A case for open prisons

Christine McCarthy

Christine McCarthy is a senior lecturer at Wellington School of Architecture at Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington, where her research covers prison architecture. He is the former president of the Wellington Howard League for Penal Reform.

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The benefits of open prisons have been recognized for many years. So why does New Zealand, where so many prisons are so densely denigrated, do not follow international standards?

Open prisons are staffed by professional academics and jurists. But New Zealand is slow to adopt this idea, even though more than half of our prisons are at little or no risk.

Justice Stephen Kós – president of the Court of Appeals – has advocated for open prisons as a necessary way for justice. Mu 2018 address at the Legal Research Foundation, he described open prison as “prison, but not as we know it. And we want it”.

Open prisons seek to create conditions close to normal living. It is often praised by Sir Alexander Paterson, the British prison warden from 1922 to 1947. Paterson’s view: “You cannot teach a man to be free in conditions of slavery.” Britain’s first opened prison, the New Hall Camp, opened about 90 years ago, in 1933.

In less secure prisons, many inmates can work in the area during the day but return to the prison before it is time to get home. Prisoners are at low risk and what is needed in the prison is to reunite people, rebuild family relationships and reduce crime.

The benefits of open prisons have been recognized for many years. Writing in 1977, academics Howard Jones and Paul Cornes found that the slight improvement in open prisons “allows inmates to learn more about social justice”.

It is not easy to appreciate how closed prisons affect people inside. Erwin James, a former UK prisoner wrote about his transfer to an open prison after 18 years behind the “long walls, metal bars and razors” of a closed prison. He remembered that he was watching the swamp nearby ”“ I am very worried. I forgot about looking away. ”

James explained the need for an open prison “to help weaken established power,” [and] to provide for the measure of liberty and dignity of the person to be denied in closed prisons “.

In them search by inmates in an open prison in the UK, students Bethany Statham, Belinda Winder and Daniel Micklethwaite have found that this relative freedom can be dangerous for prisoners because they are established and cannot make their own decisions. Open prisons can help prisoners change their lives.

In the late 1990’s, the then National Government opened the first self-care center in New Zealand. These units help inmates to live in a safer environment, where they can learn to budget and cook for the rest of their lives. Sections are located in or near the prison.

But this is the closest thing to open a prison and it only accounts for about 5 percent of our prison camp. In contrast, 30 to 33 percent of Finnish and Norwegian prisoners are confined to open prisons or open cells.

So why don’t we have more? This is an important question to answer because most prisoners in New Zealand (56.5 percent) are considered to be at lower or lower risk.

The security system of the security department consists of five categories of prisoners on trial: low, low, low, medium, high and high-security. This reflects the assessment of inmate risk to others, both inside and outside the prison.

Two low-risk groups (low and low) require a minimum external risk of 17, as well as a minimum risk of internal risk.

External risk is assessed by 18 factors, indicating risk of escape, behavioral stability, risk of injury and risk, with a maximum of 198. For example, a current or historic sentence of more than five years for sexual orientation or violence has a probable number. out of 20.

Although most convicted convicts are considered to have little or no security, our prison facilities are provided to high-risk inmates.

Data obtained under the Official Information Act during 2020 showed that we had 422 beds of minimum security for 2,002 inmates with less security. There were no unprotected beds but 1,322 prisoners with little protection. At the same time, we had 950 heavily guarded prisoners and 5,393 beds with strong security.

Justice Kós’ call for open prisons shows the same inconsistency in our justice system. In a statement in 2018, he said: “We have someone who is not dangerous, who deserves to be imprisoned – and because we have not considered other options in prison, he should go and be one.”

His call to open prisons in New Zealand is kind and wise. It continues to be relevant and urgently needed.

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