Treating prisoners as shit

Roger Brooking posted on Brookingblog (what justice looks like from the inside – and the need for prison reform’) Prisoners aren’t really human – so torture and scalping are fine:

Three weeks ago, the Ombudsman Peter Boshier, issued a report which said the Corrections Department had been tying difficult prisoners to their beds for up to 16 hours a day.

That’s a pretty serious allegation.  Section 3 of this Act, says that anyone who commits an act of torture in New Zealand can be sent to prison for up to 14 years. If it’s that serious an offence, you’d think the media would be up in arms, the police would take immediate action and the prison managers who allowed this mistreatment to take place would be prosecuted.

But that didn’t happen of course. Ray Smith assured the public that the matters were “fully investigated and appropriate action taken”.  You must be joking.  One prison officer was fired (for assaulting a prisoner who was already tied down). No one was prosecuted for torture and the media lost interest in the story two days later.

Why? Because the victims of these crimes are prisoners; and for the last 20 years or so, with the willing help of the media, the Sensible Sentencing Trust and most MPs have successfully depicted prisoners as something less than human.

The treatment of prisoners is not a vote winner for politicians or adequate click bait for media.

As such, they don’t seem to have any rights. Well that’s certainly what Labour MP, Stuart Nash, seems to think. After hearing last week that the High Court said convicted murderer, Phillip John Smith, had the right to wear a toupee in prison, Nash pushed his unrestrained mind into overdrive and posted a message on Facebook claiming “He has no rights!!”

He went on to suggest other inmates should scalp Mr Smith. This is what he wrote:

“Scalping is associated with American Indians but it was actually started by Europeans. Perhaps someone in jail who isn’t too fond of monsters who destroy little boys’ lives by stealing their innocence in the worst way possible could reintroduce Mr Smith to the practice.”

Labour’s ‘Spokesperson for Police’ is suggesting, perhaps encouraging or inciting, prison violence.

Posting an incitement to violence on Facebook is a potential breach of section 22 of the Harmful Digital Communication Act.

This got a lot less attention in media than some criticism of Jacinda Ardern in Parliament’s General Debate, a forum that is full of political criticisms.

The Standard ran three posts over several days lashing the critics of Ardern, with a slew of commenters skewering the nasty Nats. There was one comment thread on Nash’s comments initiated by ‘James’, with several responders effectively supporting Nash.

The final comment on the thread, from  ‘bwaghorn’: “skelping is to good for him , lethal injection would solve his hair problem”. That was not criticised.

At Kiwiblog David Farrar posted Nash says scalp Smith in which he was critical of a lack of condemnation from Labour, but no criticism of Nash’s comments.

Comments and ticks were strongly in support of what Nash said, until ‘fernglas’ posted “It’s a worry when an MP, and Police spokesman, can assert that a person, however vile, has no rights, and then go on to encourage someone to cause that person GBH. More populist politics from those who should be responsible for upholding the rule of law.”

That comment received some support, but a range of views followed.

It is not surprising to see Cameron Slater post Labour still soft on crime – pulls MP back into line over paedophile remark and say “Onya Nashy. Nice to see that there are still red-blooded blokes in Labour who stand for victims and not criminals.” And more. He has a history of sounding ‘tough’ when his targets can’t respond.

I saw journalists tweet in support of Nash’s comments.

Even law professors are not immune from this insatiable need to denigrate those in prison as less than human. In an opinion piece in Pundit, Otago law professor, Andrew Geddis (below) argues that Phillip Smith does have rights, including the right to wear a toupee. But in order to show he’s not a snowflake or a bleeding-heart blouse, Geddis describes Smith as ‘a piece of shit’ – adding ‘most definitely’ for good measure.

Brooking makes fair points here.

The crime for which Phillip Smith committed in 1995 was despicable, and he had an awful record prior to that. He was convicted and imprisoned. It’s now over twenty years later, and I have no idea what Smith is like – but as a prisoner he has (or should have) rights.

The thing is – prisoners in New Zealand are barely seen as people, let alone ‘ordinary’ or ‘reasonable’.  You can say anything you like about them. It seems you can also do anything you like to them.  You can

– the list goes on.

Now you can even torture prison inmates and encourage them to scalp each other.  Except for the Ombudsman, no one in New Zealand seems to give a shit – because according to the Sensible Sentencing Trust, Stuart Nash and now a prominent law professor in New Zealand, that’s all they are.

A decent society should have a decent prison system, not matter how awful some crimes might be.

That means that prisoner rights should be seen as important, and while it is fair for MPs and others to express some displeasure and even disgust that doesn’t excuse inciting crimes against prisoners.

Some prisoners may have done shit things, but a decent society shouldn’t treat them like shit, otherwise we are not decent and we end up having a shit society.


