It was a cold, swine-flu ridden winter when I last wrote to you, and now is the time of fresh morning asparagus, drooping rich coloured kowhai, full throated tui, the tintabulations of the bellbirds, and madness. It is Spring.
The spring is sprung,
The grass is ris
I wonder where the boidies is?
The little boids is on the wing,
Ain’t that absoid?
The little wings is on the boid
Ogden Nash’s absurd verse might well be a prescient commentary on the nonsense at play (on wings, both left and right) in New Zealand politics, Spring, 2009. Nonsense can be nasty, and there is a nasty undertone, a feral and poisonous aspect to the red-neck shock-jock nonsense-of-the-moment. Our nation’s thinking is dominated by talk-back rant, angry invective, intolerance, and sensationalist tabloid journalism. The political response is Pavlovian. The powerful introduce populist laws to soothe the flared and agitated nostrils of the talkback chattering-class. They feel required to amputate whatever constitutes the inflamed proboscis of the moment, but in doing so simply end up spiting the face of reason, integrity, inclusion and social justice. It does us no good. Democracy is a noble concept that is intended to facilitate the voice of the many for the good of the many: it has become the talkback voice of the one for the good of the some.
Words can be interpreted in many ways. The same words change according to context and application. Democracy, “one person on vote”, sounds fair enough to the ear of the descendants of Europe, long freed from feudalism. But for some New Zealanders the populist approach we have taken to democracy seems to have delivered a system that promises only a form of modern-day slavery: low wages, relative poverty, degrees of social exclusion, restricted access to services, and powerlessness. For these New Zealanders, being notional partners in the broad ‘social contract’ of Aotearoa doesn’t result in proportional benefits. The indicators are reflected in our statistics of disparity: lower rates of home ownership, poor health, earlier death, lower educational achievement, over representation in the criminal justice system. ‘Partnership’, be it ‘Treaty’ or some other arrangement, may imply ‘equality’, but may not deliver it. The World Bank defines Partnership as:
“a collaborative relationship towards mutually agreed objectives involving shared responsibility for outcomes, distinct accountabilities, and reciprocal obligations.”
These notions of collaboration, shared objectives, clear accountabilities, and mutual obligations are implicit in the aspirations of our national democratic set up as evidenced in the existence of the Maori electoral seats. These stem however from a decision at the time of only our Fourth Parliament, when there was an Anglo-Maori bi-cultural reality. Settler inflows have broadened the cultural mix, and whilst the bi-cultural implications of the Treaty might be locked in at the level of central government they don’t necessarily flow into the structure and application of local government. Witness the envisaged civic structure for the super city of Auckland (the prototype for other amalgamations to come – Wellington said to be next in line). On present course there is little hope for a collaborative, inclusive, Treaty-based partnership in the local governance of the largest city in the land or for any power-sharing role for the original owners who originally gifted much of the area to the citizenry. Similarly there is little hope for partnership between the poor and brown and the power holding burghers of the provincial city of Whanganui. Use of language extends to the context of the term ‘racist’, now being applied by Michael Laws, mayor of that city to the considered recommendation of the National Geographic Board to correct the spelling of ‘Whanganui’. His Worship should know about the meaning of the word racism, because he skirts its perimeters of meaning on a daily basis:
“The true timebomb that ticks in this country – our growing underclass, predominantly brown, transient, illiterate, dirty and diseased…..So too the children with brains atrophied by their parents’ willing ignorance”
Michael Laws, Sunday Star Times
Mayor Laws acts as a populist white knight, clad in vitriolic armour. For the poor and brown he is a knight-Mayor. Pettiness prevails, swamping diversity with the putrid mud of ignorance and intolerance. Despite the big economic, environmental, and social issues that confront us even our most senior political figures seem stuck in this mire of triviality. An appearance by the PM on Letterman’s talkshow is accorded the significance akin to a huge oil find in the Southern Basin or such. At the recent National Party Conference the PM expressed the situation that presented his party with power like this:
“1,053,398 New Zealanders were tired of being told what they could or could not do, what their kids have as a Friday treat from the tuck shop, and whether they could choose their own lightbulbs.”
