Prison’s are just another casualty of 501s

Prisoner Benjamin Lightbody after his assault at Mt Eden Corrections Facility

Nearly 800 frontline prison jobs unstaffed as guards quit ‘in droves’

“Critically unsafe” working conditions are causing prison staff to leave in droves, their union claims, with nearly 800 Corrections jobs unstaffed – almost one-fifth of the full-time frontline workforce.

In a letter to Corrections chief executive Jeremy Lightfoot​, the union warned it wouldn’t be long before another prison officer dies. It claimed leadership had failed staff and dragged their heels on a plan to address violence towards workers.

“We’re not prepared to continue enduring endless, pointless meetings with people who have no idea of the reality of what we do or the challenges we face,” Corrections Association of New Zealand (Canz) president Floyd du Plessis​ wrote.

Of the 779 currently unstaffed frontline positions, 438 are vacant and 341 staff are unavailable for work due to illness, injury or other reasons, Corrections deputy national commissioner Leigh Marsh said.

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Before the tsunami of 501s, NZs prisons were already violent and corrupt places to work and live in, this was the 2017 report...

Violence at New Zealand prisons highlighted in Ombudsman’s latest torture reports
Prisoners in New Zealand are subjected to high levels of violence, unacceptable conditions in some units and a lack of constructive activities, according to a government watchdog.

Chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier today published the third full inspection report since his officed beefed up monitoring last year. The report looked at Christchurch Men’s prison.

His office also published follow-up reports on conditions at Arohata, Manawatu and Rolleston Prisons. Fewer than half of the changes recommended had been implemented at each site, the report said.

The Ombudsman monitors prisons and other places of detention such as locked mental health wards under the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture, which puts international obligations on New Zealand to ensure people held in detention are treated humanely and with decency and dignity.

…the briefing papers from Corrections to incoming Minister Kelvin Davis in 2020 spelt out that extremists and organised criminals were being becoming more dangerous.

Our focus in NZ is to make the prisoners suffer in prison, it isn’t to heal them or reform them, the entire focus is on punishment and when that is the focus, very little in terms of changing these damaged men is possible.

If we want to blame someone for this state of affairs perhaps we should examine our own support for tough on crime rhetoric.

Our prison system has been generating counter productive outcomes for decades, so who is to blame for this counter-productive cluster fuck?

Let’s start with the Corporate Mainstream media who love to manipulate your sense of anger and injustice with their ‘if it bleeds it leads’ mentality. Their crime porn myopic news headlines are designed to stoke emotion, anger and sense of injustice all for ratings.

That anger and emotion quickly gets manipulated by ‘get-tough-on-crime’ politicians who sell suffering and draconian prison time as the solution. We, the voters, get sucked into this vortex of media-politics and elect anyone who promises to punish the people we are media trained to fear and hate.

That leads to anger and hate seeping into social policy, that leads to a punitive prison culture who send the wrong market signals to the State agencies invested in them.

We have allowed knee-jerk legislation that seeks to hurt to replace well thought out social policy.

The bail law changes which mean prisoners are spending longer and longer amounts of time in our damaged prison system. The lack of rehabilitation programs, the tying of the limited rehabilitation programs they do have to parole eligibility, the tying of prison labour to parole eligibility, the tying of an admission of guilt to parole eligibility.

All of these factors have combined to see a prison system that is releasing prisoners far more damaged than when they went into prison.

This is beyond counter-productive, it’s a kind of insanity.

Labour have attempted to solve this by using the existing legislation under National to have staff engage with prisoners (many of whom are illiterate) and fill out the forms to serve their sentence at home on home detention, that’s how the prison muster has fallen so spectacularly.

The problem now is that as 501s and organised crime make up a bigger and bigger percentage of the prison population, you have far more violent criminals willing to use a far vaster array of sophisticated corruption tactics and violence to get what they want inside prison.

The current investigation into corrupt Corrections staff has managed to catch a huge number of bent screws who are only making the situation far worse.

We need prison to be there only for the worst offenders.

We need conditions to be safe and not punitive.

We need far better rehab and skill training without all the forced confessions of their crime and we need to make parole after a 3rd of the sentence a goal prisoners can strive for.

For the worst gang criminals, separated prisons is the best option.

All of this costs money of course and Kiwi only want their taxpayer dollars spent if the prisoner is suffering, not healing.

We are a victim of our own revenge fantasies and have a prison system that takes damaged men and releases them to us even more damaged.


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  1. This is the pigeons coming home to roost – a direct result of a pervasive woke Corrections regime that places more emphasis on Pepehas and pronouns than it does on prison staff working conditions.

  2. Lets stop kidding ourselves this is about the 501’s. Yes 501’s are a problem, but the biggest attacks on NZ public and our justice system are not just coming from 501’s but our low wage economy and immigration system that has pushed in hundreds of thousands of no questions asked new migrants on a plethora of student, work and other easy to obtain visas, to create more competition in the low wage labour market, fake student degrees system, and increase consumption and drive down wages.

