Lotu-Iiga calls for an independent prisons inspectorate

December 14th, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

In his last days in the job, outgoing Corrections Minister Sam Lotu-Iiga has backed calls for an independent prisons inspectorate, in the wake of failures at privately run Mt Eden prison.

The Department of Corrections announced this week it would not renew private operator Serco’s contract for Mt Eden at a break point in March 2017, following reports of “fight clubs”, the use of contraband and alleged mistreatment of prisoners.

Cassandra Harwood, whose partner, Wayne Hotton, was found dead on his own in a locked isolation cell at Mt Eden, said earlier this year an independent prisons inspectorate was needed to prevent similar tragedies.

Lotu-Iiga has thrown his support behind the idea as he prepares to vacate his corrections role,  saying an independent inspectorate for public and private prisons is “something that I’m eager to see put in place”.

“I believe that the current inspectorate does a great job … but I also believe that an independent inspectorate is a good idea.

“It is about strengthening the independent oversight of the whole corrections system, and ultimately what that does is provide assurances for the public, for ministers, and also for offenders and their families.”

Sounds a good idea to me.

It could be modelled on the IPCA, or even form a combined agency with them.

CTU against work for prisoners

August 28th, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Salient reports:

Helen Kelly, head of Council of Trade Unions (CTU), told Salient that the work programme at Arohata would not realistically lead to employment for inmates, and the women are not paid fairly.

Kelly said the CTU supports working prisons, but only when the conditions are right. For the CTU this means that the work is not undermining the market, that those doing the work are paid properly, and that the work includes “an element of real training that will lead to real work”.

“They should at least earn minimum wage and that can be put into a bank account and be used to pay for study or for training. Everyone that’s contributing through their labour should be paid the minimum wage,” Kelly said.

This is nuts. First of all there would be no work at all for anyone in prison, if they are being paid the minimum wage, You’re not going to choose the prison company when it is the same cost as another company.

Secondly as we’re paying $100,000 a year or so to house the prisoner and keep the community safe from them, why should they get to not contribute to the cost of their imprisonment. Under CTU fantasy land a prisoner would save more money than a struggling family.

“Victoria University shouldn’t be exploiting the labour of these women in that way. There’s not going to be work in laundry for when these women [are released], and it will be undermining other laundry service workers.”

By exploiting, she means giving them an opportunity to work and gain skills.

John Pratt, Head of the Institute of Criminology at Victoria, supports the University’s use of the prison laundry service.

Pratt said it was “patronising” to suggest that the work would not teach inmates marketable skills.

He said the work would impart productive habits and increase prisoners’ employment opportunities in dry cleaning organisations or laundries upon their release.

“They are likely to have such poor work records and such limited educational backgrounds that their opportunities for employment are very, very small at best in most cases. If this does something to improve those chances then it’s a valuable skill.”

I agree.

Maybe he should have paid his tax?

August 24th, 2015 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Khalid Mehmood didn’t believe in paying $1 million tax – but the government didn’t have much sympathy and sent him to prison

Now, the restaurateur says jail itself is against his religion: he isn’t fed a Halal diet, he can’t pray because the other inmates are too noisy, and he doesn’t have access to an Imam. 

Again, authorities are unsympathetic. This week, the Court of Appeal upheld his three-year sentence in Northland Region Corrections Facility.


Mehmood’s appeal failed after judges found no records of the prison receiving his complaints, and noted he had since moved to a newly-built prison in South Auckland where he was able to observe his duties. 

So he was using his religion as an excuse to try and get a lighter sentence.

He appealed the sentence, claiming it was “disproportionately severe” because it prevented him from observing daily religious protocols. He argued it was a hardship not generally suffered by other prisoners. 

By that argument, atheists should get longer prison sentences than people of faith.

The Court of Appeal noted Mehmood had since been moved to a new facility where he had his own cell, could shower four times a day, had access to an Imam, was provided a Halal or vegetarian diet, and was given his two meals at 5pm everyday so he could eat after sunset and before sunrise.   

Sounds lovely!

Guest Post: All jails are bad

July 28th, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

A guest post by David Garrett:

All New Zealand jails are bad…apparently

The headline on Monday said “Jails bad. Full stop”. The story beneath revealed that – surprise surprise –  serious incidents occur  in  all  the country’s jails, both state and privately run. Even union boss Beven Hanlon, who usually repeats a “state prisons good, private prisons bad” mantra ad nauseum, was quoted as saying state run prisons were just as bad as privately run  ones. What is the problem?