That is absurdly reductionist – but wait, there’s more. Phil Goff, the aspirant PM from the major opposition party, also buys into the argument. At the Labour Party conference Goff apologised for his Party’s ‘nanny state’ behaviours when in power. He said that Labour “hadn’t been listening”. Wrong. They were listening too much: populist lapdogs responding only to the bell of talkback and poll, evacuating the obligation to apply intelligence and reasoning to their deliberations, and reach solutions best for all, popular with the majority or not. Maybe the dark and angry beast that desires to be white and right lurks deep within the psyche of the left, as much as it does within that of the right. A case in point is former Labour-led-Govt-Minister Trevor Mallard’s brain-fuse exclamation, when a Judge, sentencing those involved in a misguided pseudo makutu-lifting ceremony, which tragically resulted in the death of one of their Wainuiomata whanau’s number, came down with a non-custodial sentence. Mallard declared that the whanau members didn’t go to jail ‘because they were Maori’. This analysis aligned entirely with the views of the blue heelers of the right wing, the Sensible Sentencing, and with those of allegedly left w(h)inger Chris Trotter, who, likewise, frequently harps on about Maori wanting ‘special’ privileges unavailable to the rest of us. Left or Right, when it comes to Maori bashing there is broad accord.
Something really gets under the skin of Pakeha New Zealand when our brown fellow citizens misbehave, disobey, or want to do things in their own inique way. Jimmy Baxter used to ascribe this to “the crime of being a Maori”. I think Prof James Belich has hit it on the head within his new work about the ‘Settler Revolution and the Rise of the Anglo World’. Belich argues that Anglo settler-societies like New Zealand strove to expunge the indigenous culture and replace it with something to their own taste and in their own image. I really think that this is both at the heart of the Whanganui ‘H’ debate. It underpins the moral panic over Maori gangs and the call for harsher punishments of offenders. It is unresolved settler angst, and it is leading us down the pathway of race laws.
The Whanganui ‘Gang Insignia By-law’ is a particular expression of this deep settler discomfort. It has occurred to me for some time that Pakeha trepidation about Maori gangs may well be driven by a deep but unspoken fear about the Maori warrior coming to collect the rent.
Whilst we call these Maori gangs ‘organised criminal groups’ they’re a far call from the really organised criminal groups, particularly those ‘banksters’ in the Pakeha financial sector. These Maori gangs, in the main, are the face of dis-organised crime. The most rabid politicians treat the words ‘terrorist’, ‘gang’, and ‘organised crime group’ as synonymous and interchangeable. We have already seen Maori activist communities targeted as terrorists and subsequently charged under the Organised Criminal Group legislation – (refer Blog “Pull Up Pull Up: The Psychology of Colonisation“, November, 2007). There is an insidious and creeping form of fascism and racism at play in our land. When Parliament discussed and narrowly passed the Whanganui Bylaw-enabling legislation I think most Parliamentarians believed that the ‘gang patch ban’ was a measure limited to the Whanganui CBD. But the burghers of Whanganui have usurped the will of Parliament and have had the by-law extended to the entire City boundaries and to a few country halls as well. The impact then is not just on the citizens of Whanganui but extends to any New Zealander who might pass through the city.
