So does this means we should sack Corrections and hand them over to Serco?

August 25th, 2015 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

The Department of Corrections has been criticised for failing to provide proper medical care for two inmates, one of whom eventually died.

The dead man, a Spring Hill inmate in his 50s with a range of health problems, complained of pain for weeks before he was eventually diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2013.

He went into hospice care and later died.

Corrections have since apologised to the man’s partner.

If this was a private prison, Labour and the unions would be demanding that the prison operator be sacked, and that the prison management be transferred to the state.

As this death occurred in a public prison, will anyone make a fuss, and demand it be handed over to say a private operator?

My point is that neither public nor private operators get it entirely right. I want a level playing field where they are judged equally on the results, not slammed by politicians only if they are privately managed.

Funniest release yet – unintentionally

May 17th, 2014 at 1:35 pm by David Farrar

Asenati Lole-Taylor said:

New Zealand First says the Government has seriously compromised community safety by using the Budget as an electioneering tool and neglecting essential areas like law and order.

“The Department of Corrections has had their funding cut by $100 million,” says Spokesperson for Corrections Le’aufa’amulia Asenati Lole-Taylor.

“The question needs to be asked, where will they slash and burn to save $100 million. Do they seriously think they can reduce the prison population.

Umm yes. There are 8,520 prisoners currently, down from 8,755 three years ago.

“The Minister is crowing that there is less re-offending and crime is decreasing but that is just lies and statistics.

Obviously a conspiracy between the Police, Corrections, Stats NZ and the Government.

 It’s clear that the Minister has been in cahoots with Finance Minister Bill English to make cuts so the government can sell a ‘surplus’ story.

Now it is true the 2014/15 vote is $100 million less than the previous vote. But most of that is reduced capital expenditure because they’re not needing to build any new prisons next year.

Maybe NZ First is demanding we build prisons that are not needed?

“They cannot possibly expect us to believe that less funding is required when there is more crime, violence, drug and alcohol abuse. The reality on our streets is devastating.

Actually crime, violence, drug and alcohol abuse are all down.

“The Government would rather justify budget cuts with an artificially low prison population but inmates are being released without proper rehabilitation, and that puts the public at risk,” says Mrs Lole-Taylor.

Reoffending is down also.

Never before seen a release ignore reality on pretty much every single issue.

The Spring Hill riot

June 3rd, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

A group of Spring Hill prisoners narrowly escaped being burnt to death after a burning roof caved in, just as prison officers herded them to safety.

The Waikato Times understands many of the 29 prisoners involved in Saturday’s riot at the prison’s high security wing were lucky to escape with their lives.

More than 115 prisoners have been relocated to other North Island prisons, including the 29 involved in the riot.

If those who nearly burned to death were those doing the rioting, it may have been Darwin’s Law in operation.

Would it not be sensible to split up those involved in the riot? Generally they like to have you near your family for rehabilitation reasons, but I think when you instigate riots, then there is a good case for moving some of them to say Dunedin and Christchurch prisons.

Cleaning products were used to light fires while sports equipment was broken down and used as weapons by raging prisoners – understood to be gang members.

The end result may be other prisoners lose access to sports equipment.

She confirmed those involved in starting the riots were gang members.

“There are significant numbers of one particular gang at Spring Hill, which is the Killer Beez”.

Prison staff had no indication trouble was brewing before Saturday’s riot.

How can this be? The Greens say it was because of the two year old smoking ban and the three year old double bunking policy? Nothing to do with being gang members I am sure.

A policy well implemented

November 30th, 2012 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Simon Collins at NZ Herald reports:

The ban made all tobacco products and lighters “contraband”, imposing disciplinary consequences if prisoners or guards were found with them.

Dr Lukkien said the ban was effective. Confiscations plunged from 569 lighters and 237 tobacco items in the first month of the ban to two lighters and 12 tobacco items in June this year.

Nurses in all prisons offered nicotine-replacement patches and lozenges to all smokers for up to 12 weeks.

Dr Lukkien said some prisons held barbecues and concerts to involve prisoners in “celebrating” going smokefree, rather than seeing it as a hardship.

A second evaluation, completed this year by Wellington-based Litmus Ltd and Kaipuke Consultants, found that half of the prisoners who had been smokers said they either would not or might not start smoking again after leaving jail.

Excellent. They’ll save money and be healthier.

“Improvements in prisoners’ self-esteem and confidence were also evident. Health staff reported prisoners telling them that having given up a nicotine addiction means that they feel they can give up other addictive behaviour also.”