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  1. Nelly Smickers

     /  March 20, 2017

    “Some prisoners may have done shit things, but a decent society shouldn’t treat them like shit, otherwise we are not decent and we end up having a shit society”

    That sort of attitude and woolly thinking is the exact reason we *have* a shit society… where it is no longer safe for our kids on the streets, or women to safely catch a bus home at night, or go for a pleasant jog around Remuera. Just ask the frends and families of *Blessy* or *Jo* (to name but two), how they think these *rancid douche-bags* should be treated 😡


    • I was aware the post was likely to get this sort of reaction.

      A decent society should aim at being better than the worst criminals within it, not as bad or worse.

      • Kevin

         /  March 20, 2017

        Judges send people to prison as punishment, not for punishment. But saying a prisoner has the right to a friggin’ wig is a step too far IMHO.

        • No one said a prisoner had a right to having a wig. Corrections were found to have breached procedures.

    • Blazer

       /  March 20, 2017

      well Nelly,Remmers has always been an area with a high density of criminals living there,some are even confined to their mansions on home detention.Still don’t know what the world is coming to though,if depriving a prisoner of a hairpiece violates any code of decency.Hairpieces are not natural, just cosmetic as opposed to say dentures which while not natural are…necessary.

      • Nelly Smickers

         /  March 20, 2017

        To be fair Blazer, we live just three doors down from a *thorough gentlemen* who was sentenced to *HD*, for what was no more than some *trivial book-keeping error* for goodness sake ❗ AND he was made to bear the ignominy of wearing an *ankle bracelet* 😡

        A nicer person you could not meet…..and we were more than happy to help out with dropping his boys to Kings most mornings. As Wayne always sez, “You just never know when you might need the same sort of help yourself” XD

  2. Kevin

     /  March 20, 2017

    Oh FFs. To Roger Brooking et al. Hash was talking in rhetoric. Rhet-or-ic. But folks like our Rog already know this and are just using what Nashy said as a stick to bash him over the head with.

    I mean he could have said “I don’t think prisoners should special rights – especially rights the rest of us don’t have.” But that wouldn’t have had the same affect, now would it?

    • Oh FFS – so an MP can say whatever they like by just saying it was rhetoric?

      • Kevin

         /  March 20, 2017

        No, but people like Roger need to stop pretending that Nash was talking literally when they know full well he wasn’t. Seriously, what kind of MP actually thinks prisoners should be scalped? Certainly not one that anybody would vote for – at least I hope not.

        • Seriously, do you know what Nash intended and believed when he made his comments? Or are you guessing something that happens to coincide with your views?

          Whatever his intended meaning it was totally inappropriate for an MP let alone a Spokesperson for Police.

    • PDB

       /  March 20, 2017

      You’re both right in a way – the MSM blowing some stupid & ill-advised comments out of all proportion and Nash for being an idiot for writing such dross. Reminds me of Trevor Mallard’s alternative use for bottles comment from years ago.

  3. Corky

     /  March 20, 2017

    Labour MP, Stuart Nash will be another liberal limp wrist when it comes to the crunch.

    1- arm prison guards.
    2- A a Rikers type approach to prison riots- no negotiations, maximum force to ensure containment.
    3- regular physical punishment for disrespecting guards.
    4- breaking gang structures up.
    5- general population for white-collar scum bags.

    Yep, all a fantasy, no matter what political party is in power, but especially the left.

    What’s missing in society is our failure, unlike previous generations, to understand the concept of ” evil” as a living potent force.

  4. Griff

     /  March 20, 2017

    How can you hold others to a standard you your self do not hold?
    Removing the freedom of those who impact on the freedom of others is just and fair.
    Making them suffer needless abuse as some sort of retribution is not .
    How can we expect them to recognize the norms of society if we don’t treat within those norms our self’s .

    Some are outside of any sort of rehabilitation effort.
    Such people need to be permanently removed from wider society.
    That isolation does not mean we should remove all the benefits of society from them.

    • Nelly Smickers

       /  March 20, 2017

      *GOD* give me bloody strength ❗ ❗

      • Griff

         /  March 20, 2017

        There probably is no god .
        If you want strength you must find it within your self .

        *trivial book-keeping error*

        If it was you who lost because of that trivial error how would you feel?

        Jesus had one clear message .
        Do unto others as you would have them do unto you .
        The rest is window dressing and superstitious nonsense .
        Unfortunately many of his followers forget the essence of Jesus’s message.

        • Nelly Smickers

           /  March 20, 2017

          Having been a boarder at *St Mary’s* for a number of years Griff, let me tell you unequivacly, *God* exists… and she comes to us through her only son, *Jesus*

          Now I am doing this from memory, but I often think of the teachings from *Deuteronomy*….”Thou shalt give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, foot for foot, hand for hand, finger for finger, arm for arm, leg for leg, toe for toe, ear for ear, burning for burning, wound for wound, stripe for stripe”

          If mankind were *still to live by these principles*, do you not think the world would be a better place ❓

          • Griff

             /  March 20, 2017

            Wonder why Christianity is losing to rationality ?

            When convenient you yet again ignore the message of Jesus and highlight the old law that according to the tenants of Christianity no longer applies .

            You can not have it both ways.
            Either you obey all that is in the old testaments or you follow the teaching of Jesus.