Hon MITA RIRINUI (Labour)
: Prior to the lunch break, as you said, Mr Speaker, we were debating the Corrections Amendment Bill (No 2), and I had touched on a range of issues that I had experienced as a former probation officer, and as a former Associate Minister of Corrections. The fact that the Attorney-General felt it necessary to plagiarise the speech of the previous Minister of Corrections—now the Leader of the Opposition, the Hon Phil Goff—tells me that National is in full support of this bill.
I was about to mention, prior to the lunch break, that in my capacity as Associate Minister I had the opportunity to visit a number of prisons around the country—in particular, the
Māori focus units, in which previous Ministers from the previous Labour-led Government had considerable input, in terms of the units’ design and resourcing. I understand, and I read on a number of occasions, that the former shadow spokesperson on corrections, and now the Minister of Justice, the Hon Simon Power, visited a number of these institutions, and had a considerable amount of comment to make on the way they were structured and run. By and large, the comments were quite positive. I think that we in this House need to understand that our corrections staff work very hard, as has been mentioned in the debate this afternoon, yet get very little support from the wider community, because there is little understanding of the nature and extent of their responsibilities. In previous years, also, I have seen very little support from a number of political parties, particularly during debates. The work in prisons of these public servants is quite difficult, and is carried out under the worst conditions, yet they seem to manage to control the way in which prisons and penal institutions are run on a daily basis for the sake of public safety.
I make mention of the bill that is coming before us, with its need to block the use of cellphones within prisons—[Interruption]—and Parliament! On a number of occasions I have sat down with corrections staff and inmates, and I can tell members that it is amazing to hear of the level of intimidation that staff and inmates are subject to, as a result of the use of cellphones. Their families are intimidated and the wider
communities are intimidated, but no one outside the institutions is aware of this, apart from corrections staff. So I think this bill is a major step towards overcoming the problem. We also find that Maori focus units become a place where inmates tend to draw to, for their own safety, and to be free of intimidation so that their families are not subject to threats any more. I think it is for that reason that former Ministers of Corrections have put a lot of energy into the development of Maori focus units.
I am aware that the co-leader of the
Māori Party, now the Minister of
Māori Affairs— albeit outside Cabinet—has been one of those who have committed a lot of energy to the establishment of the Maori focus units. So I think there is value in having the units remain, although their staff have been subject to considerable political bombardment and scrutiny. That is OK; as public servants they need to expect that. But by and large the units do a very good job, and the safety level for inmates within the institutions has increased because they have found, within the institution, a place where they can feel safe. The Maori focus units have provided that safety for them. I am sure that the member for Whanganui will support me on that, given that he has had some experience in that particular field. But it needs to be appreciated that these people work very hard and get very little support externally.
I am glad that the Minister of Justice is in support of this bill, and I also hope that the new Minister of Corrections will visit some of these institutions, to get some insight into how they are run on a daily basis. I have no more to add to this part of the debate. Thank you. Kia ora
CHESTER BORROWS (National—Whanganui)
: It is true to say that most of the views around corrections policy as a whole are fairly similar, and it is not surprising, then, that the National Government would continue with this legislation that started under the Labour Government. It received good discussion at the Law and Order Committee’s deliberation, and a bit of polish was put on it there. I am pleased to see that there is wide-ranging support for it across the House.
Some of the initiatives in the bill are those taking advantage of technology, and it is no surprise that gradually prisoners start expanding and gaining more and more latitude from advances in technology. Considering the size of a cellphone and where one can be jammed, it is no surprise, then, that we are finding more and more cellphones within our prisons. We know for instance that one prisoner may be smuggling one particular small cellphone into a prison, but several others need only a SIM card these days, so wide access is gained, and it is good to be able to see that the ability to jam cellphone calls will be something that will be initiated pursuant to this piece of legislation.
We have to admit that the comments made by ACT member David Garrett, and comparing us to other countries, I think, really just underline the fact that New Zealanders are pretty innovative. Even our criminals are innovative, and they get away with stuff because they are sneaky and bad. But they are not so sneaky that they do not get caught and end up in jail. But it is no surprise, then, that they push those boundaries, so we need tighter and tighter legislation, at a time when prisoners are receiving—via human rights legislation and the New Zealand Bill of Rights legislation—more and more freedoms. So there will be stricter control.
I take issue with comments made by the Green Party, as far as the lack of a need to fully scan prisoners’ mail. I think that most people around the country would agree that in these times there is more of a need to keep a scrutiny on that. It has, right up until now, anyway, or until the implementation of this legislation, been far easier than it has ever been before for prisoners to have communication with the outside world.
We have been challenged by members opposite as to what steps the National Government will take to bring down the prison population. I guess, just to give one indication, that an often-quoted statistic is the 83 percent of prisoners who have drug
and alcohol dependency problems. Yet, under the regime that was run by the previous Government, prisoners could not get any rehabilitation schemes if they were in prison for less than 2 years, unless they were provided by the non-governmental organisation sector, which is where a call came from me when I was in Opposition—
Hon Phil Goff: Oh, that’s just nonsense. We increased the places from 40 to 500—more than tenfold; a tenfold increase in rehab places. The member doesn’t know what he is talking about.
CHESTER BORROWS: In the first 2 years. We had people who had serious drug and alcohol problems, but who were unable to receive any sort of help with those problems if they had been sentenced to less than 2 years, or until they had completed at least two-thirds of their sentence, and that was a real problem. Under the Auckland Central Remand Prison—run by a private company, of course—people on remand were able to obtain and receive benefit from rehabilitative programmes that were run there. But of course, they were not available on remand once that prison was taken over by the State sector.
So we look forward to seeing an expanding role for rehabilitation services inside prisons. My own local example, of course, was that under a National Government a shoe factory was put into Kaitoke prison. It had good success in rehabilitating prisoners. Prison officers told us anecdotally, because strict records were not kept, that those prisoners who were working inside that shoe factory never returned to prison. They may have gone to some other prison, but Kaitoke prison was a local prison and one would expect them to go back to that. They never saw anyone who had been through that shoe factory come back into prison, and, of course, that prison was closed under a Labour Government because it was not making a profit—a terrible shame.
So we look forward to seeing the passage of this bill, with the support of almost the whole House, and an acceptance that corrections matters are largely apolitical, apart from the odd little point scored from time to time.