And drug and alcohol addiction is a major issue with prisoners.

Hopefully not approved treatment

August 21st, 2012 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

The West Auckland resident said he recorded the meeting because he did not like some of the probation officer’s comments.

In the recording the officer talks about the difficulty of managing people on home detention for ”pretty sick crimes” who ”still have a need for, for instance, child sex”.

Referring to one case he says: ”I’m not able to supply them with child sex but we’ve worked out a plan where, hey, we’ll go out to get a prostitute who comes to the house and she dresses up as a child.”

I’m glad the probation service doesn’t actually provide child sex to pedophiles – just prostitutes dressed up as children. That makes me feel so much better about paying my taxes.

I guess if the offender was in for bestiality, the officer would hire a prostitute to dress up as a horse, and if for necrophilia he’d try to hire a zombie prostitute.

Note I’ve got no problem with paedophiles hiring consenting adult prostitutes dressed up as whatever they want. But I’d rather it wasn’t taxpayer funded!

The Beast appeals

August 9th, 2012 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

I heard on the radio the Beast of Blenheim is appealing against his supervision terms. Here’s what he wanted and what he got, from Stuff:

 The man known as the Beast of Blenheim wanted to travel around New Zealand in a campervan after being freed from prison on September 1.

Can you imagine anything less appropriate. I hope “Over our dead body” is an allowable response from Corrections.

However, the board has imposed 17 special conditions on his release, including one that will make him the first child sex offender to be tracked by a global positioning system (GPS) on parole.

He will be forced to live in a $70,000 relocated state house on Whanganui Prison property, which is yet to be moved. Resource consent for the two-bedroom house is expected to be ready in time for his release.

Whanganui was chosen because it is one of only a few towns in New Zealand where Wilson would not be close to any of his victims.

You do have to feel sorry for the locals. It is like the reverse of winning Lotto. At least he is very recognisable, so kids and women can be warned about him. Hopefully any farm animals will kick him in the nads if he tries anything with them.

“We think the decision to locate him here on prison grounds almost 10km from the perimeter of the nearest population base, it just kind of made sense.”

Best of a bad situation. I suspect he will break his conditions early on, and at least he’ll be close to the prison where he may hopefully then spend the rest of his days in.

Smoke free prisons

May 27th, 2012 at 9:10 am by David Farrar

Ian Steward in the SST reports:

Inmates are breathing easy following the prison smoking ban with scientists finding a greater than 50 per cent rise in air quality and – to everyone’s surprise – no major incidents since the big stub out.

Smoking was banned in New Zealand prisons on June 1 last year with stark warnings from prisoners, prison advocates, and guards of riots and disorder.

However, there were no riots and Corrections staff report a number of unforeseen benefits.

Prison services assistant general manager Rachel Leota said prisons had reported a “calmer” environment with fewer “standover” incidents now that tobacco has been taken out of circulation.

Inmates had been heard on the prison telephone monitoring system telling family they appreciated living in a smoke-free environment and encouraging family to give up.

I recall the predictions of riots and violence. I really should look up who was making those predictions, so that when they opine in future on prison policy, we can take this into account.

A team of scientists from Auckland University studying the amount of “fine particulate” in the air of prisons has found the rate halved after smoking was banned.

Dr Simon Thornley and colleagues set up an air quality monitor in Auckland Prison, at Paremoremo, and measured fine particulate concentrations for 15 days before and 15 days after the ban.

Readings were already low as the detector had to be set up in a staff area for safety concerns.

Before the ban the mean concentration was 6.58 micrograms per cubic metre of air.

This dropped to 5.17mcg once a ban on sale of cigarettes was introduced and fell further to 2.44mcg once the total ban was implemented. Thornley said despite the dramatic increase in air quality, the thing that surprised people the most was how well-behaved prisoners were while the ban was introduced.


Rare praise

May 23rd, 2012 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Not often the Howard League for Penal Reform  and Rethinking Crime and Punishment praise the Government, but Stuff reports:

Prison reform groups have praised the Government’s $65 million funding boost for the rehabilitation of criminals, saying it signals a shift away from costly, punitive corrections policy which had not worked.

Corrections Minister Anne Tolley has announced an ambitious plan for Thursday’s Budget to cut reoffending by 25 per cent in the next five years.

She said this target would be achieved by extending drug and alcohol addiction services to all prisoners, expanding education and employment training in prisons and greater support for prisoners to find jobs when released.

If the goal was reached there would be 18,500 fewer victims of crime, and 600 fewer people in jail by 2017. The target of cutting reoffending was one of 10 goals for the next five years set out by Prime Minister John Key in March.