    This is making high profit companies like supermarkets and tourism operators record profits. With the social disruption there is more need for prison workers, OT workers and everyone else as increasingly high needs people are taking up massive amount of resources and many are not even NZ citizens or just come to NZ in the past 15 years.

    Meanwhile the rest of NZ watches aghast as post pandemic another 165,000 migrants are granted NZ residency with no age, language or normal criteria of good character to ensure they will not quickly fall onto our welfare, health, criminal and social systems where ironically the same visas often do not allow more migrant doctors and nurses to become NZ residents.

    It seems there are big powers at force who want to drive NZ into woke/neoliberal social disruption from having a massive amount of people on benefits and near minimum wages, competition for poverty and more criminals or the victims of criminals.

    Meanwhile the low wages and tolerant criminal culture here is driving more professionals out of NZ, while the relaxed rules for criminals allow them to stay here and easily keep offending.

    Meanwhile in spite of a global pandemic that started years ago and our 3rd highest immigration per capita in the world population increase that require substantial more health services, the government seems to be ‘still looking into’ increasing domestic medical students.

    Auckland’s medical school says Government won’t let them increase student numbers to fill dire shortages

    A lot in government seem to be paid up members of both Dumb lives matter and Intellectual yet Idiot culture.

    ” The Government caps the number of students medical schools are allowed to train.

    The University of Auckland admits 257 domestic students a year. Otago admits 282.”

    I mean who knew only 539 doctor places were available each year when they have migration of high needs people on steroids.

    Don’t forget that our medical schools and hospitals are now so woke that now they train doctors like Venod Skantha, who then go on to become convicted murderers.

    And our immigration prefer criminals to get visas before migrant doctors actually working in NZ.

    Emails reveal residency pleas of rural GP, convicted criminals granted stay

    We can pretend that it is the convenient 501’s to blame, but they are just a small part of a bigger problem of why NZ wants so many criminals, exploiters and poor to reside in NZ and compete with the existing criminals, exploiters and poor in NZ .

    Lets face it, certain industries are making a killing from mass consumption and social disruption and don’t want that gravy train to stop.

    • I really don’t think it’s a big plot, don’t think many pollies have the capability of planning ahead, I think all they see is short term cheap labour for NZ business.

      ..hell forget nurses we desperately need more baristas…have you not heard of the barista shortage damn you?

      • Someone sees the plot and laughs and rubs their hands, and then puts on a veneer of rationality and amiability when required, but they look down on most people. Think how did Graeme Hart rise so quickly from being a truck driver to a million-now billionaire? He was the Right Stuff with his sights firmly set on the goal, not gaol. He worked hard to get on in a capitalist world. But the person who just wants a life and a reasonable job for reasonable pay shouldn’t be disregarded, they are good human beings and worthy of respect but they don’t get it in NZ’s disdainful, upward mobility society.
        Hart was confident, had kinetic energy a work ethic, and a room where he could work on his cars, so that was luck and drive, ability and health coming together to good advantage.
        …He does not directly manage his businesses, and is focused mostly on the financing related to re-capitalization of the companies…

        Because the PTB are not prepared to use business skills to ensure that there is a fair whack for the employer plus also allow for employees to be ordinary, they replace them with foreign driven people who can be exploited, made to pay over time their own transport and a fee to their employer. Though our people soon slide to the same position, this is excused, rationalised, by pollies and business exploiters.

        We pay a foreign company, Wilsons to manage parking for us, on our own land. Are we all lords and ladies too delicate to do our own menial work? Serco also, which comes with a bad reputation but we must have them because we are told, they are the experts. We would know what at, if we bothered about their probity before we employed them to run prisons as advanced criminal brutality pits. We are to be made to feel inferior, so everything will be done for us by machines. And ordinary NZs dream up imaginative conspiracies to object to, while our deterioration is plain in front of our noses, and we are doing it to each other!

        How many NZs are there who find pride in themselves for our many gifts and successes, capabilities to try harder, and open-heartedness matching that of other countries which are poorer than us. But that’s far from being the norm. He’s gone fishing – in the sky Big Norm. How xcan we change, I think there will have to be something like Rotarty for like-minded people who agree on general principles and methods and push the barrow into the sunlight.

    • ets stop kidding ourselves this is about the 501’s. Yes 501’s are a problem, but the biggest attacks on NZ public and our justice system are not just coming from 501’s but our low wage economy and immigration system that has pushed in hundreds of thousands of no questions asked new migrants on a plethora of student, work and other easy to obtain visas, to create more competition in the low wage labour market, fake student degrees system, and increase consumption and drive down wages.


      When is Ron Brierley coming back as a 501 instead of living in the lap of luxury.

    • “Lets face it, certain industries are making a killing from mass consumption and social disruption and don’t want that gravy train to stop”

      And there you have it, the inexorable machine of global capitalism underneath it all. (Ever looked into Serco?)

  3. Isn’t the problem also partly caused by Labour cancelling new prison projects. New modern prisons that would have relieved the pressure on the service, provided more humane conditions and reduced the need for double bunking?