It clearly constitutes a breach of the Bill of Rights in terms of any New Zealander’s right to pass freely on the roads without hindrance, to enjoy free speech, and to have the right to assemble. The pertinent details of the Whanganui by-law are these:
Definition of Gang insignia:
- Sign, symbol, or representation commonly displayed to denote membership of, affiliation with, or support for a gang
- Includes any item of clothing to which the above is attached
- Does not include tattoos
Specified (prohibited) Area
- Public places under the control of the Council (open to, or being used by public whether or not there is an admission charge)
- Includes any road in the specified area whether or not it is controlled by the Council
- Includes people in/on vehicles in these place
Section 12 – Displaying Gang Insignia
- A person commits an offence ($2,000 fine) if they display gang insignia in a specified place
Section 13 (1) – Power of Arrest
- Arrest if good cause to suspect person has displayed gang insignia in a specified place
- Remove and seize insignia by force if necessary
Section 14 (1) Power to stop vehicles
- Stop vehicle to exercise power of arrest, seach and seizure if there are reasonable grounds to believe that the person has “displayed” gang insignia in the vehicle
As can be seen the consequence of the extension of the by-law beyond Parliament’s stated intention is that the Police now have the power to stop and search any vehicle on any road within the boundaries of Whanganui if they have cause to believe that there is gang insignia in the vehicle. Guess who will be on the receiving end of that? In form, whilst this law is the reverse of the old apartheid South African “Pass Laws”, it has the same intention and effect: harass and suppress. This is what happened to the alphabetically tattooed Mongrel Mob member Brett Beamsley. Beamsley was pulled over in his car near his home for wearing a beanie with the Georgia University logo on it – a bulldog. Beamsley has his faced emblazoned with Mongrel Mob insignia, three big M’s. The Georgia bulldog logo is about the size of a milk bottle top.
You might as well have arrested the man for looking tragic. After two Court appearances the charge was withdrawn. Bulldogs per se, Georgian or otherwise, are not necessarily gang insignia. It is farce, but it is fascist farce. In an attempt to draw out this ridiculous situation and get it tested in a Court of Law I organised a protest in Whanganui on the day the legislation became live and active. We constructed a make-believe Black Power patch made up of a digitised photo of Nelson Mandela’s fist, using the misspelling of Mangu Kaha (“Manga Kahu” as contained in the draft legislation’s list of prohibited group names).
We rendered the design in ‘Police Blue’. I had some good legal minds salivating at the thought of running a defence in Court.
“What is this symbol?”
“It’s Nelson Mandela’s fist your Honour, an internationally recognised metaphor for the struggle against racist oppression.”
“And what is the colour?”
” It is Police blue your Honour.”
“And the wording?”
“It is gibberish your Honour, a misspelling, like Wanganui.”
A number of civil rights activists supported us by wearing the insignia, some as patches on the back of suits, some in T shirts, another riding his “chopper” push bike. We’d advised the Police that we were going to have a peaceful demonstration and they, and the public, turned out in numbers. There were no arrests: the corollary being that on their own a fist and the colour blue, as insignia, don’t break the law. That’s been my point all along, it’s not what you wear, it’s what you do that counts. As noted in the by-law tattoos have been explicitly excluded. We had planned to invite some of the brothers who sport patches tattooed on their back to undertake a silent protest in the city square at lunch time every Tuesday simply by stripping off their tops.
In the meantime the Tribesmen have one of their number defending a charge of wearing insignia and so the case will be tested, leaving us free to get on with more positive things. I suspect that this by-law is going to prove to be unenforceable, and I predict that if it is ever tested in a High Court it will be found to be in contravention of the Bill of Rights, just as the South Australian ‘bikie’ laws have failed at their first real test. It’s behaviours, behaviours, behaviours, that count, and there are already sufficient laws – for example ‘Unlawful Assembly – that can be used to deal with groups of troublemakers, gang members or otherwise. It’s a pity that the Police have been used as political footballs to some degree in the Whanganui situation. Whilst some coppers are over-joyed at the chance to have a crack at gang members, others, who are committed to longer term processes of community policing, see the by-law as being needlessly provocative. My team have done their best to encourage the guys in the Black Power to stay within the by-law, and to avoid wearing their patches. But I do have concerns that someone, say a gang member from Taranaki travelling through Whanganui to a tangi in Palmerston, or something like that, gets stopped by the Police under the terms of the by-law. They may not be doing anything wrong in real terms, so when the Police attempt to take their colours they may well feel unfairly put upon, and resist. Violence is likely to occur, and the next minute the Police end up playing the role of being another gang, and it could get nasty. In general terms the relationship between gangs and Police has been very good, and has meant that the Police aren’t wasting scarce resources reacting to rumours, or using intensive policing and patrols trying to settle down conflicts that invariably happen from time to time. The Maori policing group have done a fantastic job in this regard through their iwi connections. It is efficient and effective and it means heightened community safety. Why anyone would want to jeopardise that is beyond my ken.
