1300 people write letters to stop Waikeria mega-prison

The Labour-led government are close to making a decision about whether or not to go ahead with building a new billion-dollar prison in Waikeria.

The prison, 30 kilometres north of Otorohanga, will have the potential to hold 3000 people, making it the largest in the country.

1300 people have written letters to Justice Minister Andrew Little and Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis urging them to stop the new prison.

The action follows the release of a report last week from the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor that says New Zealand’s justice system is broken and building new prisons is not the answer.

Laura O’Connell Rapira, Director of ActionStation, the community campaigning organisation that coordinated the letter writing effort says,

“Our community are passionate about supporting efforts to build a more compassionate justice system which prioritises prevention, restoration and rehabilitation, and an end to the over-incarceration of Māori people.

We understand the difficult situation the government is in with wanting to end the horrific practice of double-bunking and feeling reluctant to forge ahead with a new prison that will inevitably fail in terms of reducing crime.

We would like to offer our collective support to the government should they choose to go down the path of stopping the Waikeria prison build, and reducing the prison population more broadly.”

The letters are from a wide range of people from all around the country. Here are a sample:

“Our levels of incarceration are extraordinarily high, and this helps neither the victims nor the incarcerated people. NZ’s rate is shameful, and that’s not even taking into account the appalling proportion of the prison population who are Maori or Pasifika. Prison needs to be a last resort, we need to focus on non-punitive responses that help ACTUALLY rehabilitate people, and address the underlying issues that have turned people on to this path. Prison is expensive, it takes people away from society, and helps separate them further by making it considerably harder to rejoin normal society once they are released.”

— Lucy, 30, Wellington

“In my 18 years as a care and protection and youth justice worker for Oranga Tamariki, I have witnessed first hand what these places can do to a young person. One needs to see the outcomes it has had on those who were not only in care but the effects their upbringing have had on them. Most of those as we know derive from whānau who are displaced or who are addicted to drugs, alcohol and mental health problems… This saddens me particularly when you know that if things were different for them they can achieve much in so many ways. Keeping in mind the above factors would it not be better to explore solutions using the positive approach… I am [also] of the view that the whānau, hapū and iwi should take an active role in this area.”

— Peter, 58, Rotorua

“I have been studying criminology and politics for the past 2 years at the University of Otago. I have never been one to speak out publicly on issues that concern me, but over the past two years of my life I have come to learn a lot more about our criminal justice system and the policies and practices in place. I firmly believe that a new mega prison would be a detrimental choice to New Zealand society. I don’t believe we should just be locking offenders away and leaving them in prisons, almost like an afterthought, with no proper attempt to remedy the many issues that led them to where they are. I think it is our responsibility — as informed members of society, as politicians in places of power, as New Zealanders — to help shift the focus of dealing with crime to reassessing the many issues and circumstances within our society that has lead to crime, marginalisation and an ever-increasing prison population that can, with support and understanding, be eliminated. It is our duty as New Zealanders to help support individuals who have been failed by government (and by society — myself included!) due to the lack of investment in education, health, housing and jobs, and the naive misunderstanding many Kiwis have of crime, criminals and our justice system. It would be extremely naive of our government to build a new prison when it is clear that there are bigger issues at play. This is not a permanent fix to a widespread issue we are facing, it is simply temporary — a band-aid that will no doubt fall off in a matter of time, causing a mass infection that may be more difficult to remedy in the future.”

— Heather, 20, Dunedin

“Much of my work as a psychotherapist is involved with the treatment of traumatised people. People who have been traumatised have often experienced significant disconnections in their lives, and in my experience, sensitive reconnection is imperative in healing and rehabilitation. The majority of prisoners in Aotearoa have a history of trauma and disenfranchisement. I believe it is often these factors which create the pathway towards criminal activity. It is for this reason that I do not support the expansion of our prison system. Isolation is not a healthy way for perpetrators to face their actions and move forward into a new way of being. I believe that cutting people off from healthy connectors has a significant bearing on a person’s ability to change their behaviour.”

— Anna, 30, Auckland

“I’ve been in the prison system and another mega prison is not the answer. We need rehabilitation centres an specialists.”

— Eliza, 68, Kawerau

“We need to draw a line in the sand. The need for new prisons will increase unless we do, locking people up, fracturing whanau in environments that will perpetuate the problems that cause prisons to be needed. We need to learn from other countries how to turn the tide; how we can get to the heart of why we have the problems we do and rehabilitate offenders in ways that will make a difference. We need to learn from other countries who are achieving this. …if we keep doing the same thing we will keep getting the same outcome.”

— Jan, 70, Tauranga

ENDS

Contact

Laura O’Connell Rapira

laura@actionstation.org.nz

022 057 2319

About ActionStation:

ActionStation is an independent, crowdfunded community campaigning organisation representing over 180,000 New Zealanders acting together to create what we cannot achieve on our own: a society, economy and democracy that serves all of us — everyday people and the planet we love.

We work together to create a society where people and planet are more important than profit and Te Tiriti o Waitangi is honoured.