Hansard and Journals
Corrections Amendment Bill — First Reading
[Sitting date: 28 February 2012. Volume:677;Page:617. Text is incorporated into the Bound Volume.]
Corrections Amendment Bill
Hon ANNE TOLLEY (Minister of Corrections) : I move, That the Corrections Amendment Bill be now read a first time. I nominate that the bill be referred to the Law and Order Committee. I would like to acknowledge at the outset the work of my predecessor, the Hon Judith Collins, in developing and introducing this bill.
The statutory purpose of the corrections system is to improve public safety and contribute to the maintenance of a just society. To achieve this, custodial sentences and orders must be administered in a safe, secure, humane, and effective manner. Overall, the legislation governing the administration of the corrections system is working well. However, some provisions have been identified as barriers to effectiveness and efficiency in the management of prisons, and the Corrections Amendment Bill has been introduced to remove such barriers.
The bill builds on a number of initiatives already put in place by this Government over the last 3 years. In the previous term this Government passed legislation to allow for prisons to be managed under contract to the Department of Corrections. This is expected to facilitate innovative and cost-effective practice in contract prisons and in the prison system as a whole. Prison security has been upgraded, which has led to decreases both in escape rates and in the number of prisoners testing positive for drugs and alcohol. Rehabilitation programmes in prisons have been improved, and the number of prisoners going through drug treatment units has doubled to ensure that prisoners with drug and alcohol problems address the causes of their offending.
Drug and alcohol use in prisons has already reduced significantly during recent years. When testing was introduced in 1997-98, 36 percent of prisoners tested positive for drugs—36 percent. In the year to date that figure has reduced to just 5 percent. However, we believe there are still too many prisoners using these substances. The amendments in this bill will help reduce the use of drugs and alcohol even further. Currently some prisoners water-load, which means they drink a lot of water to intentionally dilute their urine samples. This bill makes it a disciplinary offence to consume, administer, or supply any substance with the intent of diluting any sample and therefore avoiding detection.
I have also taken the opportunity to make the strip-searching procedure more effective. Currently some of the provisions relating to strip-searching are unclear or introduce unnecessary delays—for example, by requiring approval of a prison manager before strip-searching a prisoner reasonably believed to be in possession of an unauthorised item. The amendments in the bill will provide greater clarity and certainty as to when strip-searching must be undertaken, and on the process for doing so. This is expected to significantly improve the department’s ability to deal effectively with contraband in prisons.
Amendments in this bill will assist in achieving positive outcomes from the management of prisons under contract. Managers of contract prisons are expected to carry out all aspects of prisoner management. However, their ability to do this is constrained by the fact that the Chief Executive of the Department of Corrections cannot delegate powers and functions to the organisation that is contracted to manage a prison or to its staff. Just to give an example, the chief executive is unable to delegate two functions to the managers of contract-managed prisons that have been delegated to the managers of public prisons. These are the authority to allow the temporary removal or temporary release of a prisoner, and the power to approve private prison visitors. The changes contained in this bill will ensure that managers of all prisons, irrespective of whether they are contract or publicly managed, have the same authorities. Of course, appropriate checks and balances will be retained, including the current provision preventing the chief executive from delegating certain powers to a staff member of a prison. Importantly, delegating does not affect the chief executive’s ultimate responsibility for the actions of those acting under the delegation.
The bill will help to improve the quality of prison health services by aligning statutory responsibilities with the way the services actually operate. Current legislation places contracted part-time medical officers at the forefront in this organisation in the delivery of health care to prisoners. In reality, this key role is played by full-time health centre managers, who are registered nurses employed by prisons. The role of “health centre manager” will be recognised in law, while retaining the requirement to ensure that prisoners have treatment from medical practitioners when required.
Gaining work skills and a work ethic is an important part of preparing offenders for release back into the community. This bill will allow prisoners to gain self-employment skills—for example, in carving or other art work—and provides a transparent basis for this to happen, provided certain conditions are met. The money earned will be paid to the chief executive; some of this will be applied to the prisoner’s board and other payments, such as reparation and child support. The amendments in the bill will be supported by related amendments to the Corrections Regulations once this bill is enacted.
In conclusion, I want to ensure that front-line staff can manage prisoners without putting their own health and safety at risk, and without compromising the fair and humane treatment of prisoners. The changes in the bill will help to achieve this, and provide important support for the measures already taken by this Government to make the corrections system work more efficiently and effectively. I commend this bill to the House.
CHARLES CHAUVEL (Labour) : Could I begin by congratulating the new Minister of Corrections on her new portfolio and wishing her well in her tenure in the role. I agree with what she said about the importance of the sector. I was fortunate in my time in legal practice to have some connection with the Department of Corrections, representing it from 1994 through to 2006 in various court cases where the legality of actions of the department were challenged in various courts around the country. I had the opportunity to do that both when I was working at the Crown Law Office and in private practice, and over that time I got to see the culture changes that were going on in the Department of Corrections, from the mid-1990s—in fact, when it was still a part of the old Department of Justice—through to only 5 years ago. Those culture changes are encouraging, and I think they are ones that it is in the interests of every member of this Parliament to encourage and to support, because, as the Minister said, we do want a system that not only contains people securely where that is required but also, and much more importantly for the long term, deals effectively with habilitation and rehabilitation. Certainly that is something that I very much want the system to continue to re-gear to do, and to achieve that much more quickly than we have been able to see so far.
The legislation before us, the Corrections Amendment Bill, is something of a mixed bag, and the proof of that is the fact that there are five different regulatory impact statements on the legislation because there have been five different Cabinet papers leading to the legislation that we are considering today. There are some sensible measures in the bill. The provision that will deal, for example, with the self-employment of prisoners is one that it would be very difficult for anybody to argue with. That should be put on a secure footing. The whole inmate employment scheme has been a success, and it is one that, again, receives support from this side of the House.
But there are provisions in the legislation that are of concern. The Minister, in her speech, mentioned the provision of health services in our prisons. She said that there would be some changes made to the way in which those services are provided. Well, the problem that Labour members have with the provisions in the bill concerning health services is that they seem to run quite counter to the recommendations of a very recent report of the Office of the Ombudsmen on the provision of health services in prisons. In the Investigation of the Department of Corrections in relation to the Provision, Access and Availability of Prisoner Health Services the Ombudsmen said that taxpayers would actually get much better value for money if prison health services were delivered by an external health agency, under the aegis, for example, of the local district health board, rather than by the Department of Corrections itself. But this legislation puts the responsibility for the provision of health services on to employees of the Department of Corrections, rather than on to medical officers—that is, in exactly the opposite direction to the move proposed by the Ombudsmen. So Labour members, accepting that the Government is likely to have the support needed to send this legislation to a select committee, will want to have a look at that provision with particular care and detail at the select committee.
Another provision that is of concern relates to the restraint of inmates in mechanical restraints. At the moment the law says that a visiting justice has to approve keeping an inmate in restraints for more than 24 hours. That provision would go under this legislation, as I read it, and there would be a provision allowing a medical officer in the prison to certify that for reasons to prevent self-harm, for example, an inmate could be kept in mechanical restraints for longer than 24 hours. Again, at the select committee I think it will be very important to ensure that there are sufficient safeguards in respect of that provision.