The $65m funding targeted includes:

  • 33,100 additional offenders receiving new and expanded drug and alcohol treatment in prisons and in the community (a 500% increase)
  • 7,855 additional prisoners and community offenders receiving new and expanded rehabilitation services (230% increase)
  • 2,950 additional prisoners in education and employment training (30% increase)

So this is a massive increase in those areas.

However I disagree with the lobby groups which say it is a shift away from more punitive policies that have not worked. That is just ideological ranting.

To use an analogy, I hate it when some Green MPs talk about transport policy being a choice between roads/motorway and public transport. It is a false dichotomy. We need both better roads and better public transport. The debate should be about the exact funding mix – not an either/or choice.

The same goes for corrections. We need both very tough policies on sentencing and parole to keep the worst violent and sexual offenders locked up so they can’t keep victimizing innocent New Zealanders. But we also need to invest in rehabilitation and support for those criminal who can be rehabilitated (which is not all of them – in fact probably not even most of them).

So I’m all for a three strikes policy and tougher bail and parole laws. But I’m also all for investing more in drug and alcohol treatment in prisons so the reoffending rate drops. It is not a choice between one and the other.

Howard League for Penal Reform spokesman Jarrod Gilbert said it was a brave move based on robust evidence instead of fear and populism.

He had some reservations about whether the goal of a 25 per cent reduction could be reached but welcomed the Government’s shift in rhetoric away from “zero-tolerance”. …

Rethinking Crime and Punishment spokesman Kim Workman supported the changes but said they would be difficult to achieve given the “very high imprisonment rate” in New Zealand.

One of the most dramatic proposals in the pre-Budget announcement was the expansion of drug and alcohol treatment to 33,000 more people in prison and in the community.

It won’t be easy. Once someone is one a life of crime, it is difficult to shift them. But it is worth making the effort.

A low risk?

March 8th, 2010 at 10:49 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

A stabbing victim is leaving the country and fears for his life because his attacker is about to be released from prison without having done any rehabilitation programme.

The Corrections Department has classified his attacker as low risk and will release him next month, even though the Parole Board views the man as a risk to the community.

If I was the victim, I’d also be leaving the country – well that or making sure I had ready access to a firearm (yes I know that is illegal).

In July 2006, Frame, who is now in his 50s, sliced Mr McArtney’s face, cutting his mouth and tongue with a 15cm blade in what was described as an unprovoked and irrational attack.

Mr McArtney, a semi-retired IT consultant, says the corrections system is flawed because Frame has had no rehabilitation treatment, despite pleas from the Parole Board that without it he is a threat to the community.

Documents show the Parole Board and the Corrections Department had a conflicting view over the risk Frame poses.

The board repeatedly refused to release him because he had not done any rehabilitation programmes, and was thus a risk to the community.

But Corrections considered him a “maintenance” low-risk prisoner and not eligible for any programmes.

I am surprised the view of the Corrections Department trumps the view of the Parole Board.

Frame’s sentencing notes state he has a “a long and fairly well-documented history of depression and drug and alcohol abuse”, which was at the root of his offending.

Last October, the Parole Board report said: “[Since his last appearance in April] no steps had been taken to address his offending and none were likely to be taken. …

The Parole Board said in its November 2007 report that for Frame to get into a programme, his security classification would need to be readjusted.

It was not.

Mr McArtney is flabbergasted the department ignored the board’s pleas.

“It seems to me the Parole Board can say what they like and the department doesn’t pay any attention.”

Prison Services assistant regional manager Bronwyn Donaldson said Parole Board recommendations had been acted on where appropriate.

Where appropriate, means if we agree.

It has also been revealed that Frame had previously been charged with murder, in 1975 when he was 16. He was subsequently acquitted.

I would be most interested in the grounds on which he was acquitted.

He was convicted in 1990 for possession of a knife and in 1997 for aggravated burglary and possession of an offensive weapon.

The latter convictions relate to an incident, described as a “damage spree”, through the Raumati Village Shopping Centre. Afterwards he broke into a house armed with a knife, and then assaulted a member of the public who came to investigate.

And then the stabbing also. And this is what Corrections is calling low risk?

NZ a little bit safer this week

January 11th, 2010 at 12:05 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post reports:

One of New Zealand’s most notorious killers has died in prison, bringing relief to those who knew his victims.

Double murderer Rufus Junior Marsh, 53, died in Wanganui Prison last week, the Corrections Department said yesterday. The cause of death is unknown but is not thought to be suspicious.

