The corrective challenge facing Corrections


As we watch the latest violent crimes in New Zealand, no doubt there will be – justified – calls for prisoners to be locked up indefinitely and the key thrown away. There will be calls for cold showers and little or no leisure time. Why give them things that many people outside of jail cannot afford say the proponents?

Umm…. perhaps because sooner or later, with the exception of the very worst, most are going to be released. When they are released the public are going to need to know and be assured that the Joe Prisoner who went in four years ago for aggravated assault now no longer poses a threat, has learnt his lesson and wants to become an actively contributing member of society.

But for that to happen, they must be in a prison environment that acknowledges them as humans who have made a mistake. The ones who are open, honest and show genuine remorse are likely to be out at some point and we need to know that they are ready for release – that they can go and live somewhere and be able to cook their own food, find a job and so on. Locking them up and throwing away the key; degrading them with abuse and demeaning punishments will not achieve that. It will make them worse.

The last thing New Zealand needs is for our court system to wind up like the United States, where privatized prisons are common. These for profit businesses are no way to manage criminals and their pursuit of the almighty dollar over and above being a facility where prisoners do their time and hopefully learn from their wrongs.

But National thought in its nine year tenure that such a model was indeed acceptable practice for managing prisons. Thus we wound up with Mt Eden Fight Club where staff and prisoners regularly duelled and prisoners would encourage fights that would get recorded on camera. And the defenders of such a wayward model seemed to think that prisoners do not deserve better, which suggests to me that the management of prisons then were not serious about the welfare of the prisoners.

This is where one can argue that prisons at that point risk becoming an environment where the inmates develop a festering hatred or anger towards society that they do not know how to keep in check. Thus when a prisoner has done his/her time and is ready for release, the authorities are not so much releasing a prisoner determined to make amends for their wrongs, but a prisoner who is a ticking time bomb likely to commit in the very near future a serious offence .

Has the Labour-led Government learnt from the disastrous experience of having Serco, a multinational that has prison contracts for a host of countries including Australia, run our prisons? Has it learnt from the Mt Eden Fight Club videos that were leaked to media, and made the then Minister for Corrections go into hiding?

I am not sure what the current Minister for Corrections, Kelvin Davis has learnt.

Maybe Mr Davis should look to other countries with different management models than the United States. Finland for example has prisons where there are no guards or gates. One can do a university degree. They can learn to do manual labour and .

It was not always like this in Finland. In the 1960’s it and its Nordic neighbours had some of the highest incarceration rates in the world. The authorities, trying to figure out how to bring them down, started looking at the conditions that the prisoners were imprisoned in. They found that if one imprisons them and then starts to gradually but progressively reimmerse them in normal civilian life, a marked drop in reoffending rates occur.

Similarly Norway has found that its prisoner population is much less prone to recidivism. Prisoners and prison officers mingle interactively. The macho culture of the 1960’s where prisoners were locked up, given little in the way of opportunities to reform, to understand right from wrong and recidivism rates of 60-70% were banished.

Serco might be gone from the New Zealand prison system, but its legacy lingers on. The legacy is that New Zealanders have seen how a profits first prisoners second model can lead to significantly worsened management. They have seen how a dangerously toxic environment where recidivism rates remain high can see prisoners are released in a worse mental than that they went in with.

But will the Government have the courage to do something bold, or will it continue to copy an obviously failed model?

 

 

Police right to savage “volunteer” constabulary in rural N.Z.


When one joins the Police force they know that there might be a moment when someone high on drugs or armed, or otherwise dangerous tries to put the officer attempting to arrest them in grave danger. The 9,000+ sworn officers on duty understand this and have been trained to do deal with such instances. They have families or partners that they want to go home to at the end of their shift; friends that they want to see again and a Police force that needs the expertise they bring.

Which is why I am loss to understand the rationale behind a New Zealand First proposal that got savaged by the Police for the introduction of a volunteer rural constabulary. Being a rural Police officer is risky enough. Being one who is there because s/he volunteered to be a rural officer is in my opinion plain nuts.

Whilst the rural communities were right to be concerned about rustling of stock, which has been on the rise in recent years as well as security of property from vandalism, the theft of honey, this was not an appropriate way to address it. New Zealand First’s significant rural membership might have proposed this by way of remitry at the Party convention that year and if so, it must have survived the vote at the end of the remit. However that does not change the fact that it was not properly thought through and raised as many questions as it managed to answer.

