Tag Archives: Social Justice

Journey Towards Justice

Sir Kim Workman

…Rethinking Social Exclusion

In 2016, Bridget Williams, suggested that I write a memoir.  I started to explore how to do that, and came upon a book by  literary critic Sven Birkets, ‘The Art of Time in Memoir’, who advised that  “there is no faster way to smother the core meaning of life, its elusive threads and connections, than with the heavy blanket of narrated event”.  I took his advice, avoided writing a chronology, and instead explored a number of themes; race relations, law and order, neo-liberalism, social equality, Māori development, and crime and punishment.

As the work had progressed, I visualised my life as independent strands of thought, activity and experience which during the course of a lifetime travel a life of their own, finally entwining one with the other, to form in later years a uniquely patterned cable; flawed and fractured though it may be, represents my ‘true self’.

There were two overarching themes which permeated my thinking.   First, the whakatauki (or proverb), ‘Kia Whakatōmuri te Haere Whakamua’,

Walk backwards into the future with your eyes fixed on the past.’ It speaks to Māori perspectives of time, where the past, the present and the future are viewed as intertwined, and life is a continuous cosmic process.   Life does not begin at birth, or even conception.  It is an outcropping of more solid ancestral formations.

To understand one’s true self, one needs to understand the lives not only of our whānau and their influence on our social formation, but the lives of our tipuna.

Second, if life is a continuous cosmic process, there must be some overarching connector through which we share our humanity with others; something that tells us that although we are free to express our individuality, free to be unique, underneath all of that, we remain inextricably connected – we belong to each other.

Continue reading Journey Towards Justice

Countdown to the Mega-Prison

Minister of Corrections, Kelvin Davis

It is a strange moment in New Zealand politics: a Labour government committed to slashing prison numbers, about to build the biggest prison the country has ever seen. A final decision will be made within a month. With each passing day, momentum grows and the build becomes more likely.

The plan is to construct a new facility next to Waikeria prison, creating an enormous prison complex holding up to 3000 people. That is much larger than even the United Kingdom’s largest prison – HMP Berwyn, capacity 2100 – four countries with a combined population of 65 million.

Six months ago, no one would have expected Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis to support the build. In opposition, he was a radical critic and favorite of prison reform advocates, myself included.

Davis in office seems drained of all imagination. Now he oversees 9000 corrections staff and a prison system filled to overflowing. Conditions inside are terrible, with prisoners double-bunked and forced into shipping containers or emergency beds intended for disaster readiness. Routine inspections report endemic levels of violence and assault. Frontline staff are stretched to breaking-point. Continue reading Countdown to the Mega-Prison

Scrapping the mega-prison

Spring Hill (via Google Earth)

In the lead-up to the recent NZ election, MP Kelvin Davis announced that Labour will work to reduce the prison population by 30 per cent. The party inherits quite different priorities in government.

There are plans to build an enormous prison complex in Waikato, part of a sweeping $2.5 billion package to expand prison capacity. It is not too late for Labour to scrap this plan in favour of the vision they bring with them to office. But with construction set to begin next year, it would have to happen quickly.

If prisons worked there would be no need to build another one. Consider the network of new prisons that already crisscross New Zealand: Ngawha prison opened in the Far North in 2005, Auckland Women’s in 2006, Spring Hill and Otago prisons in 2007, the remand prison at Mount Eden in 2011, and two years ago, a partnership with multinational Serco on old industrial land in South Auckland.

We could be using these resources to build homes for our people. Yet in the past 20 years, the number of houses owned by the government has fallen from 70,000 to 63,000. Follow the money and the current priorities are clear. The Corrections budget this year is four times that dedicated to Building and Housing. Continue reading Scrapping the mega-prison