A career criminal, Marsh was serving a life sentence for killing Justice Department clerk Diane Miller in 1986.

It was his second killing – 12 years earlier, Marsh, then 18, and 16-year-old accomplice Dennis Luke kicked Joseph “Taffy” Williamson to death in Hopper St, Wellington.

We have very few double killers. Marsh, if he was ever let out, would have been highly likely to offend again.

The families of his victims can npow relax and not have to go through the annual submission to the Parole Board asking for him to be kept locked up.

Mind you in this case, it looks like the Parole Board saw no release for him:

At a hearing in 2008, the board said he was unlikely to be freed until he was too old to pose a risk.

“It may be a more humane and realistic outcome to allow Mr Marsh to accept that he is very unlikely to be ready for release until he has been made frail with age.”

I wonder how many people are in this category – basically have had an indication they will never get parole while they are able bodied?

No smoking prisons

December 30th, 2009 at 3:43 pm by David Farrar

This sounds promising from the Telegraph:

A noticeable drop in recorded crimes on the Isle of Man is being attributed to the opening of Europe’s only completely no smoking prison.

The island which is one of the safest places to live in the British Isles, has seen a massive reduction in total crimes since the new £42m jail opened in August 2008.

In the nine month period from April 2008 to December 15 2008 the total recorded crimes stood at 2,508.

But in the same period this year crimes dropped off 14 per cent, with a total of 2,157 crimes committed.
The prison is Europe’s one and only completely non-smoking prison – with smoking not even allowed in the prison exercise yard.

Even prison guards are banned from smoking anywhere on the premises and have to go into a nearby car park to light up.

Prisoners are told they have no choice but to give up and are given free nicotine patches and counselling sessions to help them beat their cravings.

“It’s a standing joke now that when we nick someone we remind them that if they get sent down they’ll have to come off the cigarettes – their faces are a picture,” said a police source.

“It’s like they are more scared about giving up smoking than a criminal record and some time in the nick.”

So how about it Judith – trial a non smoking prison and see the results.

Havoc does DJ service for fines

November 8th, 2009 at 11:04 am by David Farrar

The HoS report:

DJ Mikey Havoc has a debt to society – and is paying it off the same way he makes his living.

The former Push Push rocker, now a 95bFM morning DJ, amassed at least $20,000 in traffic fines over a number of years. …

The system allows people to carry out between 40 and 400 hours of work instead. The Department of Corrections website describes it as allowing “offenders [to] make compensation to society for their offending”.

So that would mean an affective rate of $50 to $500 an hour. And that is net. Normally you would need to earn around 20% more than that to cover tax. And what did he have to do?

Havoc confirmed he had arranged to clear the debt through work: “Shifting shit around and doing stuff other people can’t be f***ed doing”.

However, the Herald on Sunday has learned that Havoc’s punishment is remarkably similar to the work he does on radio in the morning – spinning records for students.

Havoc does the breakfast shift on 95bFM from the second floor of the Auckland University Student Association building. Then, according to AUSA general manager Tom O’Connor, Havoc works off his fines by playing music for students on campus – in the quad outside the radio studios.

O’Connor said the student association normally hired DJs to play for three hours over lunch for about $150.

“He is working as a DJ in the main quad, working for us free.”

I don’t think being a DJ is what most people would regard as community service.

It would be like me getting let off any traffic fines I incur, by doing community service as a blogger.

Shipping Containers Cells

August 27th, 2009 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar


I saw these in Hawaii and tried to persuade the local authorities they should send them to Judith Collins to become the new Auckland Prison.

The Dom Post reports:

Corrections Minister Judith Collins is tipped to announce today a rollout of shipping container cells to cope with a burgeoning prison population.

Corrections has been trialling four prototype cells at Rimutaka Prison and Mrs Collins has made it clear that she sees shipping containers as a low-cost solution to the prison muster crisis.

The containers cost $63,000 to convert, a fraction of the $643,000 cost per bed at the newly built Springhill Prison in Meremere, south of Auckland. Corrections say the containers can be built quickly, potentially using prison labour.

Well they certainly look secure to me. Maybe they can let prisoners choose their preferred colour.

I think stacking them vertically is worth considering also. Takes up less land, and probably much harder to escape from if you are 10 feet up. Especially if they greased the lower levels.

