Waatea News Column: Of course Prison reform has stalled


Prison reformers this week voiced their fears that prison reforms have stalled under Labour and that while the prison muster has fallen, we are still seeing half of those released reconvicted of a crime within 12months of release.

Those voicing concerns have every right to be concerned.

Since taking power, all Labour has cleverly done is forced Corrections to actually do what they were supposed to do.

There was always capacity within NZ prisons for prisoners under the new National Party rules to apply for home detention for nonviolent prisoners. Unfortunately, many prisoners have low literacy skills so most didn’t bother filling in the paperwork to apply for home detention.

What Labour did when they came to power was force Corrections staff to help fill in the paperwork, and that saw an immediate reduction in the prison muster as prisoners who were always eligible to apply for home detention but couldn’t because of their literacy skills were given the assistance Corrections should have been providing from the beginning.

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This tepid tinkering helped reduce the prison muster but not the deeply entrenched problems within our punishment culture.

The fundamental problem is that the underfunded and violent prison environments themselves damage the prisoners even more than when they went in!

We have a system focused on punishment and suffering rather than healing. We send broken men to a prison system that damages them even further.

Rehabilitation programmes don’t work if men are constantly in fear for their safety and because we demand men accept their guilt before they are eligible for rehabilitation programs, many refuse to do so and end up serving their entire lag with no rehabilitation whatsoever.

Our prison system is built to punish and make prisoners suffer. That environment does NOTHING to heal those damaged men, but the extra cost to turn our prison environments into places of healing would anger the tough on crime rent a mob.

It would take a Government of courage to find the extra dollars to rebuild our prison infrastructure, sadly there is no Government prepared to be that brave.

First published on Waatea News.


  1. Martyn
    Add it to the list. The problem is money…as always.
    Of course, the politics you guys all advocate are not very condusive to this country earning truckloads of money… when it easily could.
    NIMBY is holding NZ back.

    • Correct. I have said it before business and people making a profit seems to be a horrible word for many of the writers on this blog. It is profit that pays the taxes that gives money to government to spend on doing things like prison reform.
      Nothing will improve until houses are built to give people a healthy home to start life in and programmes are rolled out to try and stop couples having children before they can afford to look after them.

      • Oh for fucks sake Trevor, if profit paid the taxes, the coffers would be munificently overflowing! Most tax comes from the pockets of those who work to provide goods or services, most often without even getting the slightest sniff of your great God – Profit! You would see the folly of your obsession if you considered what happened when there was a review of taxation that specifically suggested a tax on unearned profit. The moneyed classes and profiteers made sure it was politically untenable.

        • Oh for fuck sake AOM, can you fucking lefties ever have a fucking debate without getting all fucking snipey and fucking resorting to aggressive ficking gutter language for fuck sake!!!

          • HRS, can you debate an issue without resorting to insults and name calling to seemingly cover for an inability to deal with logic, facts and capacity to produce convincing arguments to support a thesis? As for the mastery of gutter language, bar a spelling mistake, you are the undoubted winner. Congratulations.

    • Andrew – It was Anne Tolley who stated that the majority of prisoners had been children in state care. The state has to step back again and look at children’s lives, and how and why their circumstances are such that the state intervention that propels children into lives of crime, has been necessary. We need politicians with the brains and the guts to tackle the bigger picture. Generally, it has been NGO’s territory.

    • Teach them gardening , but unfortunately the 1st rule of sales apply, hold on to the customers you already have, and so the system works to keep them coming back. Prison reform won’t happen until they change the management ,get rid of the thugs that at present mange the system and replace them with trained social workers who are able to work with these damaged people and turn their lives around.

    • Broken people often have horrific childhoods or are gathered under the influence of criminals in their teens so grow older without having good models or opportunity to get on the employment track yet would struggle to find a place to live. Gangs provide shelter, social support but also violence and drugs. Some youngsters have no where else to go.

      Its fine for more successful people to criticise young offenders but if you look at their living prospects, emotional turmoil and entrenched negative experience from broader society then jail can easily become home.

      Our jails are places of brutality not rehabilitation. Many youngsters become “wives” in spite of their frantic protesting.
      Our jails need an overhaul and culture change immediately. NACT privatisation of prisons was criminal and deplorable.




