Cells in all New Zealand jails may soon be fitted out with phones and computers in a bid to boost prisoners’ educational levels so that they can get jobs and stop reoffending after their release.
Corrections Minister Sam Lotu-Iiga is welcoming a controversial decision by British prison operator Serco to put phones and computers into every standard cell in its new $270 million jail for 960 men, which opens at Wiri in South Auckland on Friday.
This is the private prison provider that Labour and Greens vow to close down, regardless of how successful it is.
Prisoners will use the phones to make pre-arranged calls to family members and services such as counselling, but they will not be able to receive calls and their outgoing calls will be monitored. They will use the computers for study, to book appointments and even to change their meal menus.
“We believe that prisoners with access to this electronic learning tool are going to be more successful in increasing their education and skills. It is an advance I would like to see in all New Zealand prisons,” Mr Lotu-Iiga said.
Some prisoners can not be rehabilitated, but some can. If a prisoner can get a job after prison, this reduces the chance of re-offending.
But Sensible Sentencing Trust founder Garth McVicar said he was “appalled” by the move, saying it would actually create an incentive to offend.
“My grandchildren are out selling firewood to pay for their computers to learn their computer skills in school,” he said. “Why not take a shortcut and wait until you’ve committed a crime and then you get it all on the taxpayer?”
With respect, I don’t think anyone is going to be deciding to commit crimes just so they can go to prison to access a computer!
Prisons already have computers. This is about having one available in each cell, rather than just in the communal areas.
Serco Asia-Pacific operations manager Scott McNairn said the computers were part of a “responsible prisoner” approach, aimed at giving prisoners the education and skills needed to get jobs, homes, a driver’s licence and other things they would need to live a law-abiding life after serving their time.
“Prisoners will be able to manage their own affairs, book their [family] visits, book their appointments, book their food,” he said.
Sounds good. And one of the reasons why it is good to have an innovate private provider.
The Open Polytechnic has created interactive educational software designed to encourage students who may not have had a successful education experience and who have low language or maths literacy. The Howard League, which campaigns for penal reform, says 50 to 60 per cent of prisoners are functionally illiterate.
The software has been tested using tablets with 10 prisoners at Serco’s Mt Eden Prison, where one inmate said his letters improved so much that his partner thought someone else was writing them for him.
Serco said Wiri prisoners would use fixed television screens that double as computers, each with a keypad and mouse. They will not have internet access.
That would be unwise.
Serco has a 25-year, $840 million contract bound by 1475 pages of conditions including $600,000 penalties for security breaches such as a killing or a riot, matched by bonuses of up to $1.5 million a year if it cuts reoffending to at least 10 to 15 per cent below the average of other New Zealand jails.
This is what Labour and Greens want to scrap!