Aotearoa Indymedia, June 24: Two prisoners have been conducting a protest at Paremoremo prison [Auckland] for two days. They scaled a disused watchtower in the prison yard and have barricaded themselves in. They have been there now for two nights. The two have communicated with ‘corrections’ staff by writing in toothpaste on the window saying that they are conducting a peaceful protest over prison conditions and wish to speak to prisoner rights campaigner, Peter Williams.
There is a report that one of them has come down on the afternoon of June 24.
Peter Williams was on the radio briefly on Sunday morning saying that conditions inside Paremoremo were ‘inhumane’. He said that many people were on 23-hour lockdown with nothing to do but stay in bed. Another story related to Indymedia was that there was a recent prisoner riot in Cell Block D at Mt Eden Prison in which people burned their mattresses in protest at the lack of yard time and sunlight; instead they have been given vitamin D pills.
At other prisons around the country, double bunking means that wings built to hold 50 people are now holding twice that many. The lack of ‘corrections’ guards often means that prisoners are left locked up for long periods.
The official removal of tobacco from prisons hasn’t reduced smoking in the prisons, another source told Indymedia. Rather, tobacco has become the new contraband, and cigarettes go for up to $20/each. There is no shortage of tobacco, and as the drug dogs are unable to detect it, it continues to flow through the prisons giving gangs a new source of revenue.
Prisons are part of the problem
Both violent crime[i] and the growth of inmate numbers[ii] in New Zealand have been stable or decreasing for some considerable time, but the government remains intent on building new prisons. This is an ideological commitment to privatising prisons and making a profit from the incarceration and warehousing of human beings. A number of older prisons in New Zealand are due to be closed, while a massive new men’s prison is to be built at Wiri in South Auckland. Closing regional prisons means those who live close to those areas are unlikely to be able to serve their time close to their family and support base, although Indymedia understands that due to the double-bunking policy and other ‘rationalisations’ within the prisons, many people are incarcerated far from home now.
The issue of private prisons and prison locations is really only one small part of the issue. More fundamental questions need to be asked about the entire rationale for imprisoning people in the first place. Our prisons are full of people who are at the lowest end of the socio-economic spectrum. They are overwhelmingly Maori. The prison system exists to uphold existing exploitative economic and social arrangements. The on-going colonisation of Aotearoa has a profound effect on prison numbers. The Department’s own reports point to a wide variety of factors that determine the potential of being incarcerated, but it is racism and colonisation which mean that New Zealand imprisons its indigenous people at one of the highest rates in the world for all peoples, and out of all proportion with the rest of this country’s population.
Moreover, even within its own paradigm, incarceration is based on conflicting ideas: punishment, rehabilitation and deterrence. Punishing people is generally not the atmosphere in which rehabilitation is likely to take place. The fact that the prison system is incapable of providing real support in terms of things like educational opportunities, drug and alcohol counseling and anti-violence programmes means that real rehabilitation is very rare. More often than not, our prisons are ‘universities of crime’ where people learn that violence is a very effective method of getting what they need and want.
There is an urgent need in Aotearoa to discuss and debate the prison industrial complex, its roots in colonisation and its position as backstop for the status quo. The prison protest at Paremoremo is an important part of that.
[i] There was little change in the offence rates for all classes of violent crime between 1994 and 2000. The largest overall change occurred in the serious assaults class of offence. The rate for this class decreased from 4.2 to 3.5 offences per 1,000 population in 1998 before increasing slightly to 3.7 offences per 1,000 population in 2000. More than half of all serious assaults were assaults by males on females. The police practice of arresting perpetrators of family violence, developed since the late 1980s, is likely to have had an effect on the number of recorded assaults by male on female. The second most common type of serious assault was miscellaneous common assaults, 20 to 30 percent of all serious assaults were classified as miscellaneous common assaults between 1994 and 2000. There was also a small rise in the offence rate for intimidation or threats over the period. NZ gov stats
[ii] Country’s prison roll tumbling. Stuff. 8 October 2011.