Corrections to lay complaint against TV3

July 30th, 2009 at 8:34 am by David Farrar

As first reported on the blogs, it looks like TV3’s access to Clayton Weatherston in prison was not kosher. The Herald reports:

The Corrections Department will lay a formal complaint with TV3 after a journalist infiltrated a prison to speak to convicted murderer Clayton Weatherston. …

During the story, Ms Horwood spoke of visiting Weatherston in prison. The breach of security has broken strict Corrections Department rules, said Mike Martelli, general manager of the office of chief executive Barry Matthews.

He said all media interviews with prisoners require the approval of Mr Matthews. “No approval was given for a journalist from TV3’s 60 Minutes to interview prisoner Clayton Weatherston, nor was any approach made to the department requesting an interview.

And TV3 would surely know these rules.

Did Corrections allow media to visit Weatherston

July 28th, 2009 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

I wasn’t planning to comment more on this case until sentencing but Roar Prawn blogs:

Yip it true. We have just been watching the Weatherston piece on TV3 60 Minutes. It was okay till they got to the bit where the reporter revealed she had been given permission to visit Weatherston in Jail. …

Weatherston should not have had that opportunity. Corrections has done the country a disservice for allowing the interview to go ahead.

If Roar Prawn is correct and Corrections allowed TV3 to have access to Weatherston (even if it was not filmed), then the Minister still has some culture change challenges ahead.

UPDATE: I have heard from a reliable source that it appears the TV3 reporter posed as a friend of Weatherston’s when she visited in March and April. This is a breach of Corrections Department rules if she did, as media are meant to identify themselves. I hope TV3 comment on whether or not they broke the rules to gain access?

Four editorials on Corrections

March 11th, 2009 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

This is getting to be a habit. Two days in a row, and all four major dailies again have editorials on much the same subject.

This time we will start in the South with the ODT:

There was some evidence taxpayers had been saved money by private enterprise: one study showed the cost of keeping an inmate in a high security prison run by the Corrections Department at the time was $72,000 per year; the cost in a minimum security prison was $54,000, and the cost in the privately-run remand prison $43,000 a year.

The Treasury also told the Labour government that the Corrections Department was unlikely to run the remand prison for a cheaper price. Nevertheless, it was taken over by the department. At the time, the co-leader of the Maori Party, Tariana Turia, commented the prison had operated “extremely well” under private management.

Today, we have record prison inmate numbers, about half of whom claim to be Maori, and an exceptionally high recidivism rate. The state system is clearly far from properly addressing their rehabilitation. It is this failure that needs to be the focus of the Government’s attention, rather than whether private enterprise can do a better (read cheaper) job.

The ODT is wrong to interpret better as meaning cheaper only. The private managed prison has lower levels of drug abuse and violence – both major factors into recidivism I would say.

Yet, what do we find in the most recent review of the department, by commissioner Ian Rennie: the Labour government failed to provide anywhere near enough funding to pay for required extra parole officers; it refused to pay for the much-needed 10 additional psychologists; it refused the department’s request for more funding to meet just “satisfactory” standards of service.

I think the ODT overlooks the Auditor-General saying very very clearly that any lack of resource can not explain the massive breaches of their own procedures and policies, that resulted in incraesed risk to the public.

Next The Press:

The minister had no doubt expected that this latest report would lead to the sacking of Corrections’ chief executive, Barry Matthews, by Rennie, who is technically his employer. Matthews had refused to resign.

But to Collins’ chagrin, the report said that sacking Matthews could not be justified. Rennie acknowledged that non-compliance with parole management procedures was too high, but said there had been recent improvements.

His report also pointed to the increased workload of the department and said that requests from Matthews for more staff had been rejected by the previous government.

This finding might create the suspicion that the head of the public service bent over backwards to clear the chief executive, and Collins is certainly correct to say that most New Zealanders do not have confidence in the department or Matthews. But, realistically, Collins had no real choice but to grit her teeth, accept the findings of a report which she had ordered, and promise to put more resources into Matthews’ department.

The alternative would be for her to tell Rennie that she could not possibly work with her chief executive, which would virtually force the commissioner to replace him. Yet after being cleared by the latest report, Matthews would almost certainly have sought a substantial payout, especially as he had two years of his $375,000 a year contract to run. That would have been politically unacceptable.

Yep. In one sense Barry Matthews has been put onto probation rather than given a recall!

The Dom Post:

Strip away the verbiage and State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie’s report on Corrections Department accountability can be read two ways.

Either it is an elaborate exercise in buck-passing chief executive Barry Matthews cannot be held accountable for his department’s failings because the last government woefully under-resourced it or it is a charter for mediocrity: departments should not be expected to follow their own procedures.