  4. true andrew but where doers it end if the nats dog whistle lock em all up comes into you really wanna live in alabama?

  5. A minister that is invisible and like Andrew Little blames the union rather than listening to them. 800 short staffed leads to more pressure and more leaving just the same as nurses.. I imaging the fuss both would make of the situation if they were in Opposition hopefully we will find out after the next election.
    Strong unions are needed when those pulling the strings are faceless bureaucrats who seem to get their jollies off by making life hard for those beneath them.

  6. Why are teenagers still held in mainstream prisons – with cellmates who are convicted rapists.

    Man found guilty of raping prison cellmate

    Prisons knew or should have known the rapist was not suitable to put a teenage cell mate with him based on his earlier offending.

    Rapist pair show no remorse

    Too many people allowed in NZ who seem to be preying on victims, and thus our jails are over flowing and they are creating new victims, even inside jail.

    Rapist, Benjamin Goundar to be deported to Fiji after his release from jail in NZ

  7. underfund underfund underfund, differ maintenance, pay peanuts, act surprised when it goes tits up.

  8. Both National and Labour in their pandering to McVicar over the past 20 years, have sought to cultivate a prison environment where gang members are allowed to beat, shank, rape, standover and in some cases murder weaker inmates for the sole purpose of ‘punishment’. One of the ways they have done this is by bringing in double bunking and cramming prisons beyond their rated capacity. The former leader of the National party has openly condoned rape in our prisons while a cabinet minister, and every other day we see prison guards and even senior administrators nabbed for bringing in contraband. I wouldnt be surprised if half the prison officers are paid to look the other way while prisoners are beaten and raped by other prisoners.

  9. Bomber, you make some good points.

    When you think about it, Corrections are the epitome of 20 years of political interference. And by that I mean, Key and his privatisation mates and least cost approaches followed by 5 years of Identity Politics (let all the Crims out, crime is a result of colonialism, blah, blah, blah).

    Crime is expensive but also it rankles to spend ‘good’ money on Crims in the eyes of the public. Prison Officers are not viewed as much better than Crims (And in some cases their behaviour isnt much better) with the effect that nobody listens to people on the ground. Decisions are always motivated by money or politics or both.

    Really they need to put all that to one side and get some seriously knowledgeable people to work with staff to come up with something that’s going to work. Then see what we can actually deliver both in terms of capability and cost.

    Prisons are not good places to work, many of the crims are violent and nasty. One of the limits on rehabilitation is in finding suitably qualified people to work with them. My sister used to run a prison Psychological Counselling service and they had trouble getting staff that could cope with the Crims and undermining and nasty Prison Officers. Also prison services are contracted so money is always being squeezed. Many of your employees are ex drug addicts or ex crims and that usually works but you always face bad apples that add to the problems.

    On top of all that, way back in the Helen Clark years, Corrections top Management had been seen for many years as the bottom of the barrel. That has finally changed but its never going to be the ‘des res’ of places to work.

    So lots of things working against the successful management and rehabilitation of prisoners. But I do think the only answer is a practically driven, non partisan look at what can be achieved. Fund it, set it in place in a single prison/area and measure outcomes.

    • “Crime is expensive but it also rankles to spend good money on crims”.

      There are is always going to be some low end people in the society. If you import low wage workers to take their jobs or pay them shit you remove their stake in society. The nation is reaping the second generation of the Roger Douglas underclass. We would have been better to have retained Muldoon’s make work schemes that provided dignity. Spend the money before they become crims.

  10. How can CE of Corrections have name ‘Lightfoot’. That only happens in Douglas Adams books or such! Life imitating art? This is just a 21st century copy of Victorian times.

    Try reading Anne Perry crime books about darkest London. I don’t know how much is fiction or faction, but she is good and they are quite fascinating and contain all the horror I can stand., but the police officers hold onto their principles mostly and retain their desire to be good people and have a home life where they can recharge their good batteries which I hope all have.

    • Doubledown on Lightfoot with Lightbody. My idea about crime fiction sounds a bit too sweet, but thoughts as hopeful as that keep me thinking and writing about how we might get out of this scenario for a better one.

      This seems good start. Perhaps it can be built on – police looking at their known racial bias.
      Last year the New Zealand Police announced they were partnering with Sir Kim and the University of Waikato to study those very issues within their ranks.
      Today they released an update on that work and where they see the study going.

      and Systemic racism’ a lazy claim, police union says – Newstalk ZB › News › Politics
      10/05/2022 — Police had been working with criminal justice advocate and former senior sergeant Sir Kim Workman on research into systemic bias.

      Parole Board says prisoners waiting for rehab, psych help – RNZ › news › national › parole-board…
      11/08/2021 — The board’s chair Sir Ron Young wrote to Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis in January criticising the department and explaining the need for significant …

  11. Good on the screws. It takes serious will to organise even on this relatively minor scale. Number one priority should be access to universal rehabilitation services dispite serious offender status for practical rather than political reasons ie some percentage of dudes are just going to be dangerous. The rest seem reasonabley negotiable.

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