Containing a growing prison muster

Crusher has come up with a masterpiece of penal planning: she is enthusing about forcing prisoners to build their own jail cells from shipping containers.

Alf has two caveats. Imagine the amount of shit that will hit the fan if the headlines blare: “Prisoner escapes from cell he built.”

Moreover, as Crusher acknowledges, these cells would be more comfortable than the accommodation in some of our older slammers.

But (as the Sunday Star-Times reports today) the cost benefits are obvious –

The cost of building accommodation to the standard of the new Spring Hill prison in Meremere, south of Auckland, works out at about $643,000 per bed. Using shipping containers, the cost is an estimated $380,000 per bed.

But let’s start with what’s going on –

The Key government has asked Corrections to produce options to cope with the burgeoning prison muster, which has increased by 700 so far this year.

It is the latest of the government’s hardline “tough on crime” measures, which have included removing parole eligibility for the worst repeat violent offenders, allowing the cars of illegal street racers to be crushed and the seizure of the assets and profits of gangs.

Police have received powers to issue on-the-spot protection orders in family violence cases, and prison release conditions for serious child-sex offenders have been tightened.

Indeed, we Nats are cracking down on the crims.

But it’s getting tougher as the buggers get younger and younger. Witness the SoH picture of the toddler who shot through from a bicycle shop in Napier with a brand-new Xero bicycle, complete with training wheels.

Yep, the scoundrel is wearing a striped hooded sweatshirt, and his parents or caregivers have not been in touch.

Can’t image him making much of a fist of building his own cell, although he can at least give it a go.

But Crusher told the Sunday-Star-Times the issue of housing prisoners is expected to reach crisis point in the new year.

Double-bunking, the standard practice of putting two prisoners into a single cell, is not sustainable (dunno why not) and the economic downturn meant the government could not afford to build new prisons in the short term (good grief, when a government can’t afford to build jails it should stop bragging about its law and order aspirations).

But someone has had a brainwave –

Using prisoners to build their own cells was “a great idea” and “a lot better than being locked up all day in a cell”, Collins said.

“We are getting dangerously high in our capacity. We will not have the capacity by the beginning of next year to house all the prisoners that we will have.”

Could be the idea comes from Crusher herself, although she talks of “we” without telling us who “we” might be.

Corrections has yet to respond to Collins on the proposal for shipping-container cells, which she said would “be spartan but humane and clean. We are looking at whether we could make good use out of prisoner work teams to help build these, and obviously things like landscaping. We’re quite keen to have prisoners learning useful construction skills and helping to build their own environment. Prisoners need to learn construction skills so they can earn their keep and, frankly, it’s a lot better than being locked up all day in a cell.”

Alf can’t recall her raising the idea at a caucus meeting, although he might have dozed off momentarily.

The best thing going for the idea is that Kim Workman, the director of alternative justice think tank Rethinking Crime and Punishment, says housing prisoners in shipping containers is inhumane, and forcing prisoners to fit them out is asking for serious trouble.

“A container is a container and to have prisoners living in containers… this is stuff they were talking about in Australia 10-15 years ago and the department decided then that what was happening was inhumane.

“This is likely to create a considerable backlash. I think they are going one step too far with the idea of housing prisoners in containers. I think it’s a major breach of human rights and a contravention of the United Nations minimum rules for accommodating prisoners.”

Workman did not have a problem with prisoners working, “but this is a little bit like asking a person who’s been sentenced to hanging to build their own gallows. You can imagine how they would feel, building these atrocities and then being expected to live in them you might get a very negative reaction from prisoners.

“I think she [the minister] is on the verge of creating a situation where there will be major riots and people will die.”

If the people who do the dying in these circumstances are killers, rapists, robbers and what-have-you, Alf won’t lose too many tears.

Collins does identify a weakness in her idea when she says the shipping containers would provide a better standard of housing than some of the country’s older prisons such as Auckland’s Mt Eden and Wellington’s Mt Crawford.

Why would we want to do that?

But look at the stats –

The average prison population in 1996-97 was about 5000 but now it is about 8500 and rising,. New Zealand is said to have the second highest rate of imprisonment among western countries, after the US.

Collins said the issue was not so much overcrowding, but having too many prisoners concentrated in certain areas of the country. It was expensive and unsafe to constantly transport prisoners and it was also wrong that some were moved far from their families.

Ah. So what about shipping the rascals from one point to another in containers – that should overcome the security problem?

Then they could be banged up some of our more uncomfortable prisons.

But back to Crusher’s proposal –

The shipping containers would give prison authorities more flexibility in managing the inmate population.

Auckland, Rimutaka and Hastings were the immediate pressure points, and the intention would be to put the containers on land next to existing prisons, effectively increasing the bed-count.

“The previous government did not actually build enough space and bunks basically, and we’ve been left with this to deal with,” Collins said.

Will the Labour wankers support this wonderful idea?

Not by the look of it. Opposition corrections spokesman Clayton Cosgrove is accusing Collins of playing popular politics and warbles about the proposal creating more tension for prison officers.

Dunno what he would do to deal with the prison over-crowding.

Put them in tents probably and try to tell us the tents are secure.

One Response to Containing a growing prison muster

  1. Johnny says:

    If there are not enough containers, there may be cattle trucks on some rail siding that could be used to house or transport prisoners.

    As for building their own cells – one is reminded of World War 2 where prisoners held by the Nazis were required to dig their own graves. Jewish mainly I think.

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