Tuesday, February 23, 2021

A captive Minister

Yesterday a New Zealand Judge issued a formal finding that the Department of Corrections had treated prisoners in a cruel, degrading and inhumane manner, illegally detaining them, using excessive force, denying them basic necessities unless they performed degrading rituals of submission first. Some of the conduct appears to be criminal: offences of Ill-treatment or neglect of child or vulnerable adult, assault with a weapon, and arguably torture appear to have been committed. So what's the Minister's response? A full investigation? Sackings? Prosecutions? Of course not. Instead, he's chosen to deny the court ruling and undermine the judiciary:

Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis is not taking a judge's ruling that inmates at Auckland Women's Prison were treated in a "degrading" and "inhumane" way at face value, and wants more information.

Manukau District Court Judge David McNaughton made the stinging ruling when assessing whether inmate Mihi Bassett should have her sentence extended for arson at the prison in 2019.


[The Judge] said the women's evidence was "powerful and compelling" and he had no reason to doubt it.

But Kelvin Davis said these were still allegations and he had asked Corrections for their side of the story.

...which has already been presented in court, and found to be unreliable. But I guess Davis doesn't care about court rulings, or the rule of law in New Zealand. He has clearly been totally captured by his department, and is afraid to enforce even basic standards on them. Which is exactly how these abuses happen: cowardly Ministers unwilling to hold their lawless agencies to account.

Meanwhile, you also have to wonder where the Ombudsman was. They are officially responsible for monitoring New Zealand's prisons under the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture. And if they were doing their job properly, basic issues like unlawful detention, the illegal use of pepper spray, and ritual humiliation of prisoners would be detected and ended. But the Ombudsman apparently has never conducted a monitoring visit to Auckland Women's Prison. If they had, then maybe this woman wouldn't have been abused and tortured.

Update: The Ombudsman has in fact conducted an inspection of Auckland Women's Prison - back in 2013/14. Which seems like quite a while ago.