Can Labour resist the Prison Industrial Complex?


Labour face a Prison Industrial Complex that will test their skills and ability to cut through to the heart of complex social issues.

National have already set the Prison Industrial Complex in motion and Labour must pick up the pieces…

Liam Martin: Labour needs to scrap Corrections’ plan to build mega-prison

In the lead-up to the election, Kelvin Davis announced that Labour will work to reduce the prison population by 30 per cent. The party inherits quite different priorities in government.

There are plans to build an enormous prison complex in Waikato, part of a sweeping $2.5 billion package to expand prison capacity. It is not too late for Labour to scrap this plan in favour of the vision they bring with them to office. But with construction set to begin next year, it would have to happen quickly.

If prisons worked there would be no need to build another one. Consider the network of new prisons that already crisscross New Zealand: Ngawha prison opened in the Far North in 2005, Auckland Women’s in 2006, Spring Hill and Otago prisons in 2007, the remand prison at Mount Eden in 2011, and two years ago, a partnership with multinational Serco on old industrial land in South Auckland.

We could be using these resources to build homes for our people. Yet in the past 20 years, the number of houses owned by the government has fallen from 70,000 to 63,000. Follow the money and the current priorities are clear. The Corrections budget this year is four times that dedicated to Building and Housing.

A Treasury official described the construction of Otago and Spring Hill prisons as the “equivalent of building two small towns”. Imagine if these small towns were filled not with cages but with houses – affordable houses suitable for the most vulnerable New Zealanders. Does anyone believe the country is safer now because the choice was made for prisons instead?

The prison boom and housing crisis are twin problems that trap the same people. The most marginalised New Zealanders cycle between sleeping in cars and doorways and the cells of brand new prisons.

Many already know that we have among the highest rates of incarceration in the developed world. But on homelessness we look even worse: here New Zealand is No 1, with more homeless people per capita than any country in the OECD – more than even the United States.

So with serious crime dropping why are our prisons so full to bulging that we need to build more bloody prisons?

It comes back to the knee jerk get tough on crime crap that Labour themselves helped usher in when they were last in power.

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The problem is that we changed our bail laws in light of public pressure caused by high profile criminals committing crime while on bail. Once upon a time Prisoners would serve a third of their sentence and be automatically be eligible for parole. The Prisoner had to keep their nose clean inside prison and it was a means to moderate prisoner behaviour, the belief being that prison was an awful environment and the less time people spent inside, the better.

We no longer have that mindset.

NZers love to see prisoners suffer, so our parole system has had an injection of spite. It is near impossible for prisoners to gain parole after a third, most serve two thirds but the extra caveats placed upon prisoners now (agreeing to partake in courses that are poorly funded and cannot meet the demand) see many serving their entire sentences.

That’s prisoners serving full sentences, 20 hours a day inside their cells with no rehabilitation being released into community services that have no ability to rehabilitate let alone find them safe or secure housing.

If Labour want to turn this madness around they must:

  • Increase social support networks for prisoners once they are released.
  • Increase access to rehabilitation programs
  • Better prisoner housing on release.
  • Change the Parole rules that move us back to prisoners being able to self moderate their behaviour in an effort to get them out of prison before they become institutionalised.
  • Far better mental health services.

It takes far more money to heal human beings than punish them, but the results are far healthier for society as a whole.

Does Labour have the strength to reform or continue the Prison Industrial Complex  mistakes?


  1. Kelvin Davis is probably the best hope we have had for yonks when it comes to meaningful prison reform…wouldn’t it be exciting if we became a worldwide example of how to deal efficiently and effectively at reforming criminals and drastically reducing our prison population.

    As long as Davis stands clear of Nash, and avoids Mike Williams with his love of Judith Collins and the wonderful innovations in Private Prisons (yeah, right) then it could be good change in the wind…I hope so for all our sakes.

  2. It’s important to understand that the increase in the prison population was mostly driven by changes in the bail laws which remanded people who were accused of committing violent crimes and likely to reoffend.

