Herald reporter Derek Cheng spent a day and a night locked up in one of the new container jail cells at Rimutaka. Personally I’m not sure a day is enough to really get the feel, and think a month would have made for a far better story
Led to another cell and told to strip the top half. Corrections Officer admires my puffer jacket, and I offer him $50 to sneak it in to me. He declines.
He checks under my arms, in my mouth, under my tongue, behind the ears, up the nostrils, and then shows me what they usually ask the prisoner to do to check the anus and under the scrotum – popular hiding places – but thankfully I don’t have to expose myself.
What a You Tube video that could have made!
Led to the main counter where they take my mug shot – no smiling – and tell me about my sentence and parole eligibility. I have a two-year sentence, apparently, so I automatically get released after one year. He says if there are any law changes that affect me, this is when he’d tell me.
I ask him what he thinks of the three strikes law that was passed last week, and he says: “long overdue”.
They know that if an offender gets to a third serious violent or sexual offence, they are not the type that rehabilitates.
But the staff member behind him says, while he agrees with it, he thinks it’s wrong to scratch parole completely. Prisoners need some hope, he says, and if they have none, what’s to stop them attacking him when they have nothing to lose.
Parole is only scratched on strike two and three, and the deterrent should be that any assault would gain a further prison sentence.
Other information details what you can have in your cell: a 14-inch TV, a radio or CD player, books and magazines, board games.
A TV in each cell!
I guess the Howard League for Penal Reform will complain that not allowign prisoners 50″ flat screens in breach of their human rights.
And what you can’t have: cellphones, blue tack, beanies, any gang paraphernalia, pornography, syringes, tin foil, yeast, chewing gum, hoodies.
For these, you have to buy them off the guards.
Lock up time is from 8.30pm to 6.30am, as well as Friday afternoons during staff meetings from noon until 3pm.
I wonder what time TVs have to be turned off, if any?
Am shown my cell. Small, but not suffocating. There is a double bunk, an ensuite with a metal toilet and wash basin (no toilet seat), two chairs, bedding, a main light, some cubby holes, a cork board for pictures, some toiletries – toothbrush and toothpaste, razor, soap, shampoo, toilet roll, plastic cutlery.
As soon as I am in, I plot my escape, but within seconds see it is futile. The door is massive and solid, there is a window but with metal bars and smash-proof glass, and a small grate is the only fresh air that can come in.
I’m liking the sound of those containers.
Lights out. Try to sleep. Am comfortable, warm, the pillow is soft and fluffy, the mattress cosy. But I can’t sleep.
So this is the inhumane conditions railed against – a soft flufy pillow and cosy mattress.
Step out of the shower to find my grey sweats have absorbed much of the water on the ground. I dress as Tim, from Radio New Zealand, steps into the next shower. I advise him to hang his clothes on the swing door to keep them dry, then as soon as he does, I pinch them and hand them to a corrections officer and ask him to take them to the laundry.
Take off the grey sweats and put on normal clothes. Put into a normal van and driven out of Unit 11 to the main entrance. Am tired, but feel as though I could do time in Unit 11. With only five media there and with a ping pong table, basketball hoop and grassy area for touch rugby or soccer, it felt more like holiday camp.
I am sure a longer stay can be arranged!
Of course, it would be quite different with 60 prisoners, sharing a cell, and with a prison term of years. But the staff are very professional and well-trained on how to interact with prisoners and build rapport, without crossing the line into making friendships and doing favours, the first step to “getting got”.
Which sadly has happened in quite a few cases.
The Corrections Department has to walk a fine line to have adequate facilities that are not too nice that they upset the hardliners, and not too cramped to upset the prison reform groups.
The container cells seem to fit that balance well. I’ve certainly stayed in worse places, but there is no doubt that your liberty has been curbed.
That feeling is deterrence enough to make me not want to revisit.
And they have saved the taxpayers scores of millions of dollars. A good purchase.Tags: Derek Cheng, law & order