Whenever there is a problem with a prison it is automatic for the Corrections Department (is this the appropriate name for this outfit? Shouldn’t it be “Punitive Department”?) to issue a blank dismissal of any story being carried by the media. They are never wrong and it is the dreadful people that the Courts have locked up that is the problem.
The Minister (regardless of which Party is in power) then chimes in with their defence of the much-misunderstood Department. Occasionally he has to back down which he did as per this attached article https://thespinoff.co.nz/politics/22-03-2021/review-apologise-overhaul-kelvin-davis-dramatically-changes-tune-on-womens-prison-abuses/.
During the past week the Chief Ombudsman has announced that he is about to review the Department of Corrections, again. He has been disappointed with previous reports being ignored in the past. This will be an in-depth study. We are really lucky to have such a competent and independently minded Ombudsman. Here is what he is going to study:
The investigation will look at what the Department of Corrections has done to address the treatment and conditions of inmates held in all correctional facilities and the opportunities for constructive activity, such as education, employment, rehabilitation and reintegration programmes.
It would look at performance monitoring and review processes including complaints management, oversight of segregation orders, use of force reviews, and other operational or incident reviews
He went on to say:
We often have practices because we have done it that way, but that does not mean it’s any longer appropriate or modern,” he said.
“I’m really wanting this to be a stocktake and a step back to see. Just because we’re doing it that way, is that the optimum or is there another way we could do it?”
It was disheartening to see his office’s recommendations not being put in place and disappointing when they were accepted but on a return visit, there was no “demonstrable uptake”.
Here is the article in Stuff https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/125159389/chief-ombudsman-to-investigate-department-of-corrections-response-to-calls-for-reforms-that-could-improve-conditions-for-prisoners.
One of our Tuesday Club attendees, Leister Monk, wrote this to the Ombudsman after he had made his announcement:
FOR THE PERUSAL OF THE CHIEF OMBUDSMAN JUDGE PETER BOSHIER
Dear Judge Boshier,
BARBAROUS PRACTICES BEHIND THE GATE.
As a former resident in a Corrections’ facility at Ngawha, I write as a person who has been at the penal coalface, but like Wilde’s Gwendolyn, I have never felt the need to produce a shovel, although that lady was in fact bereft of a spade.
You of course visited Waikeria Prison at the approximate time of the riots. Your criticisms of the prison and its operation were both trenchant and widely reported, but were largely ignored by a Minister who went AWOL at the time of the riots, being adamant he would never venture near Waikeria until the disquiet was totally quelled. The myth of ministerial responsibility?
In the most general of terms, the average New Zealander has only passing interest in the conditions in prisons, however, there was widespread abhorrence when the appalling treatment of women held at the Wiri prison became a matter of public record. That public disquiet was further refined when Judge David McNaughton, in the Manukau District Court, gave an absolute walloping to Corrections for the mediaeval practices being normalised within the institution. And what of the Minister? His first response was to cast doubt on the correctness o\f Judge McNaughton’s considered findings. However, after the said Minister had been firmly advised by the Attorney General, David Parker, that the treatment being meted out by Corrections was in contravention of international law, human rights legislation and the NZ Bill of Rights 1980, the Minister made a half-hearted apology and a grudging concession to look at possible compensation. I started to wonder about that shovel.
Then, of course came the knowledge that women were being handcuffed before, during and after giving birth. This hideous practice has now ceased and one can but wonder whether the cogent hand of David Parker was present as the Minister again remained largely silent over another breach of not so much human rights, but of basic decency and humanity by Corrections. I began to wonder whether I needed to find that shovel to at least say something about the Augean stable that is Corrections.
Currently, it has been widely reported that you have promised to inquire in to the unwillingness of Corrections, even refusal, to address the criticisms you made earlier (supra). Perhaps it is time that I did pick up that shovel and reiterate some events that I long resolved to move on from: During my time at Ngawha, I was treated very reasonably. I kept myself totally occupied writing and helping perform plays; organising a debating club; producing a weekly newsletter; and writing letters and material for many of the 75% of fellow residents who were primarily illiterate. Nearly 500 of them where there was one remedial teacher and one art teacher.
I also worked in the Medical Unit where I was, eventually, fortunate enough to count the Medical Director as a friend. But my easeful existence was severely curtailed when I developed an enormous bladder stone which needed to be surgically removed. In due course, after weeks of agony, I was duly transported to Whangerei, and despite an attempted intervention by the Medical Director, along with the fact that I was classified as being of minimum risk, I was handcuffed on the trip to Whangerei, remaining shackled to the bed during the operation and during a few hours of recovery.
But it got even worse, returning to Ngawha, as not only did I remain handcuffed but was placed in a small storage area in the back of the van facing the reverse. I arrived back at Ngawha still in hospital pyjamas, technicoloured with blood, vomit, faeces and urine. But there was a further refinement to that wanton cruelty; none of my family had the faintest idea I was even having the operation as any advice of a visit to a hospital was embargoed and was carried out with the secrecy of an O.S.S. mission during World War II. And why the secrecy; there was concern that the ward I was in would be inundated by a horde of gang members eager to visit me – clearly no consideration was given to the fact that the few friends I had within cooee of Ngawha were middle aged scholarly types, while family members all resided in middle class parts of the South Island. Not a gang member in sight? But rest assured, my horrific experience will be repeated on many occasions every day wherever in the country the Corrections’ footprint makes its unsavoury mark.
Unfortunately, the delays in removing the bladder stone, directly led to cancer of the bladder after I was released but those excrescences have now gone and I even wonder whether it is worth bringing out the shovel and trying to verbally dig at that coal face. But deep down, I know that an organisation such as Corrections can better sustain and maintain its actions by the silence of those like myself who should speak out which I attempt to do now.
Finally, Judge Boshier, I heard you saying today that the culture of any organisation starts at the top. You are so right – at Ngawha the foot soldiers on the ground were generally straightforward, humane guys and girls but whenever there was strife it invariably stemmed from the empire builders further up the chain. Enlarge that snapshot and you see a Minister who refuses to take responsibility and continues to laud the Chief Executive who also needs to bear some responsibility for the current malaise which has got worse on his watch.
I hope reading the foregoing has not taken too much of your time and please accept that if there is any way I can either clarify or else usefully elucidate on anything I have set out then I am happy to do so. I certainly hope that you are able to get Corrections to take note of your earlier criticisms.
Disappointingly the Minister gave every appearance of superciliousness, today, when telling the nation that he would look forward to receiving your further comments. For the sake of so many languishing under such a flawed organisation I hope my scepticism is proved to be wrong.