First the basics. To get sent to prison in New Zealand you generally  need to be a really bad bastard. Those sent to prison have, on average, appeared in court eleven times,  before finally being sent to jail. That is eleven court appearances, not eleven charges. At each appearance, a criminal might be facing a number of charges. By the time prison is the sentence, all the other non custodial alternatives have been tried.

Prison inmates are, by and large, there for serious or repeated violence, class A drug dealing or manufacture, or sexual offences against both  other adults and children. Although people like Kim Workman imply inmates are largely poor unfortunates who had a bad day when they committed the offence(s) for which they are arrested and  jailed, this is nonsense. Anyone  who has any experience of our prisons – particularly the members of  Mr Hanlon’s union – will tell you so.

So, a group of violent dangerous men all grouped together without much to do;  places where ongoing problems and violence are just the way it is? Well, actually, no. I have been inside prisons in both New Zealand and the United States. The atmosphere in United States  prisons  could not be more different from those  in New Zealand.

In 2007 Garth McVicar, Stephen Franks and I made a study tour of  the US to learn more about three strikes laws – especially how to avoid the well publicised injustices which the early version of three strikes gave rise to in California. We also visited prisons and spoke to both prisoner lobby groups, public defenders, and probation officers. We learned a great deal.

In Arizona we visited both ordinary prisons and the famous tent jails for which Sheriff Joe Arpaio is so well known. The very first thing we noticed was how well behaved the prisoners were. Some of the guards  were middle aged women. None of the guards were armed. Prisoners obediently and quickly complied when one no nonsense lady ordered them to “stand up straight behind the line”. When ordered to move they moved. No-one answered back. No prisoner said anything. Talking wasn’t allowed.

At the tent jail we visited it was lunchtime.  For lunch the prisoners were  all in a large airconditioned  mess hall – about 200 of them. Our group was shown through by one  unarmed guard.  The men had the kind of faces and body language one sees in jails here. But the atmosphere was entirely different.

One or two of the prisoners shouted out derogatory remarks about the food they were getting. On the spur of the moment I decided to share lunch with them – a filled roll, a pot of yogurt and a piece of fruit – rather than the lunch laid on for us. As the men moved closer to our small group – and our lone guard – I instantly regretted my decision. I asked if we had anything to fear (whether we did or not I was already frightened). Our guard said “Oh no…they’ll move back if I ask them to”. And he did, very softly. And they did.

My first thought was this behaviour must be obtained through intimidation and violence. We asked if we could speak to the prisoners one on one, and speak to whoever we wished to. Our hosts readily agreed, and so we did. I remember stifling guffaws as one tattooed middle aged female  inmate told an earnest young journalist accompanying us that this was her first time in prison.

We were not told of any  violence by the guards, although many inmates complained that the rules were “ real strict man”. They moaned about the food, and of course about the oppressive heat in the cell blocks which were not airconditioned. What is not well known is that inmates volunteer for Sheriff Joe’s famous chain gangs, and being sent to tent jail is a privilege to be earned. Five minutes inside the blocks and you understand why.

Since that visit I have become aware of various claims of wrongful death in Arizona prisons. No doubt those commenting on this piece will post links to such stories with alacrity. It goes without saying that no-one should be killed in jail.

Some years after the US trip I found myself an MP, and made it my business to visit as many New Zealand prisons as I could. The atmosphere was starkly different from those in Arizona and California. There is an air of barely suppressed violence in every one. Most notably, the prisoners are visibly contemptuous of their guards. They know  the guards can do very little to them. The prisoners can no longer be put in solitary confinement or fed bread and water  for disciplinary infractions. No extra time can be imposed. Parole Boards no longer hear evidence  from those who have been in charge of the freshly scrubbed and shaved inmate appearing before them meekly claiming to be ready for release.

One short visit to a few US jails doesn’t make me an expert on prison management.  However one would have to deaf dumb and blind not to see the glaring differences between their prisons and ours. How do they do it? Would their methods be acceptable here? Would their methods be culturally transferable? I don’t know. What I do  know is I felt a damn sight safer in the company of one guard in Arizona than I did with half a dozen prison officers tagging along in New Zealand.

