You've got to be wondering about the water cooler conversations Corrections Minister Judith Collins is having with her associate Minister Pita Sharples about private prisons. In most countries where the government has handed over control of chunks of the prison system, such as the US and Britain, it's been to large multi-national corporations.
But as Collins told Q+A on Sunday, she sees "no reason at all" why it shouldn't be iwi who take a lead with the tenders in this country.
At the very least, the signal has been sent to Prisons Inc. that if they want to win the tender for National's new prison, they will want to have established some sort of joint venture relationship with a local iwi.
Surely the Maori Party has had a nod and a wink that iwi involvement will be written into the contracts somehow. If National gets its legislation through with Maori Party support and then gives the tender to some multi-national without any iwi or urban authority involvement, the Maori Party would look impotent. It would be especially embarrassing for Sharples, and National can't afford to muck around its junior partner.
I was interested that Collins said only the one prison would be privatised at first, and it would be fully assessed before any other prisons followed the same path. Assuming it would take a year before you could get any decent metrics out of the new private prison, it could be into a second term before the government started rolling out privatisation through our prison sector.
That's a softly, softly approach. It means Collins won't have the private sector to help her achieve the goals she has set herself regarding short-term prison reform.
Collins was surprisingly candid on Sunday in giving the public the criteria to judge her by. At the end of the interview, she said:
"I would like to think that after my term as Corrections Minister that we will have less recidivism and that we will have fewer prisoners who are taking drugs in prison, that we will have fewer assaults on staff and other prisoners, that's what I would like to see..."
So come the next election, we know what questions to ask her and by which standards to hold her to account.
One point about rehabilitation. It's a shame of our prison system that only about a third of all prisoners get any rehabilitation at all - that includes work programmes, drug rehab and literacy schemes. During her interview Collins made much of the fact that the government would be doubling the number of prisoners getting drug and alcohol rehab.
Sounds good, right? Except that Kim Workman, the Director of
restorative justice advocates Re-Thinking Crime and Punishment,
told me last week that about 6,000 (or 80% of the country's more
than 8,000 prisoners) have drug and alcohol problems. At the moment
there are rehab 500 places in our prison system. That's 500
nationwide. So doubling that to 1,000 still leaves a lot of
troubled people being released without treatment.
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Q+A - TV ONE, Sunday at 9am and live streaming on TVNZ.co.nz
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