Minister of Police, Stuart Nash, received a briefing paper that he refused to release. Stuff, and National M.P. and shadow spokesperson for Police Chris Bishop also requested a copy. Both were turned down.

The Police rebuttal of this idea went along the lines of:

“Police does not recommend introducing a Special Constabulary in New Zealand.┬áRecruiting volunteers to undertake policing operations and apply police powers comes with a range of significant risks for the community and the volunteers,”

The Police said that it would be perceived as policing on the cheap, with risks exacerbated in the community without proper constabulary support. Concerns were raised about the sort of training that they would be given, the support that would be available in complex situations and what kind of resourcing they would be given.

I further imagine that complex concerns in terms of access to appropriate vehicles, weapons training, understanding and interpretation of their rights and responsibilities as volunteers would also arise. What type of hold would constitute reasonable force if they were confronted by an aggressive person? Would they have access to the digitized police radio channels and if not, who would pass the message on in an emergency?

It would also raise ethical questions. To be a member of the Police force is not a minor thing. It means one has made it through a significant period of training, but also has attributes and mental stamina that a lot of people would struggle with. Is it fit and proper to be developing a voluntary force of officers whose interpretation of their job is not as precise as what would be expected of a sworn officer? I am not sure that it is.

 

Ihumatao occupation: A skate on thin ice


Ihumatao. An area near Mangere with a rich volcanic history as part of the Auckland volcanic field and overlain with an equally rich human history, bearing evidence of both Maori inhabitation as well as early European inhabitation.

As New Zealand struggles with its shortage of housing stock Ihumatao has become a flash point. Protesters are wanting to protect the land and Fletchers Construction who own it and want to commence construction of a subdivision, are reaching what will probably be the climax of a three year occupation. Police have been asked to clear the occupied land, but in doing so have attracted the attention of activists, who have further delayed the ending of the occupation.

The older activists might remember back to a time at Bastion Point where Police and the New Zealand Army were instructed to clear land of occupiers following an occupation that lasted 507 days. The occupation was the climax in a long running saga of grievances, questionable occupations and confiscations by the Crown that dated back to the 1800’s. It was finally handed back to Ngati Whatua in the 1980’s with compensation for the past wrongs committed as part of the Treaty of Waitangi settlements process.

Ihumatao has significant archaeological and geological importance in telling the story of the Auckland volcanic field and the inhabitation of the land by Maori prior to European settlement. It features Maori stone gardens, sections of original forest and land whose use by Maori and Europeans for farming helps to determine the chronology of human arrival. Ihumatao was farmed privately for 150 years before being sold to Fletchers for the development of the subdivision that has caused the current stand off to occur.

Fletchers say that they have spent considerable time trying to talk to Save Our Unique Landscape (SOUL)about reaching some sort of agreement over use of the land. SOUL have occupied it since 2016 in order to stop the development of the 480 house subdivision. It is noted that Iwi have been involved with Fletchers in planning the development, which suggests to me a degree of understanding has been reached between them. How much of this protest then is actually driven by Maoridom as opposed to activists?

Thus far the Police have acted with restraint. The spokesperson for the Police at the protest has said that on the whole protesters have been very good and only a very small number have been problematic. Small factions of activists however have tried more radical, disruptive action to which the Police can only reasonably respond to by arresting for moving on those involved. Such actions have included blocking part of a motorway, and chaining themselves to vehicles. Such actions are not going to help the overall protest or the achievement of the bigger goal of bringing this to a peaceful resolution.

Some people have incorrectly considered the presence of Amnesty International staff at the protest to be an indicator of Amnesty support for the protest. That is not the case. Amnesty staff are there in a neutral capacity to ensure that due process between Police and protesters is followed by both.

Second firearms overhaul announced


The Government has announced the impending second tranche of firearms legislation. The announcement was made following the second of several gun amnesty collection days to recover firearms that had been made illegal in the wake of the 15 March 2019 terrorist attacks.

When the Government announced its plans for dealing wit New Zealand’s arsenal of military grade automatic and semi-automatic weapons, it was intended to happen in two phases. The first, immediate phase, would quickly end the legality to own weapons such as the AR-15 which was used in the Christchurch terrorist attacks. This was the emergency legislation that was pushed through Parliament at speed in March and was enforceable by the end of the same month.