    This came off the back of several incidents where people on bail committed various violent offences – including murder.

    So before this new government changes the bail laws back to what they were, they need to consider how the public and their opposition will react to a person on bail murdering someone: They will personally get the blame.

  3. The national arty agenda was to inbed the deep prison system into our civilistaion well before they got thrown out so labour now must loose no time in reversing all these draconian changes National planted liike ‘hand grenades’ set to blow up in theneet Government’s face as we see beginning to happen here.

  4. I think the simple answer is if you remove Serco you remove the need to meet to provide set numbers of prisoners. I’m assuming Serco has already lost its prison contracts. But who cares. They’re over priced any way. And they always look for any excuse to put unforeseen incidents back in to public circulation like when prisoners are seriously injured. Meaning low end crime will always be punished by law enforcement and the courts, because they’re contractually obligated too. And Minister for corrections Kelvin Davies is dead set against Serco. He even traveled to a Serco run detention centre in Australia in protest as an MP. So it’s only a mater of time before Serco get the heave ho IMO.

    • Serco no longer has a contract at Mount Eden but does at Wiri.

      Serco’s contract is not with the Dept of Corrections. The contract with the Dept for the new Wiri prison is held by SecureFuture, the owner of the prison facility. Serco is not a shareholder in Securefuture but has a contract with them to operate the prison.

      Kelvin Davis made a lot of noise when the Mount Eden debacle occurred and it is going to be interesting to see if he can back it up with real action. I wish him the best of luck and suggest that the first thing he will need to do is change the culture of the Department which, in spite of public pronouncements, remains one very much focused on the jailing component of their role.

      • Check the fine print. The justice system is locked int to a frame work of prisoner numbers and financial penalties of those numbers are not achieved.

  5. First PREVENT the next round of criminals by having a decent education system. Apparently a good percentage of prisoners are illiterate or only semi literate. WTF! Of course if you can’t read or write properly then your options become very limited to get a job, filling out forms with WINZ would be difficult or any other entitlements etc.

    Also it was found that giving cod liver oil to prisoners in the UK apparently greatly reduced prison violence. With the rise in poor quality food, maybe people’s poor impulse control could be mitigated by much better nutrition that could be starting at birth.

    Get rid of the P epidemic. Start a real war on P by stopping the exporters getting the raw ingredients into this country. Have a few more clues and checks about some of the people who seem to have free reign in this country and use it to finance crime. Last year 2 people who have been resident in NZ for 26 years were found with millions worth of P – they had never had to fill in a NZ tax return. WTF? Anyone coming into NZ should have to be filling in tax returns yearly and IRD should be checking up on every new resident to make sure they are legitimate residents not a scam or front for criminal activity. Instead IRD seem to be targeting locals for tax investigation and a blind eye to new residents flush with cash or large amounts of assets but no legitimate income.

    Ensure that prisons have real education programs. Don’t waste money on more real estate for prisoners by building more prisons, actually spend the money stopping reoffenders with education programmes that work.

    Have a place for the prisoners to go and work for them to do once outside the prison system to stop reoffending.

    Try to prevent those under 24 years old entering the prison system.

    Instead of sentencing prisoners to prison, sentence them to drug or mental health rehabilitation if that’s what they need. It costs $100k per year for prison, if the government spent that on drug rehab or mental health or homelessness or education – it is money better spent.

  6. ….and just to underline the point I made yesterday (above) :- today the front page of the Herald is devoted to a murder committed whilst on bail.

  7. ‘It takes far more money to heal human beings than punish them’ … does it though? In the measurable short term maybe so, but with reoffense statistics and the less-measurable knock-on effect costs of non- or poorly- rehabilitated offenders I would not be at all surprised if the gap closes significantly. And in the ultimate long-term intention behind the notion of rehabilitation, imagine a world in which neither punishment nor healing is such a huge ticket thanks to a well-integrated inclusive society that eliminates the epidemic states disenfranchisement that led to the criminal behaviour in question to start with.

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