When even Beven Hanlon is saying public prisons are just as bad as the private ones, it’s time to take very hard look at how we are managing our prisons and our prisoners. It’s time to take some lessons from overseas, learn from them,   and where appropriate  adopt them here. Just as we did with three strikes.

A good investment

March 30th, 2015 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Taxpayers are about to pump an extra $5 million a year into educating criminals.

Prisoner learning places will increase from about 900 last year to 1700 in 2015, and funding will rise to $7m a year for the next two years, up from $2m in 2013 and 2014.

So is this worth the investment?

Convicted killer John Barlow, who mentored several prisoners to study while he was in jail, is a passionate advocate for the importance of education for inmates, believing prisons need dedicated study units.

“Evidence over the last 50 years in the United States shows that people who attain degrees while in prison almost never return to prison,” he told The Dominion Post earlier this month. “That means no more victims, they can get a job and pay tax, and the state does not have to pay $100,000 a year to keep them in prison.”

If Mr Barlow is correct, then it seems a very good investment.

All prisons to become working prisons

September 11th, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Anne Tolley announced:

All public prisons in New Zealand will become full working prisons by 2017, and ex-prisoners will receive post-release drug addiction treatment if National is returned to government, says Corrections Spokesperson Anne Tolley.

Excellent. A great idea.

“By expanding the working prisons model from three to 16 prisons, every eligible prisoner will have a structured 40 hour-a-week timetable to include work experience, skills training and education, alongside drug and alcohol treatment and other rehabilitation programmes.  This will give them the skills they need to live a crime-free life outside prison.

“The vast majority of prisoners don’t want to be sitting around in their cells doing nothing. The working prisons model gives them the opportunity to learn good habits and take responsibility for their lives. And after a decent day’s work they are also more manageable for prison staff.” 

The working prisons expansion will not require additional funding, and can be established through reprioritisation of resources.

Again a great move, but surprised that so few prisons up until now have been working prisons. Good to see they are doing it with no extra funding needed.

Herald wrong on prison population

January 2nd, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

New Zealand’s prison population continues to grow despite record-low crime rates and an ambitious Government strategy to cut reoffending.

The number of prisoners has grown steadily over the past 15 years at a rate well above New Zealand’s population growth.

Figures obtained under the Official Information Act show the National-led Government has slowed that trend, but the rate of imprisonment remains stubborn.

After a rare dip in the prison population in 2011/12, the total number of inmates rose again in the year to June 2013.

First of all, the latest stats are for September 2013 which has 8,474 prisoners compared to 8,597 in June. Not sure why one would not use the most recent stats. The stats are on the Corrections website – don’t need the OIA.

But even on June stats, the statement is wrong. June 2013 had 8,597 prisoners and June 2012 was 8,616. That is a small decrease, not a rise.

On the latest stats, we are 8,474 compared to 8,623 in Sep 2012.

Cherry picking over the imprisonment rate

December 16th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Sensationalised mass media, the rise of populist pressure groups and distrust of expert input has led to New Zealand’s Third World levels of imprisonment, a leading academic says.

In a paper titled A Punitive Society, Victoria University criminology Professor John Pratt has attacked New Zealand’s continually rising imprisonment rate and what he terms “penal populism” around crime.

I’ve never ever heard a criminology academic (exception of Greg Newbold) say anything on law & order that isn’t 1000% predictable.

In New Zealand, there are 194 prisoners for every 100,000 people.

This is higher than anywhere in Western Europe and sits between African countries Gabon and Namibia on a global league table.

This is carefully cherry picked as saying that our imprisonment rate is only the 74th highest in the world doesn’t sound anywhere near as sexy. Also note the careful selection of Western Europe only so European and OECD countries such as Estonia, Czech Republic and Poland are excluded.

The crime rate has been falling for years and yet the prison population and corrections spending has ballooned to $1.2 billion this year, Professor Pratt said.

Corrections spending includes rehabilitation and extra money for drug and alcohol treatment. Is Professor Pratt against this?

The leading academic also has the most basic facts wrong. He claims the prison population is increasing. It is not. The latest head count has 8,474 prisoners. Three years ago it was 8,747. That is a decrease.

Doesn’t sound very evil to me?