Being over in Whanganui during this recent period has had me at the homes of the local Black Power quite a bit. Many of them live in a suburb called Gonville. It has onomatopoeia to it. Their street, near where little Jhia Te Tua was killed, is desolate. ‘For sale’ signs are everywhere. The houses back onto what was once an important estuary for the river whitebait, but, consistent with the tradition of the City’s decision makers, the indigenous values were ignored and the area was used as a tip for the detritus of settler society. The backyards feature sheds and haangi pits. Some fences have been removed to enable ease of access one property to the other. The guys loll about, bored, productively unengaged, drinking. Alcohol figures strongly in their daily routine. In the wake of the “drive-by murder” of Jhia the local Black Power families organised waananga, and, using tikanga-based processes, underwent a period of reflection and self evaluation. They came to the realisation that they had been, and still were, ‘poor parents’. This should not be confused with them seeing themselves as parents who are not ‘loving’ because they do love their children very much. Rather, this is an acknowledgment of the absence of knowledge, the “what to do” obtained by observing role models, and the “how to do it” gained through training and practice. They decided they wanted to undertake parenting courses. The late Black Power brother “Fluff” steered a project to do just that, completing the groundwork for a purpose-formed Charitable Trust, and establishing a relationship with a school as a base, and with a Maori health-provider as partners in programme and management.
The idea was that parents would go through a standards-based childcare course, earning useful qualifications as well as gaining practical skills and learning about theoretical models. It was to no avail. Despite some words of encouragement about the project from a senior Cabinet Minister the local burghers, and both local and national decision makers in Government Departments, wouldn’t entertain the possibility. It was seen to be too risky politically, and, in any case, Peter Hughes, the CE of the Ministry of Social Development has long maintained a policy of ‘we will not deal with gangs’ (i.e. ‘positively’). I believe that this is an abrogation of responsibility, just as it is complicit with the perpetuation of the big, and growing, criminal justice business based around the people we hold to be ‘gang members’. New Zealanders currently have a ready desire to punish: we are reluctant to uplift. We will send kids to boot camps, but won’t allow them to join the army because of their prior offending. In the case of the Whanganui BP, the public sector mandarins wouldn’t enable a large group within a marginalised community to engage in a transformative process as regards improving their parenting. But, now, wait for it, the Government has just introduced a scheme whereby the parents of violent or misbehaving children will be sent on courses lasting between 12 and 20 weeks, involving parenting skills. Hell, I mean, this may well be a good idea, but why will we only deliver it as a corrective injunction rather than respond to it as a self identified opportunity to engage in pro-social change and parenting skills development? Who’s being nanny-state now?
The National-led Coalition Govt says it has set its sights on providing better public services, and focussing on education and skills. They intend to put effort into connecting job-seekers with new opportunities, up skilling them, and keeping them connected to the workforce. I commend them for it. Those aged 18–24 are the fastest growing age group on the Unemployment Benefit, comprising 1/3 of all those registered. Their numbers have quadrupled in the past year. The Govt says it wants to strengthen the ‘ladder of opportunity’ for these young people during this period of their lives, and to provide opportunities to better themselves, whether it be through work training or education. It’s no free lunch though. The PM says that it’s up to individual young people to make the most of the opportunities they face.
“We owe them a chance and they owe us their best efforts in return”.
That all sounds fair enough to me.