To be fair to the last Government, I understand funding for Corrections has been:

99/00: $427m
08/09: $965m

Departments always say they want more money. Corrections has had its budget double and they still couldn’t follow their own procedures in the *majority* of their own cases.

Protecting the public is the department’s No1 priority. The Burton case should have have served as a wake-up call to all within Corrections. Mr Matthews has devoted extra attention to high-risk parolees since the Burton case, but it is surprising that he appeared to be unaware of the extent of his department’s failings till the auditor-general conducted his review.

It is almost as surprising that Mr Rennie does not consider that a sackable offence. The department’s failure to follow its own rules put public safety at risk.

In standing by his beleaguered chief executive, Mr Rennie has made himself accountable for the department’s performance. If the department continues to fall short of public expectations, he will find that an uncomfortable position.

That is very true.

And finally the Herald:

The Corrections Minister’s instructions to the State Services Commissioner, Iain Rennie, were quite explicit. He was to “establish who is accountable for serious failings identified by the Auditor-General’s report into the management of offenders on parole”. By any yardstick, Mr Rennie has failed miserably. He has found no one accountable in terms worthy of justifying dismissal. That includes the chief executive of the Corrections Department, Barry Matthews, and the parole head, Katrina Casey. And there is not a murmur about who else, among the problem-plagued department’s staff, should be held accountable for these “serious failings”. The Government’s quest for public-sector accountability seems to have passed Mr Rennie by.

To be fair to Mr Rennie, he is hamstrung with our employment laws that basically do not allow you to sack people just because they have failed at their job.

His report is the more abject in that he confirms the department has been failing to make the grade. Corrections’ internal standard is 85 per cent compliance with its own parole management procedures. Last December, it managed 80 per cent. Further, Mr Rennie judged that the department could have moved earlier last year to manage the potential risk to public safety caused by far more offenders being placed on community-based sentences.

But he excuses these grave shortcomings by pointing to improvements in performance. Compliance with parole management procedures had dipped as low as 60 per cent in November, 2007, he notes. What he does not mention is that this was almost three years after Mr Matthews took the Corrections reins. It was also about the time community-based sentences came into force, a move that necessitated the training of new probation officers. This innovation may, as Mr Rennie suggests, be a mitigating factor. But it is not an excuse. It should not distract from the long-term problems under Mr Matthews’ watch.

As I said previously, the improvements in performance had better continue.

Criticism of Collins

March 10th, 2009 at 8:50 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The father of Karl Kuchenbecker says Corrections Minister Judith Collins is “all bark and no bite”, after she failed to remove Barry Matthews.

Paul Kuchenbecker said Mr Matthews now appeared to be “untouchable” as the department’s chief executive, despite presiding over a string of failures such as parolee Graeme Burton being left free to murder his son.

To be fair to Matthews, the story notes:

Mr Rennie noted that Mr Matthews had failed last year to get the Government to fund 61 extra staff to monitor parole.

Ms Collins said she had asked for extra funding in this year’s Budget and the Government would be responsible when considering it.

So maybe the former Minister has some responsibility? But having said that, the Auditor-General made it clear that the failings can not be attributed to lack of resource alone.

John Armstrong also comments:

The “crusher” crushed? Well, for the time being at least.

But don’t expect Judith Collins to take defeat sitting down. Though the Corrections Minister may have been comprehensively wiped in her battle to have her department’s chief executive Barry Matthews removed from his position, he would be fooling himself if he thinks he has won the war. …

She said later that she had told him exactly what she was telling the media. If so, she would have served notice on him that he would not have her confidence until he had rebuilt public confidence in the department. She would have dropped a strong hint that requires a clean-out in the department’s senior management which has been seen as an obstacle to the “culture change” she is seeking in the way the department operates.

She is not the first minister to demand that. Labour’s Damien O’Connor pleaded with Matthews to do it. Unlike O’Connor, Collins is not going to allow herself to become a victim of the department’s failings.

As I said yesterday, the improvements need to continue. If so, that is a win-win. If not, then I see more interventions by the State Services Commissioner.

Also worth highlighting a comment by former State Services Minister Trevor Mallard on this blog:

My advice on colleagues was always to say :- “Matters of confidence in Chief Executives is a matter for the State Service Commissioner.” And nothing else. It didn’t always feel great especially when I thought a CE was being unfairly criticised but is really the only approach if one wants to maintain the integrity of the appointment system.

Reasonable advice, but does it apply when you think the criticism is fair, and you don’t have confidence?

Lots of privately run prisons

March 9th, 2009 at 6:14 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports that we may see existing prisons, not just new prisons, have their management taken over by the private sector.

