I am honestly not sure who is advising Minister Kelvin Davis, but his surprising decision this week to attack People Against Prisons Aotearoa (PAPA) and refer their pamphlets calling on prison reform to the Police for supposedly inciting the prison riot at Waikeria prison is such a desperately wrong footed move one is left wondering what on earth he thinks he’s doing.
Put aside the massive civil liberty and freedom of speech issues here, put aside the fact that PAPA, while certainly a radical movement, have played an important and essential role in standing up for prisoner rights and put aside the abuse of power of a Minister trying to have a community group arrested, the simple truth is that if it were a National Party Minister trying to do this, we would have collectively called for their resignation.
I fear Kelvin Davis is on dangerously thin ice here.
The issues at hand regarding the riot at Waikeria prison are as follows:
- Did Corrections inform the Minister that understaffing had caused an environment that was so degrading that it sparked a riot?
- Why did Corrections use starvation tactics to quell this?
- Why did Corrections get the Police involved and have them shoot at prisoners?
- How many other prisons face the same understaffing issues that are also generating these types of conditions?
The focus must be on ensuring prisons are resourced and staffed well enough to never allow conditions to deteriorate to this point again, attacking one of the few prisoner rights groups and attempting to have them arrested for inciting the riot is the absolute opposite of trying to find a solution.
Not stepping up and negotiating an end to this and allowing the Māori Party to do the hard yards to de-escalate the riot was a political mistake, but attacking People Against Prison Aotearoa and blaming them for the riot is an abuse of political power.
Who on earth is advising the Minister?