how fast can you get to the emergency button and will it work? That's not a safe space to be in. If containers means single cells for everyone - then let's start today; but, if they want to put two in there - like in any cell - then that is to be resisted.

Secondly: Put them where the demand is:

Sending prisoners all over the country, even between Islands, in buses (now shackled - disgusting!) and on unmarked aircraft (as I was once) is a huge waste caused by the Corrections Dept not building prisons in Auckland. Prisons in Northland, Waikato, Hastings, Otago and so on were all deemed more important than doing anything in Auckland - in spite of the fact that these shiny new North Island prisons were very quickly filled by prisoners from... Auckland. In some units about half or more of the muster would be from Auckland. A third of the population lives there so it's all very basic maths, but maths isn't the Dept's strong suit. In Auckland there is only Paremoremo, Mt Eden and the adjoining ACRP remand prison, and the new womens' facility in Wiri - that was never going to be anywhere near enough. The transportation costs that get built into a system where almost all of Auckland's prisoners have to be exported around the country (and brought to and from Auckland for court appearances and release in many cases) must be immense. A total waste of time and money.

Thirdly: Abu Ghraib was a modern prison too:

As a prisoner I traded off living conditions and the relative comfort of a minimum security unit in the provinces for a spell in Mt Eden in order to receive visits. The drudgery and sometimes double shifts in Mt Eden kitchen itself only came up because I knew one of the staff who got me a position. Only one hour in the yard (which is a maximum security scenario and the minimum under international conventions I believe) was well worth the morale and connexion that a weekly visit of an hour from a dear one would bring. Many, many other prisoners from Auckland felt the same way and made sacrifices to stay close to their friends and family - some staging suicide attempts in order to do so. The prisoners I talked to who had been at the ACRP told me there is no fresh air - it's all recycled and conditioned - and that it is somewhat claustrophobic. Just because it is modern does not mean that it is better than an old prison. So too the routine of the prison can be more relevant to a prisoner's level of comfort and safety than whether the underlying structure is 140 days old or a 140 years.

Containers.The going price on TradeMe for a reasonable condition 20' shipping container is about $2-$3,000. The 40' version will be another grand or two. And yet the costs to have them fitted out and up to spec are supposedly $380,000. The container is only 1% of the total cost. These huge costs are mystifying. What you're buying is the metal floor, walls and roof, so $4,000 is a bargain - which makes whatever figure the squanderous Corrections Dept is coming up with the opposite of a bargain - a rip-off. Something we have come to expect.

As for the Opposition's Clayton Cosgrove:
"You need electricity and a latrine so plumbers, sparkies, drainlayers and carpenters are involved.
"How many P addicts, gang members and murderers are qualified in those skills?"

- His comments are fatuous and quite incorrect. There are many workshops in prisons, incl. metalworking, carpentry and concrete already. There are many tradesmen in prison, esp. welders, chippies and sparkies. That's a fact. There are also many who would gladly like an opportunity to get or add a ticket to their CV in trades involved in converting containers.


The prison population is forecast to rise to 10,700 by 2016, compared with a prison muster of fewer than 6000 in 2003. There are about 8000 prisoners currently.
The Corrections Department predicts that it will run out of prison beds by next year.

Find alternatives to prison would be the primary response you would have thought - rather than the give hundreds of millions to the Corrections Dept to squander and mis-manage under a CEO who is effectively estranged from his own Minister.

There will be the usual wailings from the Left - none of whom have been to prison of course - about how dreadful living in a shipping container would be. Well, pity the poor students across the ditch. ANU still considering shipping container lodgings:


At 22/6/09 6:02 pm, Blogger Jeff said...

Hey Tim a quick question in regards to double bunking.

Do you get any say if you are double bunked or not? I.e. can you specifically request not to be or you got no choice?

Not advocating it at all, the idea would freak me out one hell of allot if it happened to me.

At 22/6/09 6:11 pm, Blogger peterquixote said...

dude think about all this,
the State has to hold prisoner :
what next,
why not get prisoner to build his own good home,

At 22/6/09 6:45 pm, Blogger Tim Selwyn said...

Jeff "Do you get any say if you are double bunked or not? I.e. can you specifically request not to be or you got no choice?"

- I always requested a single, even if I knew there wouldn't be any. No - you don't have a choice apart from claiming you will harm yourself I suppose so you can get taken to the psych unit. So the the real problem with objecting is that you might get someone worse as a cellmate.

At 22/6/09 7:10 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I heard from one ex-con the thing to do would be to claim you're asmatic.

At 22/6/09 9:37 pm, Blogger snigie said...

Did you see the interview with Collins? Didnt you just want to smack her smarmy face? Yet the guy against her was just repeating himself over and over again-why not say something like, 'would you be happy for your kids to stay in one of these containers'? And when that knob end paul said 'people out there would love to stay in one of these', I would have said 'what are you drunk? People want to stay in these spartan surroundings with no insulation and nothing to do-are you fucking mental?' But sadly all we got was her shaking her head slowly smiling as if to say 'you poor man, I know best, criminals are subhuman and im like a God in this country with the police at my every back and call-worship me mortal-worship me!

At 23/6/09 4:44 am, Anonymous Dave said...

Nice to see a big gap between Tim and Bomber on this subject.

While I am not a big fan of a lot of the left wing nonsense on this blog, it seems that there are some benefits to be gained by using old shipping containers - for all concerned.

There are a lot of skills that could be transferred to inmates in the construction of said cells, particularly if there was a commitment from Corrections to make them actually habitable.

Tim has again shown himself to be the more clear-headed of the thinkers on this blog.

10 points Tim (not that you care what I think)!

At 23/6/09 8:28 am, Anonymous Dave S said...

Pleasing to see Tim consider this reasonably instead of notching the hysteria up to 11 at the thought of using shipping containers as housing for prisoners.

For the people who want to belive that living in a shipping container is some new experiment in horrific human degradation, have a look at this:


Obviously our prison cells won't be furnished like this but it proves that being housed in such containers isn't inreasonable.

From the prisoners point of view the only real complaint I would have is that that they could be awfully loud if the guy next door wants to bang on the wall all night. I have been in containers and they are a bit like being in a drum. Then again:stick some wads of loo paper in your ears, that's what I'd do.

Tim - Where in Auckland do you think a new prison could/should go?

Do You think Te Kauwhata is to far to travel?

At 23/6/09 5:51 pm, Blogger peterquixote said...

if i was in a double cell mate, i would collaborate immediately, and make plans,


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