If private management can do the job better than the Department of Corrections, I’m all for it. And by better I mean costing less, fewer escapes, less positive drug tests on prisoners, less smuggled contraband, lower reoffending rates and less corruption.

There is an insidious culture of toleration of corruption in many state prisons. I’m not sure even a new CEO, can change it – it has been ingrained for decades. So pervasive is it, that new staff have to turn a blind eye to it, to survive.

Allowing prisons to go with private management, may be the best thing that can happen for reducing corrupt behaviour in prison.

The state, as is appropriate, will still own the prisons, and set the minimum standards that must be adhered to. So this is privately managed prisons, not privately owned prisons.

Anyway you know the best thing abour having a prison under private management? You can sack them for incompetence! Yes if a private manager does not perform they can lose the contract and face penalties. However in Corrections we have decades of non performance, with little consequences.

SST predicts axes to fall

March 8th, 2009 at 10:45 am by David Farrar

Anthony Hubbard in the SST predicts some axes tomorrow:

ACC MINISTER Nick Smith is likely to sack ACC chairman Ross Wilson and several other board members tomorrow.

And embattled Corrections Department chief executive Barry Matthews is likely to be soon removed from his post by the State Services Commission.

We’ll find out tomorrow if that is correct or not!

SST also calls for Matthews to go

February 22nd, 2009 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

Almost every major newspaper has now called for Barry Matthews to do the decent thing and resign. The latest is the Sunday Star-Times:

LET’S CONCEDE that Barry Matthews has a tough job. His department must look after the human wreckage that society has spurned: the lost, the vicious, the drunk and the addicted, the hopeless and the bent and twisted.

Absolutely. Corrections is as tough as it gets.

Let’s also concede that Corrections, for deep historical reasons, is not well placed to cope. The tough criminal culture has produced a tough culture among the guards. Attempts to change this culture are difficult and take time. One reason for the enthusiastic move to try private prisons all those years ago was the feeling that the state prison system was unreformable: a fresh start was needed.

And Labour’s killing off of this initiative is one of the most ideological stupid things they did. The state prison system does have a culture of corruption (the SST calls it “tough”, and this was a chance to help turn that around.

Does all this mean that Matthews should keep his job? No. The Auditor-General’s report is, in truth, a damning one and there can be no excuses for the trouble it uncovered. A year-long audit showed that despite the department’s spectacular failures in the case of murderers William Bell and Graeme Burton, Corrections continued to fail to do its job. This was not a case simply of not enough workers to carry out the tasks. It was just plain negligence and sloppiness. Dangerous prisoners walked free and no attempt was made to warn their victims. Others went out into the world and did not see a probation officer for weeks or months.

And it was not just an occassional lapse. It was in the majority of cases.
The public, in other words, was at risk because the department wasn’t doing what it was supposed to do. Matthews, as the chief executive of the department, must be accountable for these failings. He has been in charge for four years. That is long enough to ensure that those who work in the organisation do the job they are paid to do. These were not isolated shortcomings. They were frequent or systemic.
And it is the inability of Corrections to manage parole, probation and the likes, that leads to the demand to abolish parole.
Traditionally, we have demanded accountability either from the minister or the chief executive of a department; too often, both have declined to accept the blame. Judith Collins has the great good luck to be a new minister, and cannot fairly be blamed. The buck stops, therefore, with Matthews. No doubt he has done his best. No doubt he has worked hard to reform an intractable organisation that has had to bear impossible new loads. But in the end, the democratic system requires accountability. If Matthews will not resign, the State Services Commission must move or sack him.
It will be an interesting test for the SSC.

Herald says Matthews must go

February 21st, 2009 at 10:33 am by David Farrar

The Herald editorial is to the point:

From the moment on Tuesday that the Auditor General delivered a report on the administration of parole, it has been obvious that the head of the Corrections Department must resign. Obvious, it seems, to everyone but him. Barry Matthews’ stated determination to stay at his post is untenable.

It does him no credit to insist he is staying to put things right. If he was capable of doing that he surely would have done so after the murder committed by a parolee, Graeme Burton, two years ago. That was not the first time the monitoring of parole has let the country down; it was just the last straw.

It is obvious he has had his chances and failed. But our employment law doesn’t allow you to sack a CEO just because they have failed at their job. The SSC will have to be careful.

If a departmental head does not know how to do the decent thing in these circumstances, public service standards are at a low ebb. The State Services Commission should not take any more of the 10 days given it to find who is responsible. It knows where the buck stops. So does Mr Matthews. He must go.