October 29th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The left oppose the ideas of PPPs, and specifically a PPP model for prisons. They would have you think that private prisons will be profit motivated penal institutions that don’t invest in rehabilitation etc.

The reality is that the last private prison we had (Labour tore up the contract) did much better than the state prisons, and the Herald looks at the new Wiri prison:

Inmates moving through the country’s new $300 million prison will be able to track their path to freedom.

As they get closer to the main gatehouse, they are nearing their release date.

The jail, which covers 17ha at Wiri in the southwest of Auckland, is laid out according to the prisoner’s journey.

Factors deciding where they are on the site include the seriousness of offending, length of sentence, level of risk and behaviour within the walls.

“The design mirrors your own personal journey,” says John Holyoake, transition director from private British-owned corrections operator Serco New Zealand.

“So the highest level of security is farthermost from the exit. The concept of punishment has been removed. Instead, this is about rehabilitation and reintegration.”

Isn’t this what the left should be supporting?

Inmates will have computers in their cells, with streams of viewing available: free-to-air television channels and educational information, designed to enhance their vocations or careers once they are out, Holyoake says.

Not exactly hard labour or D block is it.

Those involved in Wiri says it breaks the mould in terms of new prisons because it is a public-private partnership (PPP) between the Department of Corrections and SecureFuture comprising builder Fletcher Construction, maintenance specialist Spotless and operator Serco New Zealand with a 25-year contract. Buildings are designed by architects Mode Design of Australia and Peddle Thorp, working with Beca and SKM.


Double-bunk and single-bunk rooms in the three more secure house blocks at the men’s prison are 8.6sq m in size.

“This will be the world’s best new prison,” says Holyoake.

Near the gatehouse, things are quite different at the cluster of low-security residences.

“Up to 24 prisoners will live in each of the residences, two levels high, almost like a motel unit. They will have their own bedrooms and a budget to buy their food and some people will be learning social skills they never had. Some of the people in here will be working on the outside too,” Holyoake said.

I’m all for rehabilitation, when it works. Some prisoners can not be rehabilitated, but those who can be are worth investing in.

Poor prisoners

June 1st, 2013 at 6:27 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Gang tensions are believed to have sparked the on-going prison riot at Spring Hill jail south of Auckland, where inmates are setting fires and damaging cells.

But who is to blame? It isn’t the gangs. Oh no. According to the Greens, it is the Government. Andrea Vance tweeted:

Greens say double bunking and smoking ban to blame for heightened tensions in prisons.

This would be hilarious, if it were not so tragic. The smoking ban by the way has been in place for two years, and the double bunking for three years.

Yet the Greens have divined they are to blame for the riot!

Nothing to do with the gangs. For gang members are just victims of society, as are those poor prisoners who can’t smoke and have single cells.

Imagine the fun with a Green Minister of Corrections!

How could you spend the time?

May 14th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

A security inmate was locked in a visiting booth with his partner for hours because of the “poor practice” of staff, a report into the incident says.

The partner had driven to Rimutaka Prison from Opotiki last November and was granted an extra 30 minutes.

They were put in a non-contact booth and became worried when their time elapsed and no-one came to get them.

After they spent several hours yelling, the woman smashed an observation window but was unable to escape. Three hours later, another prisoner heard their yells and alerted the supervision officer.

Unless the room is set up in such a way that they are entirely physically segregated, I’d welcome several hours in a room with my partner if I was a prisoner!

The prison league table

March 27th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Anne Tolley has released what is effectively a league table of our 17 prisons. It’s great to have such transparency on how our prisons are doing on various criteria.

All 17 prisons are now measured on their performance against each other in a range of areas including security, assaults, drug tests and rehabilitation programmes. They are then categorised in four performance grades, with the resulting tables released quarterly.

The information is used by Corrections and prison managers to identify and share successful practices, and focus on areas which need improvement.

The table has six prisons in the “exceeding” category, eight in “effective” and three “needs improvement”.

Mount Eden is the privately run prison. In the first half of 2012 it was in the “needs improvement” category, then in Q3 went to “effective” and in Q4 is “exceeding”.  It is the most improved prison.

Of course Labour and Greens are vowing to close it down.