Back on the issue of medical services in prisons, the bill removes the requirement that there be a medical officer appointed to each prison, and the replacement provision reads that there should simply be “a sufficient number of medical officers to meet prisoners’ needs for medical care and medical treatment.” I would be concerned if at a smaller prison like New Plymouth, for example, the effect of that was that a medical officer would not have to be actually resident or based in that location, but able to serve in Whanganui, for example, and act at a distance. I think, again, it is the sort of thing that the select committee will want to take a good, long, hard look at.
There were, as I say, other provisions that caused some concern to members on this side of the House. The Minister mentioned in her speech increased powers relating to strip-searches.
- Sitting suspended from 6 p.m. to 7.30 p.m.
CHARLES CHAUVEL: When I was speaking before the dinner break, I was making the point that under the bill there are increased powers in respect of the use of strip-searches, searches of prison cells, opening inmates’ mail, and submitting to drug and alcohol tests. I was making the point that Labour members will want to be assured at the select committee, should the matter get to that phase, that there are sufficient safeguards in regard to those powers, because, as we know, necessary powers may be conferred but there always have to be adequate protections when they are in existence. It is particularly important to make this point because the regulatory impact statement notes that permitting mandatory strip-searches is likely to result in only a small increase in such searches. The Ministry of Māori Development objected to the proposal’s inclusion, because it felt there was not a compelling case for the change. Indeed, the Minister conceded in her speech that there was unlikely to be much of a call on this power. She noted that there had actually been a decrease in drug and alcohol use in prisons, so it is going to be incumbent on the Government to justify those provisions.
I said earlier in my speech that this bill contained a mix of some reasonable provisions, some questionable provisions, and one or two provisions that we had major problems with. The one or two provisions that I want to deal with in conclusion are those provisions. Labour does not believe that core State responsibilities currently discharged only by the chief executive of the department and his staff should be delegated to contractors and their staff operating private prisons. This is especially the case when it comes to core State functions such as deciding to change the security classification of an inmate, or the temporary removal or release of inmates from prisons. Those powers—the power to decide whether a person is minimum security, maximum security, or otherwise, and whether he or she should be able to get out of jail for a period of time—are powers that are fundamentally appropriate to be exercised by the State through an employee of the State, the Chief Executive of the Department of Corrections, subject to all the accountabilities that we know of—accountable to the Minister, who is accountable to this House; accountable to the State Services Commissioner when something goes wrong, instead of to the as yet untested accountabilities that apply when the private sector is conducting powers and functions under this Act.
This is the power that really concerns me. Extending the ability of a State sector employee to grant delegations outside the State sector is virtually unprecedented in our law. This is the first time that I can think of where there is a legal context where it is proposed to do that. Where it is being done without the protections that I described—and without the Official Information Act, without the oversight of the watchdogs that apply to the Department of Corrections—then we should be very concerned, indeed.
Labour believes, and has always believed, that the running of our prisons, the responsibility for that, lies with the State, because corrections is one of the core functions of Government. The Government has a moral and a fiscal responsibility to taxpayers to rehabilitate prisoners, because the safety of the community depends on it. It is inappropriate, fundamentally, to delegate this responsibility to an entity that is driven by profit, and that therefore benefits from an increase in the prison population. For goodness’ sake, if we have learnt nothing else from the Californian experience—and it would appear that we have not learnt much, given that we passed a three-strikes law in the last Parliament—we should have learnt at least that. The proposal to delegate powers that should remain with the State, especially without safeguards around the delegations, is the chief reason why the Labour Party will be opposing this amendment bill.
Chris Hipkins: This’ll be good!
JACQUI DEAN: This will be good, because I will start off with the context of the Corrections Amendment Bill. The context of it is that since National came into Government, prison performance is improving. I think that is something that is to the credit of the previous Minister of Corrections, Judith Collins, and now following on very strongly with the current Minister, Anne Tolley, who is the Minister in charge of this bill.
I think it is worth perhaps rehearsing that public confidence in the corrections system—that is, how the people, our people, feel about the corrections system—is 53 percent higher than it was under the Labour Government. Public perception of how the corrections system is performing has increased by 53 percent. It is also worth noting that positive random drug-tests of prisoners are at their lowest. Again, that is under the stewardship of a National Government.
Interestingly, also, because prisons under this Government are not just about punishment but about turning prisoners’ lives round and providing them with opportunities for when they get back into society, it is really heartening to see that prisoners achieved 108,000 New Zealand Qualification Authority credits in literacy and numeracy in the year 2010-11. That is fantastic news, and that is the kind of work that the National Government is doing for our prison population in New Zealand.
Furthermore, prisoner escapes are at their lowest ever. That is a figure that is a reflection of the high regard that successive Ministers under the National Government have held corrections staff. It has made a difference. This Government backs corrections staff and it is making a difference in how they perform their duties. They feel valued and their work is being reflected in these statistics.
This bill is intended to reduce some of those barriers to effectiveness and also to efficiency in prisons. The previous speaker, Charles Chauvel, made a couple of points, and I just want to perhaps have a look at some of those issues that were raised by the previous Labour speaker. The first one is about new section 19A on health centre managers—if that member has looked at the bill yet. What it says is that for every prison the chief executive must appoint under the State Sector Act a health centre manager. In practice, that health centre manager will be a registered medical practitioner or a nurse. I am guessing that mostly it will be a nurse.
When I visited Milton prison perhaps 18 months ago, I met with that nurse, because I was interested in the treatment of a particular prisoner. It was very interesting to go into that unit at Milton prison to see that that nurse had an ongoing relationship with not only the prisoner I was interested in but also the general prison population. I think this new section strengthens the standing of the health centre manager within our prison service. I see that as a good thing.
The other thing, if the member cares to have a look at new section 20 on prison officers, is that for every prison there must be a sufficient number of medical officers to meet prisoners’ needs for medical care and medical treatment, and that, of course, each medical officer must be a medical practitioner. In the case of the prisoner whom I was approached by and whom I was interested in, what happened was that there was an episode of abdominal pain lasting over a couple of days. That prisoner was checked on by the medical staff on a regular basis, taken into the health centre and then, when it was judged that maybe it was appendicitis, that prisoner was taken off and put into the hands of the district health board. It had a happy ending: the prisoner was well cared for and he was secure at all times. I happen to think that the provisions in this bill will not only strengthen that procedure but also make it a whole lot easier, both for the prisoner and for the prison staff.
I also want that member on the other side of the House to have a look at clause 25, regarding the restraint of prisoners. If that member had read that clause carefully, he probably would have seen that there are a number of safeguards written into this bill. In fact, they will improve the safeguards on behalf of the prisoner, not just on behalf of the prison service. They will actually safeguard the interests of the prisoner.
So what it says, for the benefit of the members opposite, who probably have not looked at this clause, is: “A prison manager may authorise the use of a mechanical restraint on a prisoner for more than 24 hours only if, in the opinion of a medical officer,”—and I think that is the key point in here; the opinion of a medical officer—“continued restraint is necessary to protect the prisoner from self-harm.” This is not a punitive clause; this is to protect a prisoner from self-harm.
I had to think about this a little bit, because I heard the objection coming across from the other side of the House. I had to think: “Where is the problem?”. I do not see the problem, because I think this is a clause that is there to protect prisoners from self-harm.
