Why Phillip Smith is the least of our worries


Well, it turns out Phillip Smith wasn’t half as clever as he thought he was, and he’s been arrested within a week. If the Prime Minister is through with making tasteless jokes, perhaps we can ramp down the media hysteria and ask some hard questions about Corrections.

While this time would have been worrying and awful for the victims of Smith’s crimes, the bigger issues about incarceration and rehabilitation have gone ignored. We are harvesting the bitter fruit from longer harder sentences with mere lip service paid to rehabilitation and then can’t work out why these damaged men come out worse than when they were put in.

Ironically, probably the biggest news of the week regarding our prison system was utterly obscured by the chase of Smith…

Mt Eden jail operator Serco Group’s ‘darkest hour’
The British outsourcing giant that operates Auckland’s Mt Eden prison is facing major financial strife, with its boss warning jobs will be slashed and unwanted business divisions sold off as part of an aggressive turnaround strategy.

…because the contract with Serco is built in their favour, we pay for every one of the 960 beds at the new Wiri Private Prison, even if they are not full. This creates an incentive to ensure every cell is full and with Serco needing to expand the business models that are working for them, like our private prison experiment, you can expect the full weight of this conglomerate to start pushing for even more prison privatisation.

Rehabilitation comes second to punishment in NZ and our media’s role in feeding the lynch mob for ratings means the possibility of an adult discussion on the role of prisons in our society always gets ignored for anger and fear.

The latest prison muster proves how ‘tough on crime’ rhetoric is impacting our prisons…

Tougher laws blamed for prisoner rise
Corrections officials say the prison population has unexpectedly risen this year, and they believe one of the causes is hardline bail laws introduced by Judith Collins when she was Justice Minister.

Perhaps John Key can make some sick joke about that too?


  1. Little wonder that our Prime Minister finds this all so hilarious, it’s absolute gold win/win for National.
    All they’ll do is blame the corrections problems on past “soft approach” policies of Labour, hence deflecting any blame off them and onto the opposition.
    Then they can take a new harder line on policies on corrections and rehabilitation, thereby pleasing their right-wing supporters, who feel that pretty much you should just lock up all crims and throw away the key.
    And because of the media baying for stiffer sentences and tougher conditions on the back of this whole fiasco, a large portion of middle of the road voters will happily go right along with it.

  2. PJS has given JK another diversion from functional rehabilitation.
    Let’s work to be sure he doesn’t use this for his own privitisation programme to put prisons in the hands of greed merchants.

  3. What will it take, for Key and his incompetent minions, to get their shit sorted out, apart from the public kicking Key out. The longer we let Key run this calamity of political behaviour and ruination for us to grumble and bitch about, the more we’re only putting ourselves to blame for allowing Key to carry on the way he is going. For our own sake and sanity folks, let’s start doing something about it, there’s got to be a way and means of throwing Key out before the next election. Help me out on this one, because Key has to go.

    • Greetings, Trevor.

      As Aotearoa/NZ is quite a young democracy, I would start by looking, not just at older democracies but at a few in particular, social democracies like Denmark where social security is comprehensive, well supported and under no serious threat.

      Trawling (it might take ages but this would be how to show one was serious about it) through their laws I would expect to find constitutional provisions that we don’t (yet) have for getting a PM removed once it was clear that he was doing things for which he was not elected.

      You are absolutely right, the way things are must change. Eventually it will, and part of making it happen is getting a really clear idea of what it will look like after the change – how the improvements will be made to stick.

      I’ve yet to look at Denmark’s laws in this regard but I’ll start now.

    • The only way of John key getting the boot Is if the governor general step in and annuls the government and calls a new election.

  4. The media hype was showing how nasty our media has become. That is much of it. Despite of all criticism, I give Radio NZ the credit of mostly remaining somewhat more objective and less sensation driven.

    Listening to some radio hosts, and also watching the news on TV, mostly privately owned, this escape was all about the convicted offender, and NOT about rehabilitation, not much about how the system operates and how it has again in this case FAILED.

    While I get the impression that Philip Smith is certainly no angel, is not easy to rehabilitate, the way much of the media was feeding the mob mentality out in wider circles of society, that is NOT assisting others doing time, those being rehabilitated (many successfully), and it is NOT assisting Corrections, their staff and others that do hard, difficult work every day.

    All that Smith did was escape his captivity, while being on monitored leave from prison. His passport application, booking a flight to Chile and Brasil, all that was NOT illegal, as the law did not prohibit him doing this. It was the system that failed there, but the focus was largely on the escapee, his past offences, his comments to his lawyer and the media, and his alleged character and his eventual hunting down. Also was much time given for victims to speak.

    Comments I heard on talk back were sickening, and some, like also Duncan Garner yesterday, wishing that Smith would stay in the inhumane prison in Rio for as long as possible, or even suffer worse, should not be allowed coming from media staff, whatever their job or calibre.

    But objective, fact based, less emotive reporting is a thing we no longer get, instead it is sensationalising, whipping up emotions, stirring up, attacking, challenging at the lowest level, to stir up the most basic instincts in us.

    This will not serve our society, our democracy and future, I fear, and again, the MSM should be reminded that they have responsibilities, to inform, and not to manipulate people by generating emotive reactions, beyond of any reasonable level.

    Shame on them!

  5. Excellent points Martyn and very valid in vast majority of cases, however, we are missing the point entirely when it comes to paedophilia. Paedophiles cannot be cured, and therefore not able to be rehabilitated in the true sense.

    The best we can hope for with paedophiles is to be able to reintegrate them into the community in a manner that keeps both their potential victims and themselves safe.

    A paedophile is sexually attracted to the immature body – undeveloped sexually. Therefore despite often engaging in normal sexual relationships, they are turned on by the child.

    They can live in the community, but only when they accept personal responsibility for what they are – are able to understand their motivators, and have adequate support systems to allow them to avoid dangerous situations and address inappropriate feelings.

    This can only be done if the community where they live is also supportive, is aware of the offenders propensity, and works with the offender to keep all safe, but in an open environment that doesn’t produce more stress (which of course worsens the paedophiles drive).

    I doubt NZ society is even close to understanding paedophillia and what causes/drives it, and therefore is not geared or able to successfully integrate many of these types of offenders back within the community.

  6. @ Mike in Auckland: “While I get the impression that Philip Smith is certainly no angel, is not easy to rehabilitate…”

    That’d be the understatement of the century. Smith committed shocking and depraved crimes; the family against which he offended so egregiously won’t feel safe unless he’s locked up, and given his history, I’d agree with them.

    Don’t waste your sympathy on Smith: the evidence suggests that he’s a violent psychopath, and of course he’s a paedophile as well. That’s a very dangerous combination.

    There’s a body of research which indicates that the prospects of rehabilitation for paedophiles are bleak; the best that can be hoped for is management of such people, so as to keep children safe. Given Smith’s evident psychopathy as well as his paedophilia, in my view he’s one of a very small number of criminals here in NZ from whom the rest of us need permanent protection. Prison is the best place for him.

  7. It isn’t the first time that John Key has made a flippant answer to a serious problem and then later backtracked and claimed he was “unprepared” or something like that. The difference is that the toadying MSM always let him get away with it and within five minutes it is all forgotten. What if David Cunliffe or Helen Clarke had said the same thing in a similar situation? You can just imagine!

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