Dom Post on prison work

February 4th, 2013 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

A good prison system should have three functions. It should keep the public safe from dangerous criminals, punish those who have seriously or repeatedly broken the law and rehabilitate offenders.

By and large, New Zealand’s penal system does the first two reasonably well. When it comes to the third, it has been an abject failure. …

But while the prison system is good at keeping inmates locked up – escapes are rare – it is not so good at preparing them to reintegrate back into society once they are released. The recidivism rate among former inmates is alarmingly high. Nearly 40 per cent of those freed from jail each year are back inside within 24 months of their release. …

That is why the Government’s to investigate the merits of “working prisons” should have the support of every party in Parliament.

Under the scheme, every inmate at Tongariro and Auckland Women’s prisons will be engaged in some type of work or rehabilitation activity for 40 hours a week. The scheme is already running at Christchurch’s Rolleston Prison, which has a contract with Housing New Zealand to refurbish earthquake-damaged properties.

Provided the expansion is carefully planned to ensure jobs are not taken away from workers in the community, it could have a significant effect. According to the Government’s figures, reoffending rates for inmates on Release to Work programmes are 16 per cent lower than for those who are not, and prisoners who undertake work in jails per cent lower.

Yet the Herald said the scheme will do more harm than good!

A bizarre editorial

February 1st, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald editorial is rather bizarre. The headline is:

Work in jail scheme will do more harm than good

Now that is a very definitive statement. It is not saying there are complications, or it *may* do more harm than good. It is a definitive statement that it will definitely do more harm than good.

Yet I read the entire editorial, and they don’t actually produce anything to back up the assertion. They talk about the complications and the extra costs that may be incurred, but that is again vastly different from stating outright that having additional working prisons will do more harm than good.

Now let us look at what the Herald says is so awful:

Ms Tolley has conceded the plan will require “significant infrastructure upgrades”.

Presumably she is referring to the workplace equipment that will need to be installed in prisons. The costs do not, however, end there. There is the expense involved in work training and tuition for the inmates.

Oh my God. We will spend money on training and tuition for prisoners. How awful.

I’m skeptical of many types of government spending.  There’s a lot of programmes I would personally cut, to allow a reduction in taxes. But you know I don’t have a huge problem with training and tuition for prisoners.

Already, however, the British Prison Officers Association has complained that this is exploitative of prisoners and risks damaging the wider economy. “We have concerns about simply using prisoners as cheap labour for companies to cut their costs,” it has said. That cutting means, inevitably, that in some cases prisoners are taking the jobs of people in the community.

That is a potential concern, but we already have some work being done. The challenge is making sure the work done has minimal impact on other jobs. But again the editorial provides no substance to back up their assertion the expansion of work in prisons will “do more harm than good”.

Additionally, there is the risk that an increasing emphasis on getting inmates into work will lessen that on education, employment training and drug and alcohol addiction treatment programmes. This rehabilitation work was, commendably, at the forefront of Government policy announced last year.

Quite the contrary. The plan is part of that programme, as in fact the editorial them acknowledges:

A key part of this programme is providing greater support for prisoners to find jobs when they are released. Theoretically, that process should be aided by the Government’s work initiative.

So again we have an entire editorial that is at odds with the assertion in its title. It is bizarre.

They say:

Admirable idea falls down on numerous practicalities.

Yet they have not documented these. All they have done is say hey it may cost some money (no shit Sherlock), and you need to be careful of the impact on the labour market.

I never thought we’d see a newspaper argue against money being spent on giving prisoners training and tuition so they are more likely to gain employment when released.

More working prisons

January 30th, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Audrey Young at NZ Herald reports:

More prisons will be turned into working prisons where all prisoners will be placed in a 40-hour week programme of work and rehabilitation, Prime Minister John Key said in his statement to Parliament today, the first sitting day of the year.

It is part of the Government’s goal of reducing reoffending by 25 per cent by 2017.

“The Government will increase employment opportunities for prisoners by establishing more of our prisons as working prisons, where all prisoners will be engaged in a structured 40-hour week of employment and rehabilitation activities,” he said. …

Of the country’s 19 prisons, only one at present is deemed a working prison, Rolleston.

Seems like an excellent initiative to me. Hopefully they won’t stop at three prisons. It would be impractical to do at the maximum security prisons, but I think having a regular work routine will help prisoners reintegrate back into society once their term is up.