I think you have to recall what happened previously. Previously, under the current Act, in those circumstances the prison manager had to go outside the prison to a justice. The decision about whether a prisoner was mechanically restrained was a legal decision, and now under this bill the decision will be a medical decision. To me, that is quite smart thinking.
The next thing you may well be thinking about is where the safeguards are. Well, the safeguards are still in clause 25, but if you have a look at new section 87(5A), you will see those safeguards are that an authorisation by the medical officer needs to “(a) be in writing; and (b) specify the type of restraint to be used; and (c) specify the time during which the prisoner is to be kept under restraint; and (d) include a record of the medical officer’s opinion that the restraint is necessary to protect the prisoner from self-harm.”
So, yes, let us have a look at these two clauses in the select committee process, let us call for submissions on these two and many other clauses in this bill, and let us have a good look at them. But on the surface of it and on the first reading of it—and I will be giving this due consideration, as will we all in the Law and Order Committee, and as will my colleagues from throughout the House—I think that perhaps the member’s misgivings are a little bit unfounded.
I want to move to one of the clauses in the bill with regard to strip-searches. We all know that contraband and drugs are a problem in prison, albeit that under this National Government that problem is—
Hon Anne Tolley: Much less.
JACQUI DEAN: —much less, and we are getting it under control, but it too is addressed in this legislation. I will have to flick through the bill, because I am relatively new to it myself, but strip-searches—[Interruption]—gosh, is that really 8 minutes?—are defined in clause 26 in the bill.
Chris Hipkins: Feels like longer.
JACQUI DEAN: You want more?
Hon Members: No!
JACQUI DEAN: Oh yes, you do. The members do, I beg your pardon.
The previous speaker referred to the regulatory impact statement. I think it is worth having a look on page 4 and noting that “the legislation will continue to require that the details of ‘reasonable grounds’ strip searches must be promptly reported to the prison manager … who must ensure that a record of that report is made and kept …”.
So they are pertinent questions to be raised in this House by other members, and I can assure the House and the Minister that the Law and Order Committee will give these and all the other issues contained in this bill serious consideration. I commend the bill to the House.
KRIS FAAFOI (Labour—Mana) : Taloha ni, Mr Assistant Speaker Robertson, and thank you for the opportunity to speak on the Corrections Amendment Bill in its first reading. It is a bill that we on this side of the House will be opposing on the principle that we disagree that private prisons should operate here in New Zealand. Our thoughts are that it is the role of the State to incarcerate and to rehabilitate. We do, though, believe that this bill will make its way to the Law and Order Committee, and we welcome the opportunity to look at some of the measures that are contained in this bill and that we think are not as negative as having private prisons in New Zealand. That is what I do want to spend most of my time on: the question of who imprisons—whether it should be the State or a private firm. Charles Chauvel, the previous speaker from the Labour side of the House, has made many, many points as to why we are opposed.
The first one that I would like to bring in is that I do not think that in a society like New Zealand we should be having companies that operate prisons making profits out of incarcerating people who are charged by the State, who are tried by the State, and who are sentenced by the State, and then at the final point in the justice system, where they are sent to jail, all of a sudden they can find themselves in a prison that is not operated by the State. This legislation will actually give private firms that run some of our prisons more power to determine what kind of security level the prisoners are at. As Charles Chauvel said, we believe that that function, which is with the Chief Executive of the Department of Corrections, should not be delegated to anyone other than someone who has a very close link to the Department of Corrections via the chief executive. We do not think that someone who is a paid professional and who has the motivation of making a profit should be able to deem who is a minimum-security prisoner or who is a maximum-security prisoner.
I actually visited a couple of private prisons in Australia when this issue was being looked at in the early 2000s, as part of my role as a journalist. When we spoke to some prisoners who had spent some time in both a State-run prison and a private prison we heard that they had noticed marked differences between State-run and privately run prisons in terms of the rehabilitation programmes that were run. I believe that it is our duty to the community to make sure that we are having decent rehabilitation programmes within our prisons, to ensure that these prisoners are not reoffending when they are eventually released.
There are also a number of other measures in this bill that we will take a close look at. One of those is around the provision of health services to inmates. We note that an Ombudsman report released earlier this month noted that the onus of the provision of health services should be moved away from the Department of Corrections and on to a health agency. That is from our Ombudsman, but within this bill exactly the opposite is happening. It is putting the responsibility for the provision of health care fairly and squarely on the Department of Corrections. As Charles Chauvel said, during the select committee process that we anticipate we will be having a very close look at why the Government is heading in completely the opposite direction around the provision of health care services.
The previous member of the Government who spoke on this bill, Jacqui Dean, mentioned the extension of the powers around 24-hour restraints. We will also look forward to debating that fully at the select committee stage. She mentioned a couple of measures within the bill that she said negated our criticism of this move, but we still think we need to have a good look at the reasons why prisons will no longer need a justice to come and take a look at the situation if the Department of Corrections wants to extend the use of mechanical restraints beyond 24 hours. We think that that was a reasonably common-sense safeguard prior to this bill coming into the House, so we will be looking forward to being able to debate it at the select committee, which of course is chaired by the member who spoke previously.
There are also increased powers under this bill in respect of the use of strip-searches, searches of prison cells, the opening of mail, and submitting to drug and alcohol tests, and Labour wants to be assured that the safeguards exist in respect of these powers, especially in privately run prisons. If we are extending some delegations from the chief executive in one area, we want to make sure there are safeguards in this area, where we are extending the power of officers in our prisons, and that there are sufficient safeguards when they are being given more powers in respect of strip-searches, searches of prison cells, opening mail, and submitting to drug tests.
Back to the first argument I made, and the question of who is responsible for prisons in New Zealand: I am not sure of any polling that has been done, but I would think that most people would think that if citizens are charged, prosecuted, and sentenced by the State, it is the State that has the responsibility to carry out the incarceration and the rehabilitation of those prisoners. We do not feel that it is the role of private business to come into this sector and to look to make a profit out of those who have committed crimes in our community. We also think that because of the profit-making motivation of these private companies, it can actually end up with perverse outcomes. Charles Chauvel talked about the Californian experience previously, where there were cases of judges sending people to prison on the understanding that they would get money because of the higher incarceration rates. We do not think that we here in New Zealand should open ourselves up to that kind of thing. I am not casting aspersions on the judiciary but it does open up the potential for perverse outcomes, when you are looking at making profits out of our prison system.
There are also a number of things in this bill that we think do merit some further investigation at select committee, but we also think that in this case maybe it is another case of legislation from this Government that is not practical. I know that Jacqui Dean released some figures that around 53 percent of people perceive that the Department of Corrections is operating much better under a National Government. But we do believe that this may be another case of where it is actually not practical, in terms of what this bill is trying to achieve. The National Party is using this more as a plaything in terms of law and order to make sure it is looking tough on law and order issues—looking tough but not actually taking real action. We believe that if we are going to try to look tough on law and order, then trying to do that by opening up more and more operational activities to private companies in the prison sector is not the way to go about it.
So we will oppose this bill, on the principle that we do not believe that it is the right thing here in New Zealand, in our society, for private prisons to operate, firstly, because we do not believe it is the role of private companies to incarcerate—we believe it is the role of the State—and, secondly, because we do not believe it is right and proper that companies make a profit from the incarceration of New Zealanders. It is our responsibility as a State to rehabilitate inmates, and as I mentioned earlier, in my experience with the Australian prisons the rehabilitation aspects of the private prisons that operate over there were probably not as beneficial to the inmates as they were in the State prison system. We will oppose this bill on the principle of our opposition to private prisons, but we will look forward to some further investigation of some of the other measures contained in the bill at the select committee.
