Waatea News Column: Imprisonment and the Pandemic


The current pandemic is hurting the poor hardest.

They aren’t the ones with the disposable wealth to prance around the world, yet it is the wealthy who are holidaying and returning to NZ who are spreading the virus.

The poor don’t have the luxury to self-isolate in nice houses with well-stocked larders, they are far more likely to be the essential workers who must put themselves at risk to keep the fabric of society operating.

The poor also end up in prison more often and is in prison this pandemic is becoming a new human rights battle.

Currently, the Government are telling their prosecutors to oppose bail for anyone who might have been in contact with the virus prior to their appearance in Court.

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This is madness.

Not only is it illegal to refuse bail on the grounds of having the virus, it is insane to keep prisoners who do have the virus in prison because with 30% of all prisoners are double-bunked and the virus would spread like lightening if it gets inside our prison system.

Remember, those appearing in Court haven’t been tested for the virus, they just have to be suspected of having it.

With Māori making up a disproportionate amount if those going into prison, this attempt to use prisons as a defacto quarantine camp based on nothing more than suspicion of being infected is a grotesque abuse of power that could actually inject the virus directly into our prison system.

Jacinda consistently tells us to be kind during this pandemic, where is the kindness in enforced imprisonment for those merely suspected of having the virus in 22-hour lockdown?

First published on Waatea News.


  1. What has government done over the last 30+ years to address the rising inequality in society? The short answer is absolutely nothing. In fact they have consistently undermined any attempts to improve the lot of ordinary working class people.

    Breaking unions, watering down employment laws, the result being one person doing the job of two or more people. I might add as someone who has seen this first hand its not just the poor who suffer here. Middle class workers are often required to work excessive hours, under harsh, very stressful conditions. Pay does not keep up with inflation either and any request for it to be adjusted is ignored by employers. Importing cheap labour has made the former easier too and has seen people pushed out of jobs, sometimes reduced to a state of poverty.

    In short you get the society you legislate for. In this case, its one where a very small variety enjoy champagne Socialism while the rest cold hard neo liberalism.

  2. the virus would spread like lightening if it gets inside our prison system.

    And that’s exactly what’s happening around the world. Being sent to prison can now be a death sentence.

    “Many inmates are poor, often with health problems—asthma, diabetes, heart conditions, stress — that make them more vulnerable to the virus.” That from Jesse Jackson’s article: Coronavirus Made Incarceration a Death Sentence

    JJ describes how in just three weeks a Louisiana jail went from one coronavirus death to having 100 inmates and staff infected, 20 hospitalised and seven dead.

    Cook County Jail, the largest in the country, is already one of the nation’s largest sources of infections, with more confirmed cases than the USS Theodore Roosevelt or the New Rochelle, New York cluster. Four inmates are dead and 215 have tested positive, as have 191 correctional officers and 34 other sheriff’s office employees. One employee just died.

    A state prison in Ohio is now the largest reported source of coronavirus infection in the United States. I called President Trump and urged him to make testing, tracing and social distancing a priority for those in jails, nursing homes and prisons. The workers, inmates and communities where the workers live all need help.

    In Ohio, 2,300 prisoners in three prisons have tested positive. In prisons and jails across the country, inmates locked up for nonviolent crimes or while awaiting trial, and older, vulnerable inmates near the end of their term, among others, sit in terror, fearful that they face a death sentence.

    Prisons and jails are virtual petri dishes for the virus. Social distancing is impossible. Soap and water are often not available.

  3. Prisoners who are at high risk from Covid-19 and who present low risk to the community should be sent home ASAP. Either suspend their sentences or direct them to home detention. This is the only sane, humane way to begin to prepare for what will otherwise become disastrous for our prison system, including for all who work there, through the winter months ahead.

    Kelvin Davis is our Minister of Corrections

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