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.


What makes a New Zealander “prominent”?

References are often made to “prominent New Zealander”.

John Key is one of the more prominent New Zealanders.

What about ex-MPs? Take Rodney Hide for example, he was prominent in ACT circles, he was prominent in the Epsom electorate, and he was prominent enough in Parliament for a while. But most of the million voters who haven’t voted probably don’t regard him as prominent and many probably haven’t heard of him. He writes a weekly column for NZ Herald but the sports pages are probably more prominent for most readers.

Phillip Smith is one of the most prominent sex offenders at the moment. A month ago most people hadn’t heard of him, now many regard him as a scumbag, but only because his fleeing the country and his offences from the nineties have been publicised, he didn’t get name suppression as some offenders do.

Richie McCaw is one of the most prominent New Zealand sports people, but there are many people who aren’t interested in sport or in rugby so may know little or nothing about him.

What about ex All Blacks? Grahame Thorne was an All Black in the late sixties but many New Zealanders were born after that. He was also in Parliament in the nineties and was noted as an All Black who became an MP, but it’s hard to judge how prominent he is now.

Prominence is often due to what media cover and what they ignore. Thorne, an ex National MP, had a meeting prior to the election with then opposition leader David Cunliffe and the Labour candidate for Otago in Queenstown – see Cunliffe and a gift of wine – but it went virtually unreported, even though it could be justifiably be judged as of public interest.

Smith in custody in Brazil

It’s reported that Fugitive Phillip Smith taken into custody in Brazil…

Fugitive Phillip Smith has been taken into custody in Brazil.

Police Commissioner Mike Bush made the announcement just after 4.30am, saying Brazil Federal Police had Smith in their custody.

The New Zealand police liaison officer in Brazil visited Mr Smith and confirmed his identity.

In one way this is good news. He shouldn’t get away with breeching his temporary release and sentence.

In another way it’s not so good, there were many feelings of “good riddance”.

What now? How easy will it be to get Smith back to NZ?

Police Minister Michael Woodhouse said New Zealand did not have a formal extradition treaty with Brazil, which prompted concerns that returning Smith to this country could be a lengthy, complex process.

But he said Smith could be liable for deportation, which would be a simpler process than extradition.

Smith was not travelling on a valid travel document and he had failed to disclose his convictions when entering Chile and Brazil, meaning he was in the latter country illegally and could possibly be deported.

University of Auckland international law expert Bill Hodge believed if Smith was caught, he could be deported from Brazil based on problems with his visa.

“Then [they would] simply send him to the airport to deport to a place where an airline will carry him, and that will be in the first instance, Santiago, Chile – where they will deport him further out of transit back to New Zealand.”

So he could end up back in custody in New Zealand soon.

And then the issue of parole and release will come up again sometime.

Smith had committed many offences. Murder was the worst, and it was particularly nasty, as described on Campbell Live last night:

The victim was molested by Smith between the ages of 10 and 13 and was forced to watch as Smith stabbed his father to death, while out on parole in a violent home invasion in 1995.

When Smith was finally locked up, he continued to stalk and taunt the victim and his family from behind bars.

“He had a hit list to kill the whole family,” he says.

The victim described Smith’s predatory behaviour toward him and his family while on bail, saying Smith would stalk the family house for weeks before violently entering, despite conditions expressly prohibiting him from contact with the family. It was on bail that Smith stabbed the victim’s father to death in front of his eyes.

He says he has had trouble coping with the situation. Ever since Smith fled to South America, he has been sleeping with a knife under his bed, afraid the man who killed his father will come after him too.

“I’ve got mixed emotions – anger, fear. It’s not the first time they have let me down, and my family down.”

He is worried for the future and wants to see Smith put “back to where he belongs”.

While fleeing has brought this all up again Smith may have done some good, inadvertently, by fleeing.

He is obviously still high risk. Surely this justifies keeping him locked up, with no temporary release. This may not be indefinite but it should be for a long time at least.