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
- house them in shipping containers;
- feed them poor quality food;
- lock them up for 23 hours a day;
- deny them access to mental health treatment when they’re suicidal;
- expose them to fight clubs and violence;
- withdraw opiate pain medication when they need it;
- deny them access to the dentist when they have toothache or an abscess; prevent them from voting in elections;
- prevent them from talking to the media
– 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.