Thursday, March 03, 2016

Judith Collins should not spy on MP's prison visits

Last month we learned that Corrections Minister Judith Collins had been spying on MPs visiting prisons. Now, she wants all those visits to be run through her office:

A letter from Corrections Minister Judith Collins asking MPs to go through her office before visiting prisons is a "heavy-handed" attempt to reduce bad publicity, the Green Party says.

Collins denies the letter, sent to all MPs on Thursday morning, is about reducing transparency, saying she instead wants to keep politicians safe and improve their access to prisons.

The letter outlined "certain expectations and protocols" that MPs should follow when arranging a visit to a prison or raising issues on behalf of offenders.

Requests for visits should go through a Corrections private secretary in Collins' office, while MPs were asked to give "a reasonable amount of notice" before a visit.

Its a pretty obvious effort to front-foot and limit the bad publicity bubbling out of her portfolio. Its also illegal. Section 161 of the Corrections Act 2004 gives MP's an absolute right to visit prisons and talk to prisoners at any time. This right is not subject to Ministerial approval or prior notification, and for good reason: its to ensure independent eyes on the system and to allow problems to be exposed. But that's exactly what control-freak Collins doesn't want. To her, no news is good news, and if she can't ensure that Corrections stays out of the news by running a clean ship, she'll engage in crude coverups and bullying censorship instead.