DAVID CLENDON (Green) : Tēnā koe, Mr Assistant Speaker Robertson. This Corrections Amendment Bill is another in a long string of corrections bills that we have seen from this Government. The last term saw a number of corrections bills move through the legislative process and pass into law that were extremely unhelpful in terms of reducing crime, reducing recidivism, making our communities safer, and reducing the economic and social costs of crime. We saw, for example, the three-strikes legislation, and the introduction of private prison management—
Hon David Parker: From Mr Garrett.
DAVID CLENDON: —from our departed friend Mr Garrett. We saw the gratuitous removal of prisoners’ right to vote. We saw the double-bunking, and the conversion of shipping containers into accommodation for two prisoners at a time. All of these measures revealed a Government apparently in thrall to the very vocal, but equally misguided, minority in this country who believe that somehow we will achieve our objectives through longer and tougher sentences.
All the evidence and the research tell us that most New Zealanders understand very well that that is not the route to a safer community. New Zealanders are much less interested in punishment for its own sake. New Zealanders want to see policies and practices that will reduce the social and financial costs of crime, and that will make people feel safer in their communities. We know that all but a handful of the most serious offenders will ultimately be released back into society. We want to see those people fit to re-enter society, with a positive contribution to make and an attitude that will enable them to break out of that cycle of offending and reoffending.
Any hope that a new term of Parliament and indeed a new Minister of Corrections might perhaps see a somewhat more enlightened and progressive approach to corrections would seem to be dashed by this bill, which again does reflect a particularly unpleasant, punitive approach to the whole question of corrections. The stated aim of this bill is to remove “barriers to managing prisons in a manner that is safe, secure, humane, effective, and efficient.” I would argue that there are provisions in this bill that almost guarantee that we will fail in achieving any of those objectives. We will not achieve one single one of those, given what is concealed in this bill. To the contrary, this bill takes away from inmates some very basic human rights, such as protection from abuse. It provides prison officers, perversely, with an incentive to step outside good professional conduct. It makes them more vulnerable to accusations of misconduct. It provides incentives for prison managers, and in particular the private sector managers, to reduce prisoners’ eligibility for, and therefore access to, rehabilitation and reintegration programmes. Again, this is at odds with our stated objectives.
It is difficult to see any redeeming feature in this bill. We see it as requiring a complete rewrite. We do not think a simple amendment would be sufficient, and for those reasons we will not be supporting the bill’s progress to the select committee.
The bill makes significant changes to the provision of health services in prisons, in a way that seems more driven by issues of cost savings and convenience than a genuine concern for the well-being and health of prisoners. It is well known that prison inmates typically come with very high health needs. Due to lifestyle, environmental factors—a host of reasons—prisoners are susceptible to illness, and their health status generally is below that of the general population. This was very well encompassed in the report from the Ombudsman that we have heard referred to already, which came out just a week or so ago. To be fair, there is an acknowledgment in that report that prisoners currently have reasonable access to health services. It also points, however, to some significant shortcomings in health care, and warns us that “in future the service may not be able to effectively meet the healthcare needs of the diverse prison population.” That is a red light. That is a warning bell from the Ombudsman—a disinterested, objective observer—telling us we need to address health-care issues in prisons. Unfortunately, this bill does that, but it does it in a way that to our mind actually takes us some steps backwards, rather than moving forward.
The bill seeks to downgrade the service—the status of the service, if you like—by taking overall responsibility for health services away from medical officers—in other words, medical practitioners—and instead delegating it to health centre managers, who may be nurses directly employed by the Department of Corrections, or in some cases contractors in the case of private prisons. This runs absolutely at odds with the recommendation of the Ombudsman, who says “Health Services … should be funded and delivered by an agency whose primary focus is health and therapeutic support, not custodial.” That reflects and echoes the recommendation of a report from 2010 of the National Health Committee, entitled Health in Justice, which again advocated very strongly for putting health services into the hands of an external agency, not leaving them in the care of the Department of Corrections. We would not put the department in charge of health; nor would we put the Ministry of Health in charge of custodial practices. Why would you do that?
The current legislation states quite clearly that there must be at least one medical officer—that is, a qualified medical practitioner—in every prison. This new bill, in new section 20, set out in clause 8, says that “For every prison … there must be a sufficient number of medical officers to meet prisoners’ needs for medical care and medical treatment.” The obvious inference from that is they may number less than one, and that may be deemed to be sufficient. Are we suggesting a part-time medical officer; someone with responsibility for a number of prisons? Are we suggesting a person less well qualified than a medical practitioner to look after the significant health needs of often quite large numbers of inmates? That is a very subtle but a very dangerous provision, we believe. A minimum of one is being reduced to this very vague, ill-defined, amorphous notion of sufficiency. Again, this would point to a cost-cutting approach. We know, and experience has told us repeatedly, that short-term cost cuts in health care, be it in prisons or anywhere else, inevitably lead to longer-term social and indeed economic costs further down the track.
Again in the general area of prisoner health, currently prisoners have a minimum entitlement to 1 hour of exercise every day, ideally taken outside if weather permits. This bill takes away that minimum provision—that minimum entitlement to 1 hour of exercise. In the event that a prisoner is outside the prison, particularly through the normal working day, if you like—8 to 5—the prisoner can be denied access to exercise if, for example, he or she is being transported that day, or if he or she is in court for a hearing for whatever it might be. There seems to be no limit on the number of times the denial of this minimal entitlement can be applied. Conceivably, a prisoner who is in court for a number of days could go several days without physical exercise. Those of us who, in a different way, are imprisoned in this House on occasion know very well the value of exercise to people. Lack of exercise for prisoners could lead not only to less than ideal health but also, certainly, their attitude, their mental well-being, can be negatively impacted by that denial of that basic minimum entitlement to 1 hour’s exercise.
We note also with some concern that a health centre manager may now prescribe a special diet for a prisoner. Currently, it is only a medical officer who may prescribe a special diet. Again, these are all examples where the prisoner’s well-being is being just slightly nibbled away, nibbled away, and the net result, the cumulative result, could be quite serious in terms of prisoner health and well-being and the general safety not only of the inmates but also of the staff and people in those prisons.
There is the issue of the right of a prisoner to appeal their security classification. Currently, that will be determined by the chief executive, a very high-ranking public servant directly answerable to the Minister. It will now be possible for a person employed by a contractor to be in the role of making that call as to the security classification of a prisoner. Charles Chauvel has outlined the constitutional concern around that. A much more practical concern, equally, would be that the private providers, in particular, will be motivated towards assigning a higher, rather than a lower, classification, for reasons of cost saving. They are more secure if the prisoner has a higher classification. The likelihood of them suffering the fate of Serco recently—a $150,000 fine for allowing a prisoner to escape—would be reduced. The eligibility of prisoners for programmes such as te Whare Ōranga Ake would be removed if they have not got the minimum classification. This is an absolute motivation and incentive not to take a very small risk of giving those prisoners the classification that allows them access to these programmes, which give them a much better likelihood of success in the community. Thank you.