      Our prison system is based on an archaic UK / US model. NZ has targeted Maori for incarceration for over 100 years so there is a lot of institutionalised attitudes to change in society, in the justice system, in prison design and administration.
      The predatory politicians who “go hard on crime” need to spend a few months in prison to get educated. Their diatribe and hate speech hardens attitudes and helps entrench the mess we have in dishing out punishment to the mentally and emotionally damaged collection of victims from societies unlucky.
      At present there is virtually no help available for inmates with massive mental health condition. They get worse in prison then dumped on the streets. Is this how you would like to see a family member treated when you have no spare cash to buy private treatment, treatment the health system should provide, but is not geared to.

      While the capitalism that drives this gap between rich and poor completely ignores the effects of the poverty it creates, then damaged people will need care and help not punishment.

      The loss of freedom imposed by a sentence is the punishment and the prison system needs to help and rehabilitate its clients in care helping to compensate for what our poverty stricken families could never provide.

      A rehabilitation change will be expensive but a sound investment with payback in a safer society and less resource needed for criminality long term.
      91% of our inmates have mental health problems and putting them together is diabolical. Prison guards just cannot cope and become hardened and punative. It worse than a rat race so many inmates are forced to seek protection by coming gang members.

      Dog eat dog societies tend to have larger prisons unless they institute death sentences for offenders.

      In society the gang membership will grow as long as we run prisons the way we do.

      For a short period many years ago I helped out in a half way house where selected prisoner were allowed to live in the community but under fairly strict supervision. In most cases calm and emotional stability was provided by the supervision but money was tight and education was rare. A reading teacher came in on two days a week and these “hardened criminal” were meek and highly appreciative learners who were getting a chance they had not had in their lives to learn to read. The reading teacher was regarded as a king.

      • John You’re not saying anything that politicians don’t know, and if they don’t, then they should. They count on the ordinary populace being too pre- occupied with the business of their own lives to be interested in what doesn’t impact upon them.

        We know about the lack of literacy skills, and should be asking how this has come about. What about free compulsory education ? Where has it been ?

        And the moment any Maori- focused initiatives are launched, theoretically-educated idiots like Don Brash whine about Maori privilege; doctor’s wife Amy Brooke bewails in some Aus publication about at-risk Maori receiving targeted funding for corona virus protection , from her fairly safe rural enclave in the wop wops. And this racial divisiveness is coming loudly from all sides, and is so utterly counter-productive it is either being deliberately fostered, or we are still a bunch of ignorant colonial hicks – or maybe both.

        The anti- abortion brigade don’t give a tinker’s cuss about the fate or the well-being of children forced to be born, unwanted by anybody except those spouting righteous
        words like infanticide, but quite comfortable to have our beautiful taonga left to be kicked around like leaves in autumn gutters. But – hey – it’s God’s will and life is sacred.

        The govt’s ruthless decision to separate an eleven year old vulnerable Nelson girl from her immigrant parents is why I will not vote Labour. How easy it is to blame the ubiquitous algorithm for amoral decision-making right throughout the public sector.

        A few years ago I donated books for remand prisoners, carefully chosen, in a local initiative. I suspect it came to nothing – I did know the fate of three of the books, but only remember that one was used to block the lavatory.

        More years ago, I advocated in a slop govt dept that they should be getting into prisons and setting up pre-release prisoners with relevant paper-work, and specifically, Community Service Cards. I was told that was already being done. It was a downright lie. Likely a lie from one concerned I might ace her at the time-wasting performance review and get a pay increase.

        There may be some born evil, but there are many more shaped that way by society, and if we don’t address our own failings as a community, we’re in no position to be condemning anybody. I’m unlikely to vote at all now, the Greens having already kicked me in my costly teeth.

        I’ve thought the book/ literacy thing thru’, and may have one answer, and quite an innovative one, but who cares ?

  2. Maybe if the Crown, government were to pay-out more than 1% of quantums in reparations in Treaty Settlements instead of annual budgets of $2.4b to Corrections to imprison more maori, maybe iwi would be able to turn those stats around considering so far in ToW reparations iwi have received less, $2.2b. Thats a 99% Capital Gains Tax of the quantum ToW offered to iwi.

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