True to his word John Key’s Government has introduced new programmes to assist those out of work to engage in productive and pro-social activities. Some city councils are actively facilitating these programmes, operating as an umbrella for community-based organisations to take up these programmes. Wouldn’t it be great to utilise these programmes in Whanganui to engage these aimless Black Power youth in doing useful, productive and pro-social activities. For instance they could help convert the Gonville waste lands into community orchards and recreation areas. But this is unlikely as far as the Whanganui Council is concerned. They seem only to want to suppress and oppress. New Zealand has a high rate of young children being drowned because they can’t swim. The Whanganui Council has closed the Gonville community swimming pool. To my mind these decisions betray contempt, perhaps even hate, for some sections of their community – oh come on Denis, say it, ‘the brown and poor’. The City-fathers of the present seem set on denying the possibility of human potential these groups, who they see as the ‘undeserving poor’. They refuse to support that potential to rise and flower, for the good of their whanau, their city, and for the country at large. This attitude is not confined to the burghers of Whanganui but is also evident in the talk of the champions in the major political parties overall. Imprisonment is the preferred medicine of the moment.
A few weeks back we set a new mark for counter-productivity with a record number of prisoners being locked up in New Zealand jails and Police cells (8,509). The prison muster is projected to get worse (10,000 by around 2015) simply on the basis of changed sentencing policies (gauged at being responsible for about 85% of the rise in muster) and persistently high rates of recidivism. In 2008 the Department of Corrections gave the figures of 49% of prisoners being reconvicted within 2 years of their release and 68% of parolees being reconvicted within four years of their release. It is return business, just like MacDonalds. Whilst Corrections acknowledges that recorded crime has decreased both in absolute numbers and per head of population we have witnessed a doubling of the rate of imprisonment in New Zealand over the last 20 years from 91 per 100,000 of population in 1987 to 188 per 100,000 in 2007. Corrections built 4 new prisons to cope with the increase, and it proposes to build another four over the next eight years to warehouse the continuing flow. Corrections’ budget has increased by 76.7 % over the last 10 years: currently the operating budget is nearly a billion dollars, only 6% of which it has been allocated for rehabilitation and reintegration services. So, we do not have a matter of a galloping crime rate, simply a populist desire to increasingly punish, punish, punish. It is wrong both morally and practically. It will harm our nation and in my view carries more threat to our social ecology than climate change or many of the other concerns of the moment.
Professor Tony Taylor from Victoria University describes our fixation with punishment as “misconceived, mischievous, and uninformed”. Prof Taylor says that we have a misplaced and blind faith in the severity of imprisonment as a cure for all cultural, economic, and social ills, in the face of strong evidence to the contrary. He says that confidence in the present prison system is misplaced. He reminds us of “the savagery of the Dark Ages that covers the atavistic desire for revenge, retaliation, retribution and deterrence”. Taylor says that had such measures worked over the centuries, we should long have enjoyed living in the Garden of Eden.
“Instead, they sanctioned cruelty by servants of the State that was often far worse than that committed by the designated offenders. Hearken to the words of Nietzsche: ‘Never trust those in whom the urge to punish is strong”
So, beyond the beauty of the kowhai, the madness of Spring 2009 presents us with local race laws aimed at Maori youth and a racially skewed prison muster that disproportionably features Maori, all in my view implicit expressions of institutionalised racism. Cry my beloved country. Even outside the jails Maori cop it. They are over represented as ‘victims of crime’ in the statistics provided in consecutive ‘MSD Social Reports’. So not are only Maori communities more offended against but they also suffer the impact of the disproportionate imprisonment of their members, particularly their young men, often labelled as being ‘gang members’. It becomes even more perverse in that prisons actually breed gangs and foster gang activity. If you want to read more about the relationship between gangs and prisons check out my article on the Scoop e-magazine, Werewolf.
The common denominator of people in prisons, both inmates and staff, is that they are brown and relatively poor – the majority of the staff being the brown low-waged “working poor”. In many ways the staff are as trapped as the inmates, and this does not lead to productive relationships or foster a rehabilitative environment.