Because a lot of New Zealanders are unaware of Parliamentary process there was a perception that the Government intended to confiscate peoples firearms without whim or reason. This was despite the government being clear that it was intended to be a temporary stop gap measure whilst more comprehensive legislation was drafted. The perception, which was rumoured to have been enabled by American firearm lobbyists, was coldly met by politicians from both sides of Parliament with the exception of A.C.T. Member of Parliament David Seymour.

It would be followed by the much more comprehensive and permanent legislation that would set in law a tighter regime around the acquisition and ownership of such firearms. In the meantime there would be amnesty days up and down the country where people with firearms that had been banned could be surrendered to the Police at drop off points. The owners of the guns being surrendered would be given an indication as to how much they would receive in financial compensation for handing them over.

The Police acknowledge that there are many guns that they probably do not know about. An estimated 200,000 to 300,000 potentially illegal firearms are thought to be circulating within New Zealand.

The new laws will target those with criminal histories; people with mental health issues including those who might have tried to use a gun to kill themselves. Those who are espousing open violence against society or particular individuals or groups of individuals are also likely to be seen as a red flag to Police when issuing gun licences. A firearms register will be established by the Police, and the cost of maintaining the firearms licencing office will be better offset by changes in the cost of licencing. New offences and the matching penalties are also likely to be added.

This time there will be a select committee period lasting three months. There will be substantial time for firearm advocates and firearm safety advocates to get their messages into submissions and prepare for hearings in front of the Select Committee. This was, contrary to the honest beliefs of some, always intended to happen – there was never any intention to block the permanent tranche of legislation from public scrutiny.

Americanizing New Zealand prisons


I note that the calls for a radical overhaul of how our Corrections works are mounting. They sit against a backdrop of worsening crime suggesting our approach is not deterring criminals from committing offences, of rehabilitation programmes not working and a nation increasingly doubtful it will get the answers it needs. But could it be because the system we have is not really ours?

Over the years New Zealand has copied a number of American concepts for justice. In doing so it appears to have passed over our own ability to establish our own framework. And as they have taken shape, the individual concepts have come to create a system environment that is not conducive to reforming criminals. There are some stand out examples. The three strikes law introduced by A.C.T. Member of Parliament David Garrett was enacted in 2010. It is based on a controversial American law that mandates a life sentence for a third offence even if it its totally disproportionate to the crime committed.

The three strikes law has all kinds of failings and has led to a range of injustices in the United States. However the insistence of the community for a tough sentence that does not really fit the crime, means someone who committed something relatively minor like breaking into someone’s house as their third offence is now going to jail for the rest of their lives. When coupled with the internal environment of a jail where drugs, violent offences against staff and other prisoners, it runs the risk of undoing the punishment and making the defendant feel like the system is against them.

Another aspect of American justice that bothers me is the tendency to view prisoners as incapable of rehabilitation. In other words they are, despite the Judeao-Christian principle of forgiveness, people who the system has deemed to be permanently violent and dangerous to society. This sets a dangerous precedent for youth offenders who might have come from broken families with no role models to look up to for guidance and now see or perceive the system to be against them being able to learn their lesson. It gets more dangerous still because the way is now open to create a “crime family”, in whose psyche the system is somehow out to destroy them at all costs – the family have children who grow up around drugs, guns and violence and do not get adequate or appropriate schooling; their academic ambition does not exist and they leave school with no qualifications, no idea how to get work.

A third aspect of American law in New Zealand that has failed is the “War on Drugs”. The war has involved the F.B.I. and C.I.A. as well as other agencies whose task has been to intercept and destroy the drug supply network. It has seen them operate in countries such as Colombia, Peru, Brazil. It has seen them aggressively pursue the Mexican drug lords, despite massive and often gruesome retaliation that has not spared law enforcement or the general public. I want to be clear now that this is absolutely not suggesting we just walk away from policing the heavy drugs like methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin or synthetic cannabis – absolutely not, as those who deal in the drugs, manufacture them and distribute them need to be firmly shutdown. They need to be sentenced to sentences that make the whole business not worth continuing. But that cannot be done in an increasingly Americanized system that seems to be about punishment at all costs.

New Zealand has been a trail blazer in showing the world how to make ourselves nuclear free, in giving women the vote and environmental resource management law. We can be a trail blazer on this too and trust our instincts that New Zealand justice will not work if based on a system not purpose built and designed for New Zealand conditions.