Tuesday, January 24, 2006

What's going wrong with our prisons?

Political interference is the problem.

Once upon a time, the entire prison service was run by those who had done their time 'at the coal face.'

These men worked through the ranks and knew all the peculiarities of prison life and what made it run. Mostly, they had served in a disciplined service- armed services, police, firemen. They knew the importance of having the support and loyalty of the men under their command. They understood their main role was to protect the public. There was a no bullshit approach to inmate management- if they played up they got stomped on hard. It was understood they needed to work.

The men and women who worked the prisons were well-paid and stayed on for years. The job involved awful hours, working in a very unpleasant environment with very unpleasant and often brutal persons. The money reflected that.

Then in came the political interference, as the public service was restructured. Justice was split up as it was too big a power block(and full of nasty- right wingers) The powers-that-be made a tertiary qualifications essential for all management positions- out with those who just had 30 years practical experience and in with the psychologists and tree-huggers.

These are the ones who decided that inmates should do programs to address their offending and education. This does sound reasonable, on the face of it but it came at a cost- inmate employment. It costs money to supervise work parties. This budget was diverted into programs, with the result that many inmates sat about all day with nothing useful to do.
And when know who finds work for idle hands!

With rehabilitation the order of the day, in theory at least, it was decided to 'soften' the prison experience. Prison officer's uniforms looked too authoritarian and had to be changed. Daily routines like parading for roll call were canned- too military!

As is typical when do-gooder try to improve someone's lot- the opposite effect is achieved. Inmates were permitted to wear their own clothes (Some bean-counter probably decided that was cheaper than uniform)- now we have stand-overs for clothes and shoes.

Smokes used to be cheap (duty-free) but Herr Helen stopped that. Now tobacco is the main currency and causes all sorts of problems. Should have just banned the stuff, if they had some balls.

There are mixed messages sent. Drugs are forbidden, but testing and enforcement is very limited, due to minimal resources being put into prevention, testing and the damned overly liberal visiting system. Visits should be from behind Plexiglas for all! As for ideas like 'family days- what a crock of shite!'

The drug dogs are few and far between and there are almost no 'border patrols' around the facilities. The paperwork involved in piss-testing and the formalities mean that a fraction of the tests that should be done are done.

The ancient media like to blame officer corruption for the drugs and this does happen but the bulk of the contraband is thrown over the wire or comes in up the arse. (google 'goatse' if you don't believe a cellphone fits!) For some years now a high-tech scanner has been available that finds such things, but no, don't take any action- just blame corruption.

Overseas, it is customary to carry some kind of protection- baton, mace, stunners and firearms. In good old PC NZ, staff have radios!

The relationship between managemnet and staff makes the Dilbert Zone look like the Waltons.

Lastly, the departments Integrated Offender Management system. It sound like a great idea, but is just another admin. nightmare- when staff are doing data entry (continually) on a user-unfriendly system to supply statistics for head office, real prison work isn't being done- searching, patroling, watching inmates.

Nor does it get done when all the staff are reading 'Situations Vacant'...

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