JONATHAN YOUNG (National—New Plymouth) : I am very pleased to stand and speak on the Corrections Amendment Bill, which contains 50 legislative amendments that are aimed to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of our corrections system. I am very pleased to hear my colleague speak about the advancement and the improvement of the corrections system under this National-led Government. We know that in February 2009, just months after the change of Government, following 9 years of the previous administration, the Auditor-General published an independent performance audit report: “The report concluded that the cumulative effect of the levels of non-compliance with Department of Corrections’ … procedures undermined the Department’s ability to protect the public.” We have seen over these last 3 years many, many improvements in its compliance and in what it has done to protect New Zealanders, so much so that positive random drug-tests of prisoners are at their lowest, as my colleague said.
Public confidence has increased by 53 percent—it is not at 53 percent, but it has increased by 53 percent. Prisoners have achieved 108,000 New Zealand Qualifications Authority credits in literacy and numeracy. So there are many programmes being undertaken in our corrections facilities that are bringing some very positive changes to the prisoners’ lives and also to the safety of those who are instructed to run those facilities.
We all know that the vast majority of inmates who are in prison will one day re-enter society, and it is a challenging goal to assist prisoners to re-enter society successfully. It is true that this can be quite a challenge if a prisoner has a drug habit or is an alcoholic. These addictions contribute significantly to the mental health issues that many prisoners have. Therefore, having laws and regulations that effectively assist corrections officers to detect drug taking is incredibly important for the physical and mental well-being of the prisoner, for the safety of corrections staff, and for the improved ability for a prisoner to be able to reintegrate into society once they are released. Prisoners who become free from drug and alcohol dependency, and all that that fosters in their lives, will be less violent in the society that they re-enter.
So overall, the current legislation provides a sound framework for our corrections system, but there are some amendments in this amendment bill that are going to bring further tools. For example, it is going to make it an offence for prisoners to water-load before drug testing. For those who may not know what that means, simply, it is the extensive intake of fluids to dilute a prisoner’s urine prior to taking a drug test. That will become an offence, and when prison officers do this drug test, they will be able to detect drug taking. Once drug taking is detected, they can then put in programmes to help that prisoner come off dependency. That is a very important aspect of the prisoner’s rehabilitation process.
Another aspect of this amendment bill is that it will allow prisoners to work—in a sense, be self-employed—in a prison facility. At the moment there are currently no provisions in the Corrections Act that expressly provide for prisoners to be self-employed in prison or that allow deductions to be made from moneys earned by a prisoner from self-employment while they are in prison. Apart from reducing the cost to the taxpayer by having a prisoner contribute to his or her board, and also contribute to reparation or childcare, these savings are important for the taxpayer—we know there is an incredible, ballooning cost to the Department of Corrections—but it is also important because it is starting to bring in the responsibility of a prisoner to contribute to the aspects of his or her life and the consequences of what he or she has done, whether that be by paying reparation or childcare.
We live in a society where skills are essential. Low skills equals low income, and getting an education and skills training is imperative for people to become socially mobile. As I said before, prisoners achieved 108,000 New Zealand Qualifications Authority credits in literacy and numeracy in 2010-11. There is a very strong programme to lift educational skills in our prisoner population. Added to skills building, developing a strong work ethic is an integral part of building a positive self-esteem that, once again, works towards a successful reintegration. So there are many aspects of this amendment bill that are going to work very positively for our prisoner population—positively, not only for their sense of well-being and their health in a prison facility but also, as they leave that facility and become integrated into society, they will be free from drug and alcohol addiction, and they will have some skills, some self-esteem, and a work ethic that these amendments will enable to be built. It is going to be something very positive for these people. Thank you.
LE’AUFA’AMULIA SENATI LOLE-TAYLOR (NZ First) : Malo, fa‘afetai lava. I am pleased to speak for the first time on behalf of New Zealand First on the Corrections Amendment Bill. New Zealand First has, and will always, put the safety of our community as a priority, as well as supporting law enforcing officers and staff to carry out their roles effectively and efficiently. With the dramatic increase in the drug supply and the severity of assaults on corrections officers and staff in recent years, we acknowledge the need for prevention.
The supreme function of the Parliament is to ensure that self-interest and the evils that come with it are contained. It has been said that enforcing the rule of law and maintaining public order are inseparable and that they form the bedrock of a civilised society and sound liberal democracy. There are two fundamentals involved in this quote. The first is enforcing the rule of law. In this case, it is the way in which the Department of Corrections implements and interprets the law through the way it operates, using its operational manuals. It also applies to the way it deals with prisoners or offenders, both those in the custody of the prison services and those under the supervision of the community probation services.
The second is maintaining public order. This would apply to increasing public safety, as well as the safe and humane containment of prisoners. In the case of community service, it would be with the safety and appropriate application of monitoring processes for offenders and staff in order to reduce reoffending through comprehensive and suitable rehabilitation programmes. We can have neither without the right and relevant bills and legislation passed within Parliament. It is therefore imperative that this Government produces the best possible outcomes regarding our increasing crime statistics.
There is a constant battle with these statistics and it is time Parliament initiated serious solutions and prevention. Most discussions of a bright future, particularly in today’s society, rely on a smiley face and giggle as an appropriate response to all difficult questions, particularly those around the safety and security of our community, although education and assets are part of that list as well.
This Corrections Amendment Bill more or less formalises what has already been implemented as part of the prison service daily routine. I know this. I spent the last 6 years in the Department of Corrections as a regional adviser. You may call it exercising common sense, which, unfortunately, is something that is not very common in the way the Government operates at the moment. But it is important that those corrections staff on the floor ought to be recognised for their ability in applying discretion and good judgment where warranted.
It is about time that the Corrections Act was amended in order to address so many loopholes it has had for so long. Improvement to the way health services operate at prison sites is long overdue, and, yes, this Government has finally got something right. Why it took so long—who knows? Perhaps the Minister of Corrections needs to have a cup of tea with the right stakeholders, who know better, without inviting the media. Often decisions have been made by those who sit in their ivory towers without any knowledge or awareness of how things work in the real world in the prison service or the prison sites or even the community probation services. The Minister would do well to seek input, especially from those staff who work on the floor, because they know what works and what does not.
As for the contract management of prisons, I notice in the bill—clauses 16, 17, and 18, and also from clauses 42 to 45—that those amendments should have been introduced before private contractors were engaged for the contract management of prisons. It is astounding that these amendments are introduced almost 2 years after the engagement of Serco as a private contractor to manage the Mt Eden Corrections Facility.
There is no question that New Zealand First supports some improvements that this bill will make. At the same time it is also important that suitable training programmes for corrections officers are developed in order to facilitate better enforcement. The amendment bill will also do well in providing a clear process for the area of prisoners claiming lost or stolen property. There are many thousands of tax dollars and working hours wasted on processing prisoner property claims. Many of these claims are spurious. There should be clear regulation laid down to define liability. Where a prisoner has been issued property, he or she has the care and control of their property. There should be no avenues or recourse if this property is lost, traded, or stolen once issued. A substantive amount of these claims are made when prisoners deal with each other. This is called trading and we know that it is illegal and difficult to detect. There is a significant number of hours taken up in investigating these claims. These hours could be used for the maintenance of safety and security in our prisons. The Corrections Amendment Act 2005 failed to address this and now we have this amendment that has also failed to address that.