“Sometimes prison staff even sense that the public link all of those behind the walls of the prison, whether prisoners or staff, as having pariah status. They become frustrated and angry that this should be the case. There are two ways of expressing this frustration. The first is by treating the prisoners in a way which emphasises that they, the staff, have a moral superiority over them. The second is by making the lives of management difficult, usually through indirect obstruction of their initiatives. The only suitable response to this defensive mentality is by giving prison staff a greater sense of professional worth and appreciation of the value of the role which they carry out on behalf of society”
Andrew Coyle: “Managing Prisons in Times of Change” address at Corrections Management Seminar May 2008 – quoted by Kim Workman
At the moment the Chief Executive of Corrections, Barry Matthews, is warning prison staff that if they don’t play ball and allow planned overcrowding (double bunking) the Government will accelerate the drive to privatise NZ prisons. The prison officers rightly point out that this will create unhappy prisons and a dangerous work environment. Already we see what may be a softening-up phase beginning to roll out. The Minister of Corrections’ has recently announced the conclusions of the “Value for Money” Review. As regards a reframing of a serious problematic it just doesn’t make the mark and presents a perverse view of what might constitute ‘value’. The Review was essentially internally focused and internally conducted. The framework was not broad enough to capture the intangibles and difficult-to-value aspects of community engagement and the re-integration of the prisoner at sentence end. True to form for Corrections – the authors of the evidently failing Integrated Offender Management System – the exercise was undertaken in a mechanistic way. The perception of value is framed by cost, and benefits are largely ignored, just as is the ROI, Return on (taxpayer) Investment. We are pumping money into the sector with decreasing positive returns. Other frameworks are required. To note Kevin Roberts’ twist on ROI we could and should consider ROI as a factor of “Return on Involvement”. We need to engage the broader community, see crime in its social context, realise that offenders are part of the social complex rather than simply being outsiders with pathologies that have to be fixed.
In earlier days when I was a senior “Public Servant’ I would often find myself working with other officials on a review of some community- based programme. At some point we would encounter a group of Treasury officials and, invariably, they would propose a pared down version of the programme. My counter was to strike up a debate about the respective nature of ‘structural models’ and of ‘organic models’ when it came to dealing with communities. I’d ask the Treasury analysts to consider the ‘social multiplier’ derived from discretionary effort, and insist that they factor in the contribution and economic value of community volunteerism, and of support ‘in kind’. I would ask, “Do you see the situation as a bicycle or as a frog?” and I’d explain: “We can deconstruct the bicycle, change the size of this and that, reconfigure it even. When assembled it will still work, better or worse, but it will work. The moment we try to do that to a frog, dissect it and pull it apart, its all over, we’ve killed it.” This frog-killing Review doesn’t even consider any community role and factors out the re-integrative role on the part of the prison staff. It continues the trend towards what prison reformist Kim Workman sums up as being the three counter – productive and systemic features of our current criminal justice industrial complex: the culture of control; the advent of managerialism; and, the lowering of professional standards.
Workman describes these in this way:
The Culture of Control
The restructuring of the public sector in the mid 1980’s contributed to the situation, by facilitating the formation of a more conservative political regime. There has been growing opposition to policies that appear to benefit the ‘undeserving poor’, cynicism about welfare, and support for more aggressive controls for an underclass that are perceived to be disorderly, drug-prone, violent and dangerous. Known as ‘the culture of control’, it also changed correctional attitudes toward released prisoners.
Prisons have become more punitive, and more security-minded. Prisoners have become less eligible for such privileges as release to work and family visits, and more likely to be described in official reports as culpable, deserving of punishment and sometimes dangerous. They are no longer clients in need of support, but risks to be carefully managed. Instead of emphasizing rehabilitative methods that enable prisoners to transform their lives, the system emphasises effective controls that minimize costs and maximizes security. In short, prisoners have become objects rather than subjects. This attitude allows prisoners to be treated less humanely – it underpins the state’s justification of such practices as double bunking, ‘container communities’, and locking down prisoners from 4.00pm until 8.00am the following day.
