Thursday, March 19, 2009

Guest column: Complicity

By Iona.

I am upset.
I am concerned.
I feel sick.

Whichever of those gets your attention, I'm that one. Ignore the others. I am upset/concerned/sickened by the move to significantly increase double-bunking of prisoners in our prisons. Idiot/Savant on No Right Turn sums it up better than I can:

Quite apart from our obligations to run safe prisons under international law [...] allowing people to be beaten, brutalised, and victimised in prison - and indeed, establishing conditions which actively promote such treatment - rather undercuts the message of the law that that sort of behaviour is wrong.
There's no moral, ethical or crime-prevention justification for this policy change - it's all economics. When did the economy knock fundamental human rights the agenda? When did international law become a luxury?

When we allow this kind of thing to happen in our country, ordinary New Zealanders are complicit. The lawmakers are elected by the people, they represent us, and it's our duty as citizens to make them hear us and to demand accountability. Taxes pay for the prisons, whether those prisons are private or state-run, and for the Department of Corrections.

And, more directly, many of us are responsible because we have been jurors and may well be jurors again. Could you, in all conscience, declare someone guilty knowing that this meant they (or their cellmate) might well be beaten or raped? I couldn't. I will not.

Once a person is convicted, they have no control. They become the state's responsibility. They become our responsibility. To degrade prison conditions is brutal, offensive and inhumane. It's no secret that prison rape is rife in the USA and it happens here too. We should be taking every measure to stop it, not putting in place policies that are known to worsen the risk. Write to the Minister. Call an MP. Make an outcry.

What else can we do? Refuse to convict anyone for a crime where the punishment is imprisonment?

Because it's not about whether they're good or bad. It's not about whether they're guilty or innocent. When people are imprisoned, the punishment is loss of freedom. It should never be rape or other forms of torture. Rape is never okay.

This is about who we are - as communities and as a country. It's about our standard of human decency. It's about who we want to be.