I am furthermore baffled about consideration for the reintroduction of sections 33 and 34 of the old penal institution legislation of 1954, which was replaced by the Corrections Act 2004 and then by amendment in June 2005, to remove the power of adjudicators and visiting justices to prescribe the loss of remission as a penalty. This section would have given the power to a visiting justice or adjudicators of the corrections facility to apply, and if the inmates—prisoners and offenders, as we now call them—under the section were proven guilty of offences such as assault on a prison officer, he or she may have had imposed certain disciplines named in section 3(a), which is “Loss of Remission on Any Sentence”. This would have meant that offences by prisoners towards prison officers could be dealt with within the corrections system and a no-nonsense message would have been clearly given to prisoners or offenders. It worked when it was in place and I unarguably affirm its importance in this case.
I found it interesting to hear Jacqui Dean mentioning her view of turning prisoners’ lives round. That view should reflect in the way they rehabilitate the prisoners or offenders. Unfortunately this amendment does not take that into account. I question whether this amendment effectively caters for the second-highest ethnic group of the prison population, which is those from the Pacific. The bill does not give any serious consideration for provision of appropriate and suitable rehabilitation programmes for Pacific prisoners, despite the introduction and establishment of the Vaka Fa’aola Pacific Focus Unit at the Spring Hill Corrections Facility. For so long the Department of Corrections relied on one Pacific criminogenic programme, Saili Matagi, which is just a tick in a box, because this programme only takes up to 10 participants at a time and with its criteria it is rather restricted to those with a violent criminal offence or violent criminal background. Furthermore, the local Pacific community service providers who are keen to be involved with the rehabilitation and reintegration of the Pacific prisoners and offenders are not being effectively engaged to assist with the successful reintegration of Pacific offenders. Yes, let it be noted that New Zealand First is in support of this amendment bill to go to select committee.
IAN McKELVIE (National—Rangitīkei) : It gives me great pleasure to speak for the first time on the first reading of the Corrections Amendment Bill, as a first-time member of the Law and Order Committee in this House. It is the first time I have spoken to a bill in this House, as well. Before commencing, I would just—
Chris Hipkins: You never forget your first time.
IAN McKELVIE: There has always got to be a first time, Mr Hipkins. Before commencing I wish to congratulate the Minister of Corrections on her appointment and wish her well in the portfolio in the future.
The purpose of this bill is well documented. However, I think its aims are admirable and worth repeating here, particularly the fact that it sets out to protect the health and safety of front-line staff and, at the same time, protect and not compromise the fair and humane treatment of prisoners. The bill is about creating efficiency and effectiveness, and, at the same time, providing for fairness. A feature of this bill that I particularly like is that it sets out to increase opportunities for prisoners to learn business skills and to set up and operate legitimate business operations that they can then continue to operate once released from prison. Equally as significant for me is the opportunity to recover some of the costs of board and lodgings from any monetary returns received as a result of work or business opportunity in that time. It will increase the chance of successful reintegration into society. It will increase the chances of society receiving a small dividend, at the same time, from those prisoners for the time they have spent incarcerated at the community’s expense.
This bill allows the Department of Corrections to gain some significant efficiency both internally and through the ability to delegate powers to the managers of contract prisons, thus reducing compliance costs and freeing up time. These contract prisons will do a great job, and Mt Eden Corrections Facility, of course, the first of these, contains nearly 11 percent of New Zealand’s prisoners. I must say that I was somewhat surprised to learn that there are only some 8,500 prisoners in New Zealand and this number has regressed somewhat in recent times. I am equally as surprised and encouraged to learn that there has been a drop in alcohol and drug abuse in that time, as well. The other interesting statistic is that last year prisoners—and this has been documented a number of times tonight—achieved a significant number of credits in literacy and numeracy, the lack of which is one of the biggest single contributors to crime in this country.
One may recall that the level of public confidence in the Department of Corrections was particularly poor in the mid-2000s and of great concern to many in our communities—certainly to those working in the corrections business. That confidence is now significantly higher. In fact it is up 53 percent since 2008. It is a great achievement and one that can be improved on further as a result of these changes. When involved in community affairs, as I have been in recent years, one quickly gets a feel of how different entities are performing throughout your community. I can safely say that morale amongst prison officers and the families of prisoners is better than it has been for some time. I believe that the Department of Corrections is upping its performance significantly, and this bill will further that performance. Thank you.
IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Labour—Palmerston North) : It gives me some pleasure to follow my friend from Manawatū, Ian McKelvie, although I must admit that I was out of my seat a little bit earlier than I expected. I thought he might take a little bit more of his call time, but it was a good first offering on a piece of legislation in the House, and I congratulate Mr McKelvie on that.
As my colleagues from the Labour Party have already made clear to the House, we are opposing the Corrections Amendment Bill, but that opposition is based firmly on the fact that there is one aspect of this bill, in particular, that facilitates the operation of private prisons, and it is that aspect of the bill that leads us to oppose it. We are fundamentally opposed to the concept of privatised prisons. We believe that incarceration is absolutely a role of the State. Here in Parliament we are a function of the State. We make the laws. The police enforce those laws. The courts determine whether or not people are guilty. All of those are functions of the State. The next function, of incarceration—if that is what happens to a person who has been through everything else—should also be a role of the State. It is quite inappropriate that we should be calling on the private sector to have that function of incarceration. We would not offer that ability to anybody else privately—it is absolutely a role of the State—and it is for that reason that we are opposed to this bill.
That is somewhat unfortunate, because there are other aspects of the bill that we are not over the moon about, but we are certainly interested in seeing what debate occurs at the Law and Order Committee and what submissions are made to the select committee on some of the other provisions of the bill. Our members on the select committee—unfortunately, I am unlikely to be one of those—will be looking very closely at all the aspects of this bill. There are some provisions that we absolutely cannot support, but there are some that we want to look into in a bit more depth.
I am particularly interested in the provisions that change the structure of health care within prisons. I heard what David Clendon from the Greens said. Like I said, we are not saying this evening that we are wholeheartedly in support of these changes, but we are interested to see what the impact of them will be and what the implications are. What the bill does is remove the requirement for a medical officer. In fact, it removes oversight from a medical officer and puts it in the hands of the health centre manager for a prison. That health centre manager may be a medical officer or may be a nurse. I am not opposed at all to the idea of using a broader workforce in health care, whether it be in prisons or anywhere else for that matter, but I do share the concerns that this may be a clever way of reducing the health care that is available for prisoners. It is probably driven more by a desire to reduce costs than by anything else.
We are mindful of the fact that it could reduce health care, but we are also open to the idea that it could have very good results. It probably more closely reflects the actual practice that is occurring in prisons at the moment, and it could be a good innovation that improves health care for prisoners. If that is the case then we will be happy to support it, but we would like to hear all the arguments from different sides at the select committee before we take a firm view on that. Obviously, we do have the—
Hon Nathan Guy: You should vote for it, then.
IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: Mr Guy says we should vote for it, then. I have clearly outlined why we cannot possibly vote for this bill. There is one provision that we absolutely, on principle, cannot support, but we are quite confident that the Government will be able to progress this bill to the select committee, and we will be looking forward to participating in discussions on it at that point.
What I was going to say before I was interrupted by Mr Guy was that the Ombudsman’s investigation of the Department of Corrections explicitly said that health services should come under the purview of the health service rather than the corrections service, and that is also where some of the concerns about the provisions in this bill draw from. But we want to hear the debate. We want to see what people have to say about it.