The Advent of Managerialism
The changes in sentencing policy over the last decade has meant that the wider criminal justice system suffered rising prison muster levels, strained resources, and the loss of public confidence. The Department of Corrections responded by emulating reform patterns found in other areas of public administration. The development of offender management systems, operational models, and computerized data processing provided for a greater measure of centralised planning and control. The management of offenders has become characterised not by commitment to relationships, but rather a technical process, best governed by people with specialist skills. The era of managerialism has arrived.
Lowering of Professional Standards
The emphasis on systems and processes, justified a view that prison officers and probation officers would no longer be required to have the same level of skills in people management, or social practise. Probation Officers in the 1980’s were expected to gain qualifications in social work, sociology, or community work. Under the present regime, probation officers are being recruited from checkout counters and taxi cab ranks.
Kim says that these features are ‘drivers of recidivism’. Just as I argued in the Werewolf article that prisons are recruitment sites for gangs the current approach being taken by Corrections may actually be setting up the circumstance conducive to recidivism by eroding the link with community and the networks that build resilience and enable the inmate’s transition back to society. That is because:
“the communities in which these offending whanau live, are the appropriate locus for change – and it is in those communities that an ideology which regards victims and offenders as demographically and morally distinct, absolutely fails”.
Workman suggests a strategy that would incorporate the following actions:
- Abandon or seriously modify the Integrated Offender Management System;
- Focus on promoting a humane prison system, and strengthening staff – prisoner relationships;
- Restrict the ‘risk needs responsivity’ model to in-prison rehabilitation, and develop a strengths based approach for prisoner reintegration;
- Engage families, whanau and the community in a prisoner reintegration programme which provides ongoing support for those prisoners who are committed to the change of social identity.
So what would happen if we treated “Value for Money” as a meaningful and real proposition? It is a critical issue for an area that consumes so many taxpayer resources. We would have to factor in the actual costs of prison, including the impacts on prisoner families, and the degradation of the prisoner’s ability to become a productive taxpaying contributor and good citizen on release. What would happen if we took a Kevin Roberts’ type ‘upside down’ look at the situation, shifted from examining the current oppositional ‘positions’ of the various players such as managers and staff, and adopted an approach based on a sustainable future? We could begin to address the “collective-best-interests” of specific communities (prison site by prison site) and then aggregate these into a practical framework for the nation at large? In my scenario the ‘players’ include the prisoners and the prisoner families and the prison staff and their families. If we insist on talking up privatisation as the answer (I don’t agree with anyone other than the State locking people up, but I can live with the rehabilitation side of the equation being provided by ‘private’ and third sector suppliers) why not have a look at one of these neo-liberal concepts, Private Public Partnerships? Consider if prisoner, prison staff and local community – including the family and relatives of the prisoner – can share the risks and enjoy the benefits of good or better behaviour?