A very strong editorial that Matthews should reflect on.

Bye Bye Barry

February 18th, 2009 at 7:12 am by David Farrar

The Auditor General’s report into how the Corrections Department manages parole is a shocker:

My staff looked at how the Department managed offenders released on parole. We chose 100 offender case files in the four areas we visited to assess whether probation officers and other staff were managing offenders in keeping with the Department’s requirements. We deliberately included 52 offenders considered to pose a high risk to the public.

In most of those 100 case files, the Department had not followed one or more of its own sentence management requirements. Five of the requirements that my staff checked are the most important, in my view, for keeping the public safe, and one or more of these five requirements had not been followed in most of the 100 cases. There were several cases, some of which I have included in my report, where the Department had not completed important sentence management requirements at each stage of an offender’s parole, and we concluded that the Department was not managing these cases adequately.

They are damning words, coming from the Auditor-General. Equally damning was the response of Minister Judith Collins:

Corrections Minister Judith Collins today asked the State Services Commissioner to establish who is accountable for serious failings identified by the Auditor-General’s report into the management of offenders on parole. …

“I have today asked the State Services Commissioner to work with Corrections Chief Executive Barry Matthews to establish who is accountable for the deficiencies identified in the report and what should be done to restore public confidence.”

Ms Collins has asked the Commissioner to report back within 10 working days.

This is about as subtle as John Cleese. I mean you do not need to run a competition to guess who the State Services Commissioner will find is responsible for management failings in the Department. This must qualify as the most unsubtle ever request to SSC to remove a CEO. But not wihout considerable merit – the OAG report is damning, and the mistakes in this area do and have cost lives.

The Herald reports that Corrections CEO faces the axe:

Barry Matthews’ future as head of Corrections is in serious question, after his Minister Judith Collins pointedly refused to express confidence in him yesterday. …

Ms Collins would say only: “I have confidence Mr Matthews understands exactly just how seriously I am viewing this issue.”

Again, you don’t exactly need a PhD in Politics to read between the lines here.

John Armstrong comments:

Wielding a calculated, but ruthless combination of raw power and tactical guile, Corrections Minister Judith “Crusher” Collins has torn up the public service rulebook and effectively engineered the sacking of her departmental chief executive.

Technically, she cannot fire Barry Matthews, the long-suffering head of the problem-plagued Corrections Department. But “technically” is not a word in this Collins’ dictionary.


But regardless of this, Matthews’ resignation letter should have been on the desk of State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie yesterday, so damning was the Auditor-General’s report on Corrections’ management of its parole responsibilities. …

The report shows the department failing to follow its own procedures in monitoring potentially dangerous prisoners on parole – procedures tightened after the murder of Lower Hutt father-of-two Karl Kuchenbecker by Graeme Burton in January 2007.

This is the scary thing. The audit was done after the Burton fiasco, and was meant to measure the new improved processes in place.

Halving prison construction costs

January 31st, 2009 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports that Corrections Minister Judith Collins is hoping to be able to construct new prisons at $300,000 per cell compared to $660,000 it was costing under Labour:

Corrections Minister Judith Collins has slammed the “extravagance” of the previous Government’s prison building programme and is looking at using pre-fabricated modular units to slash construction costs by more than half.

She said new jails – which will be required to accommodate the boost in inmate numbers flowing from National’s tougher stance on sentencing and parole – would be “functional, humane and safe” but not “luxurious”.

As an example of Labour’s extravagant spending, she cited the $380 million Spring Hill Corrections Facility in the Waikato which worked out at around $660,000 per cell to build once all costs were taken into account.

“You can buy two houses for that. You’ve got to do better than that.

“There has been a lack of accountability because there has been too much money. We don’t have the luxury of taxes rolling in.”

Ms Collins said she had asked her officials to present her with ideas on prison construction which had been rejected by the previous Government. They had presented her with a modular design used in Australia which, including infrastructure and other construction costs, worked out at around $300,000 a cell.

If they are good enough for Australia, they should be good enough for us!

Prison Guards beaten up

September 18th, 2008 at 8:01 am by David Farrar

Quite sickening to read of two Rimutaka prison guards badly beaten up by prisoners. It seems the poor wee prisoners were upset by random searches for contraband.

The article doesn’t say anything about what will happen to the five prisoners who took part. Here’s my list of suggestions:

  • Automatic transfer from Rimutaka to a maximum security prison
  • Automatic loss of parole eligibility
  • Prosecution for the assault with the additional sentence to be added onto the original sentences they are serving