Saturday, September 13, 2008


In early 2006, David Cox was convicted of minor offences and sent to Christchurch Prison. Within a month, he was dead of pneumonia. He died because prison authorities, who had a legal obligation to care for him, basically let him freeze to death. They refused to provide him with extra blankets or additional clothing, did not allow his family to provide either, and failed to provide proper medical care until it was too late.

If a parent had done this to a child, or a hospital to a patient, they would be prosecuted for failure to provide the necessaries of life and (if convicted) jailed for up to seven years. When Corrections does it, no-one is held accountable. It is the nature of organisations to distribute and diffuse responsibility, so that failure is no-one's fault, but instead dumped on "the system". But here, someone is dead. And every guard who saw that man shivering and refused to help, every prison official who denied his requests for assistance, and every bureaucrat who said "you can't send him a jersey" is guilty of his murder.

This is intolerable. We abolished the death penalty for ordinary crimes in 1961, and finally abolished it in 1989. We cannot allow it to return unofficially by neglect. Those responsible for David Cox's death need to be held accountable. And Corrections needs to be reformed so that this is never allowed to happen again.