Another provision here that is obviously going to be positive as far as corrections officers are concerned is the increased powers to search prisoners, and also changing the threshold upon which drug testing can occur. There are obvious positives for that in terms of prison staff security, being able to locate contraband, and being able to test prisoners whom they suspect of being under the influence of drugs or alcohol. One of the interesting things—and Mr McKelvie might want to look into this, because there are some stories that I am hearing coming out of Linton prison, and I need to ascertain whether these are facts—is that there are some issues coming out from the smoking ban in prisons. Obviously, from the point of view of someone who wants to see the harm caused by tobacco reduced, I am interested to see how that is working out. With tobacco now becoming contraband, there is a considerable black market in tobacco in many prisons, and I am hearing a lot of stories coming out of Linton prison about not only the black market that exists but the standover tactics that are being used by some prisoners over others to get not only tobacco products but—here is the interesting thing—nicotine replacement therapy products as well, which are becoming part of this black market. I am told that a nicotine patch can be worth up to $50, in fact, in the prisons. So maybe that is something that these extra search powers will discover: nicotine replacement patches being sneaked in and out and around the prison, and certainly tobacco. There is no doubt that tobacco is being smuggled into the prisons and is providing a lucrative black market within the prisons. So that might be something else that the provisions in this bill allow for: easier identification of some of that contraband material that is moving around the prisons.
I want, finally, to come back to this issue of the privatisation of prisons and the provisions that this bill has to, I suppose, devolve what are really State functions to the private sector. As I said, Labour does not believe that State responsibilities—and incarceration is absolutely a State responsibility—should be discharged by anybody other than the Chief Executive of the Department of Corrections and his staff. It should not be delegated out to private contractors and their staff operating private prisons. This is especially the case when it comes to functions such as deciding the security classifications of inmates, the temporary removal or release of prisoners, and the release of inmates from prisons.
Provisions that expressly allow generally for the delegation of powers and functions of the chief executive to contractors and employees of contractors are the things that are of particular concern to us. There is very little evidence that private prisons are the most cost-effective means for taxpayers to get the most out of their prison services, and this reflects, I suppose, what is really an ideological decision from the National Government more than a really practical, pragmatic decision about how it is best to deliver prison services in New Zealand.
So with those concerns noted, and the interest in some of the other provisions that we will be looking at at the select committee, I reiterate Labour’s opposition to this bill on the grounds that we have outlined, but we do look forward to seeing the results of the select committee process.
MARK MITCHELL (National—Rodney) : I am pleased to be able to take a call on this, the first reading of the Corrections Amendment Bill. As a member of the Law and Order Committee I look forward to reviewing this bill. It has been a great pleasure to be in the House today and to listen to the great results delivered by the Minister of Health, the Minister for Social Development, and the Minister of Education, and I see this bill as continuing with the theme that is building around efficiencies and delivering world-class services. The current legislation is sound. However, this bill has taken a positive step towards removing barriers, allowing the management of prisoners in an even more safe, secure, humane, and effective way. I am proud that under a National-led Government we have seen public confidence in the Department of Corrections rise to 53 percent higher than what it was in June 2008, and that prison escapes are at their lowest ever, with only two in the year ended 1 October 2011. Personally, I find this statistic very comforting, as my own electorate, Rodney, has Pāremoremo maximum security prison in the area; it houses some of the country’s worst and most dangerous criminals.
In a previous life I was a police dog handler. What that meant was that I was the first one called out when there was an escaped prisoner. I spent a week on the Coromandel hunting for four dangerous and armed prisoners who had escaped from Pāremoremo. What I saw was a community that became traumatised, living in fear and disruption caused by the escape of these prisoners.
I would also like to address an observation that was made by one of the Opposition members in relation to the use of mechanical restraints. I would like to draw attention again to the fact that these relate directly to protecting a prisoner from self-harm—protecting prisoners from themselves. In my experience, I have seen prisoners inflict serious injuries to themselves very, very quickly by doing something as simple as throwing themselves against a wall, or as extreme as trying to gouge their own eyes out. This amendment allows a prison manager who is present on the spot to make a decision, which still has to be backed up by the opinion of a medical officer—so there are checks and balances in place—that that restraint is necessary to protect that prisoner from self-harm. This is a policy that drips with common sense. It will make the process far more efficient for those having to deal with the practicalities of prisoner management and safety. I note that my colleague Mrs Lole-Taylor, who probably has got more experience than anyone sitting in this House of dealing in the corrections field, made one comment today about this bill, and that was that it was common sense. I agree with her completely. I was very pleased to see that she supported this bill as well.
What also appears to be a common-sense policy is the removal of the requirement for a corrections officer to obtain the prison manager’s approval to conduct a strip-search of a prisoner whom the officer believes on reasonable grounds possesses an unauthorised item. These corrections officers are the personnel at the coalface, and are well qualified through their training and their experience, and using their gut instinct, to be able to make a reasonable decision as to whether or not a prisoner possesses an unauthorised item, whether it be something that could be used as a weapon or contraband.
I would like to finish by saying that I commend this Corrections Amendment Bill to go to the select committee for a review. I think that it is a bill that contains straight, common-sense, practical steps to continue—as we have done with the police, and as we have done with our health services—to equip our front-line providers with the tools that they need to be able to provide the best, world-class services. Thank you very much.
The ASSISTANT SPEAKER (H V Ross Robertson): Before I call the next member, I just advise that it is a split call—5 minutes each. The bell will go at 4 minutes.
Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE (Labour) : In the brief time we have available I just want to set out, as many colleagues have, our reasons for opposing the Corrections Amendment Bill. I recall, when I was corrections spokesperson for our team, having visited every prison in the country bar one, and I share the sentiments of the speaker who spoke before me from National in respect of Pāremoremo. I remember visiting Pāremoremo, and, to be blunt, it was like an out-take from The Silence of the Lambs in D Block, I think it is, or the maximum security section of that prison.
Labour is opposed to this bill not just specifically on ideological grounds, but I place on record that we have a position, as our position has always been, that says that this is a core responsibility—that is, the incarceration of the citizenry is a core responsibility—of the Government, of the Crown, of the community, in effect. It is the Crown, through the police, that effects an arrest and brings charges. It is the Crown, through the judiciary, that deals and renders a verdict through the court system. And therefore it should be the Crown that takes responsibility for incarceration. But what if you put those facts aside, or that position aside, and all we are interested in in respect of corrections is dollars and cents? That is an important concern to have, but I would say the most important concern is the public duty that we have in this place to ensure that for somebody going to prison, their problems are identified, they are rehabilitated—which is not a dirty word—and they are returned to the community in the hope that their behaviour has been changed, that they have been rewired and reprogrammed, as it were, in the hope that they will not offend again, thereby not creating another victim or series of victims. I would have thought the absolute base, primary function of a corrections system is behaviour change, because if it is not behaviour change, then we let the person out again without addressing the fundamentals, and there is another person killed, maimed, or wounded—another set of tears, another loss.
