This week the Corrections Association voiced their frustration at the Minister of Corrections Kelvin Davis for consistently “putting prisoners interests ahead of theirs.” In fact, Association president Alan Whitley seriously considered having a vote of no confidence in the Minister.
It should not be underestimated how serious the situation is. The Association is forced to come out publicly with such loud criticism and take the extra step to have a symbolic vote of no-confidence in Kelvin Davis.
If one looks a little deeper at the reasons why Alan Whitley has come out so publicly, it will become quite obvious the total justification in why he did it when you simply look at the headlines.
Here is a list of just some of the news articles over the past few years that might have a little something to do with it:
- 2018 – New Zealand’s worst prisons: Hundreds of prison staff assaulted each year
- 2019 – Assaults at prison a record high
- 2019 – Auckland prison assaults have ballooned over the past decade, staff call for law changes
- 2020 – Violence against prison guards appears to be worsening as population decreases
- 2020 – Auckland Prison staff assaulted 109 times in a year, three seriously injured
- 2020 – Former Corrections officer suggests ‘modern management’ to blame for spike in assaults in New Zealand prisons
- 2021 – ‘Punched, kicked, spat at’ – New data reveals 82% jump in prison staff assaults
- 2021 – Corrections Association frustrated govt making changes for inmates, but not doing anything for assaults on Corrections officers
After reading those articles and understanding the desperate nature our Corrections Officers have been pleading with the Minister, it is very little wonder why it has got to this point.
Prisoner benefits outweighing staff safety.
The reality is that serious assaults on Corrections staff have ballooned consistently year on year with zero action from concurrent Governments. The Corrections Association has seen the clear need for tougher sentences on those inmates who assault staff to act as an effective deterrent. The current laws are simply inadequate to hold inmates to account.
Whitley contacted the Sensible Sentencing Trust voicing his frustration. Frontline Corrections Officers are simply not being listened to. Not only that but the salt in the wound was the changes the Minister is making around the benefits and considerations of the inmates – all the while ignoring the staff.
A prime example was the recent sentencing of an inmate who assaulted an officer. After being found guilty of the assault, the inmate received just a 7-day sentence added to his already existing time. This is quite obviously meaningless, insulting, and frankly a joke.
Whitley emailed the Sensible Sentencing Trust outlining his very real concerns:
“The seven days handed down for an assault by the judge is just a complete insult to all corrections staff it just shows how little the judiciary cares about corrections officers. It’s hard enough to get something in front of the court in the first place only to have a wet bus ticket handed down as a result
My members are saying that they believe everything is geared to be in the favour of the prisoners.”
These are the words that the Association has consistently passed on to the Minister, who continues to ignore their pleas and instead focuses on the inmates’ interests.
Mandatory 6-month prison term
If Davis doesn’t address this very serious issue, not only will the Association continue to lose confidence in their Minister, but of most concern is the assaults will continue to increase, and our officers will continue to get hurt – or worse.
Sensible Sentencing Trust has always backed and promoted harsher penalties for inmates who attack Corrections staff. In fact, we have promoted a piece of legislation that is currently in front of the Justice Select Committee which aims to bring in a minimum mandatory six-month prison term as the standard.
The Minister has the chance to back this legislation and show that he supports the frontline Corrections Officers. Maybe it will then show that he might actually be listening to what they have been screaming out for years.
It’s frankly outrageous that after years of increasing assaults there is still no action from this Government or this Minister.