I was proposing this idea recently and someone told me that I was talking goobledegook. I reminded him, as I remind you now, that it was the Gooks that won the Vietnam War (Have we apologised to them yet?). On that basis I’ve been reading about some of the work that New Zealand ‘community development guru’ Tim Dyce has been doing in Vietnam as regards establishment of what he calls “Pro-Poor Public-Private Partnerships”. A Pro-Poor Public-Private Partnership is provisionally defined by the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry as:
A joint project between a government authority and the private sector that allow public services to be delivered jointly with the private sector in a way that:
- ensures an effective service
- shares equitably the risks, resources and benefits, and
- creates decent work and income for micro, small and medium enterprises
Now to my mind an effective prison service, for a start, is going to house inmates humanely and safely. There is one aspect to community safety in as much as prisoners don’t break out of jail. There is another aspect in that the inmate behaves acceptably on release. One aspect of punishment is in itself the fact of being sentenced to prison. That’s the ‘retributive’ side. I think it’s generally agreed internationally that you can’t get the ‘(re)habilitative’ process kicked off whilst your institution is essentially based on a retributive stance. The notion of punishment is that it is something that is done to dissuade the subject from repeating an undesirable behaviour. Obviously our high rate of recidivism means that our current approach is failing miserably in this regard. In general terms there is a link between low education level, low employment status and criminal offending. Again – beyond the hopelessness of the ‘nothing works’ school – there is a belief that if you address those aspects, help an inmate accrue skills and qualifications and get work, the inmate is likely to have improved chances of a crime free life on return home. If the community was engaged in working in the prison and with the prisoner we would see a sharing of the risks, resources and benefits. Think perhaps of the ‘decent work’ condition as being a function of having a safer, more pleasant place to work for prison staff, and prison officers holding a higher position of respect in the community because they were part of the ‘redemption’ of loved ones. The micro, small and medium businesses aspect of the relationship might be seen to include the rehab service providers, local educators and PTE’s, suppliers of consumables and so forth. Hell, imagine the economic multiplier that would be engaged if you kicked off an approach like this at the Whanganui Prison and shared the benefits in the Whanganui community? You could start off by rewarding the workers in the Corrections industry for reducing recidivism – take the current spend and trajectory and share the savings with them, and the prisoner community, both within and without of the walls. The outside ‘share’ would be represented by community-based development programmes and reintergrative services with attached wage and programme funding. Within the walls the share for the staff would be expressed as better paid jobs, a wider range of positive interchange with the prisoners, and, consequently safer working conditions. The ‘share’ for the prisoner would be access to education and training, counselling and addiction recovery services, and steps towards employment.
Tim Dyce puts it:
“the PPP continues elements of public ownership and responsibility while integrating these with elements of private ownership and responsibility. In other words a PPP is a joint venture which requires much more intimate and serious co-operation than occurs in outsourcing or privatization. Each party brings its own set of risks, its own objectives (as to the benefits it wants), and its own resources, both financial and human (e.g. expertise and skills)”.
A joint venture with intimates and serious co-operation: now that’s partnership. Let’s get serious about crime and prisons alright, but let’s apply intelligence to our approach. Don’t be led by the nose of the populist white knights in making war on the poor and brown. Don’t cut off the nose, that natural organ that allows us to smell freedom and that provides us with an alternative source of air rather than a permanently open mouth; that wise organ that is sensitive to another form of air, the intangible sense of human presence and its potential permutations. We call it ‘nouse’. I think it is a characteristic of Kiwis, a feature of our people derived from the land. We must show some Kiwi nouse when it comes to our criminal justice industrial complex. What we are doing now is dumb. It’s wrong economically. It’s wrong in terms of the human wealth and health of the nation. It’s wrong in terms of social justice, and our international obligations around human rights. It is going to poison our society. The Justice Minister is currently putting the legal aid system under the microscope because of the gummed up Court system and accelerating costs. Damn, if we stopped the flow at the front end of the Court system that would be a start. Why start off by looking at reducing the State facilitation of legal representation for the poor? One of the factors of our current backlog are the methamphetamine cases waiting to be heard – an unanticipated outcome from our reclassification of the substance from Class B to Class A. The demand reduction effort around P that we are putting into Mokai Whanau Ora through CAYAD (with what looks to be a sustained trend downwards in use of the dreaded, despite a spike a few months back) is an example of ‘negative’ spend being redeployed in a positive and sustainable way. We’ve got to reframe and counter talkback shock-jock policies. We need leaders prepared to lead: to walk not just talk. The unchecked populism currently at play in New Zealand politics degrades both democracy and the potential of the partnership implicit in the Treaty of Waitangi. As Sir Keith Holyoake used to advise new Parliamentarians, “It’s time to breathe through the nose”.