But if all we are interested in is dollars and cents, then can I just remind the House of when National was last in Government in the 1990s and it privatised the Auckland Central Remand Prison. Treasury actually looked at that and independent audits were done, and when you compare the privatised Auckland Central Remand Prison, which we wound back, with a like remand prison—not comparing a maximum security facility with a remand prison—the dollars that were revealed showed that the public sector actually was cheaper per prisoner to administer. So if all the Government is interested in is dollar efficiency, my query is this: are the Minister and the Government so weak that they cannot require their own department to be innovative, to learn from overseas examples, to be efficient, to be more effective? Are the Crown and the Government so inept that they are not prepared to require of their department that when required it lift its game? Or have they decided through this bill and through the privatisation of the Auckland Central Remand Prison for the second time that they have hoisted the white flag and said: “It is not up to us as a Government any more or a corrections Minister. We give up. We’re just going to pass it over to the private sector.”? Because if all you are interested in is dollars and cents, the only evidence—I recall this on the select committee when the privatisation bill was going through, and we heard it from corrections officers, Treasury folk, and others—is that, like for like, the public sector was cheaper. It was cheaper. They were the facts.
So we will oppose this not just on a belief that there is a Crown core responsibility when it comes to the incarceration of citizenry, but we will also oppose this because it does not work. I do not believe as a former Minister that you should say: “We are out of ideas. We can’t require a department to be innovative or efficient. We are just going to contract it out and flick it out to the private sector, and give up.” You need to show some guts, you need to show some gumption, and you need to require of that department that it does the Government’s will. I have to say that corrections officers—the men and women whom I have met—do a job that I could not do, and I suspect that very few of any people in this House could do, dealing with the ugly side of our society and putting themselves in harm’s way.
JULIE ANNE GENTER (Green) : Tēnā koe, Mr Assistant Speaker Robertson. Tēnā koutou e te Whare. As the Green Party spokesperson on justice, I am pleased to rise and, following my distinguished colleague David Clendon, take our second call on the Corrections Amendment Bill. As my colleague has already noted in depth, the Green Party has serious concerns and misgivings about this amendment bill, as it seems to continue the erosion of prisoners’ human rights and treat them as subhuman.
I have noticed there is a tendency to conflate two different reasons for punishment of a crime. One philosophy seeks to exercise vengeance on those who have been convicted of transgressing the law. Punishment for the sake of punishment, at any cost, is the purpose of imprisonment, according to this view. Another approach is a bit more pragmatic. It asks how we can best minimise the harm to society that comes from transgression of a law, and how we can prevent it from happening again. This latter approach tries to get the best outcome for the future of our country. These two approaches to crime and punishment are often at odds. If we write off the potential for rehabilitation, if we fail to understand the underlying causes of a crime, if we seek to punish criminals for the sake of it, and if we deny prisoners basic human rights and dignity, we will pay for it. We will pay the cost of having to imprison more people for longer, if our justice system alienates those who could have otherwise become constructive citizens. If you fail to treat people with basic human dignity, they will respond in kind. This amendment is very much in line with the punitive philosophy, which seeks to punish and control, as opposed to looking out for what is really in the best interests of New Zealand.
I would like to speak to the increased ability of prison staff to search prisoners. This amendment bill is removing a requirement that an officer must obtain a prison manager’s approval to conduct a strip-search. Not only that but it is extending the ability to strip-search. I am going to read directly from the bill. Clause 26(1) substitutes paragraph (f) in section 90(2). So now a strip-search can require that the prisoner must “with his or her legs spread apart, bend his or her knees until his or her buttocks are adjacent to his or her heels:”. Could everyone just imagine what that would feel like?
Hon Maurice Williamson: This is way too much information.
JULIE ANNE GENTER: That is my point. It is too much, is it not? The bill also now allows a prison officer, without having sought approval from a manager, to use additional devices to magnify or illuminate the area that they are examining. Is this not an example of treating prisoners as subhuman? Do we really think that that is going to stop people from trying to bring in contraband? In fact, why must we have these additional provisions and ability?
Hon Tau Henare: Because they might bring in stuff.
JULIE ANNE GENTER: Well, if that is the case, then I ask why the previous Minister said in April 2011: “New laws targeting drugs and contraband, cellphone jamming”—and other provisions—“at all New Zealand prisons and increased vigilance by Corrections staff have made it much harder to get drugs into our prisons. The low number of positive drugs tests show these initiatives are working.” So why do we need to enable people to go even further and deeper into prisoners’ bodies, to search their cells, to open their mail?
It also invites abuse, particularly when we are looking at the private sector. There have been numerous psychological studies, notably the Stanford prison experiment, which show that our behaviour is malleable. Whether we are prison officers doing very difficult work or whether we are prisoners, we respond in kind to the behaviour that others expect of us.
So the Green Party cannot support this bill, because it is not in the long-term interest of New Zealand. It is extending the ability of prison officers and inviting abuse. Therefore we will be opposing it. Thank you.
NIKKI KAYE (National—Auckland Central) : I am very pleased to support the Corrections Amendment Bill. At the heart of this bill is public safety. Most of us get into Parliament to help people, and one of the most common things that members of the public tell me they expect from members of Parliament is to make New Zealand a safer place. We cannot do that if the people who come out of our prisons come out in a worse state than when they went in. That is why at the heart of this bill are three core aspects.
Firstly, there is rehabilitation. If we allow the people in our prisons to come out more addicted to drugs than when they went in, that is a sorry state of affairs. We are very clear that the provision in this bill will assist in terms of more efficient strip-searching and drug testing, but also what we on this side of the House know is that we have a very good record in rehabilitation. We have seen crime drop. We have seen more people get National Certificate of Educational Achievement qualifications, and that leads me to the next provision within this bill, which is so important.
We know that so many people reoffend when they leave prison because they do not have the work experience and the skills to be able to get a job. I have seen some of these people come through my office and they have actually said to me that it was easier to reoffend than try to live out there without being able to get a job. So we have been very clear in this bill to ensure that prisoners get some basic skills and work experience while they are in prison.
We have also been clear to ensure that there is greater health provision within our prisons. But on this side of the House we are very clear: not only do we have a responsibility as parliamentarians to ensure that our community is safer by having things like tougher sentencing, by ensuring that we reduce violent crime, and by having more police on the beat but also we think that we must ensure we have proper rehabilitation in our prisons.
I will leave you with this one story. I had the privilege of attending the New Zealander of the Year awards, and one of the people who won was a guy called Hēnare O’Keefe. A wonderful story was told by Lawrence Yule. He told a story about a gentleman who has worked tirelessly within the New Zealand community, and who walked into one of our prisons and came to a person who had been causing quite a bit of trouble in the last few weeks. He was about to be released, and Lawrence tells an amazing story of Hēnare walking into that prison cell and asking the gentleman why he was causing this trouble. He was very clear, because he said: “I don’t have a father.” Hēnare said: “I will be your father.”
For me what this sums up is that if we do not ensure that the people within our prisons have access to good skills, and if we do not ensure that we do not have drug addiction in our prisons, then we cannot make our community safer. Regardless of what you hear from the Opposition, this bill is about ensuring that we have good rehabilitation and we make our communities safer. I am very pleased to support the Corrections Amendment Bill.
|Ayes 69||New Zealand National 59; New Zealand First 8; ACT New Zealand 1; United Future 1.|
|Noes 51||New Zealand Labour 34; Green Party 14; Māori Party 2; Mana 1.|
|Bill read a first time.|
- Bill referred to the Law and Order Committee.