Corrections chief Barry Matthews may have a plan to fix the careless handling of offenders on parole, but now he faces more serious trouble—inside the prison walls.
Paremoremo is the place we put the prisoners that most New Zealanders simply want to forget. Behind its razor wire fences and concrete walls, it is supposed to be security-to-the-max—but recent events have shattered that illusion.
The death of prisoner Tui Faave in a brutal beating on a prison landing at the beginning of this month marks the beginning of the next nightmare for embattled Corrections’ chief Barry Matthews.
No doubt, the same Defarges who were calling for his head before the State Services Commissioner reviewed his performance in dealing with the shortcomings of his Community Probation and Psychological Services will be baying for blood again. This time, Matthews has a tougher rap to beat.
Over the last couple of years, New Zealand’s only purpose-built male maximum security prison has racked up an appalling record.
May 2007: four Corrections staff are arrested for engaging prisoners to work privately on their homes.
July 2007: a Corrections officer is caught trying to smuggle contraband into the prison.
August 2008: Six inmates are charged with stabbing four others in a prison brawl between gang rivals, Killer Beez and the Mongrel Mob.
September 2, 2008: Eight inmates are arrested and charged with participating in a major drug ring that is alleged to have made one of them a millionaire. An affidavit presented in evidence claims that the ring “uses prison staff to move drugs and cell-phones into and out of the prison”.
September 10, 2008: Police investigate another beating and stabbing incident at the prison. Four inmates are subsequently charged with committing grievous bodily harm and assault.
December 20, 2008: Double murderer Graeme Bell attacks Headhunters gang member Dwayne March on a prison landing shared by 12 other inmates.
January 21, 2009: Arai Hema, a “low security risk” inmate, escapes by walking away from a work team carrying out ground maintenance outside the prison fence. Hema’s record includes the sexual assault and stabbing a 17-year old girl, inflicting wounds requiring 400 stitches on her 78-year-old rescuer, showering one prison guard with boiling water, slamming another with a shovel, and punching a third for trying to make him work in a prison joinery.
February 4, 2009: The samurai of P, Antonie Dixon, dies in his cell, apparently of self-inflicted wounds. His lawyer, Barry Hart, says Dixon had been beaten up several times by other inmates and had refused to take his medication for a period before his death.
February 11, 2009: According to an as-yet-unconfirmed ONE News report, a Paremoremo inmate had his back broken and his skull fractured in another B Block brawl a little more than a fortnight before Tui Faave was killed in what ONE’s source suggests was an act of retaliation.
You can say, as the prison officers union president Bevan Hanlon has, that “prisoners run that prison on intimidation” because of the lack of security offered to guards.
You can say, as Barry Matthews did soon after the Faave killing, that “deaths in prison do occur”.
But, within a fortnight, the Corrections chief was laying the blame for Faave’s death at the door of guards who were supposed to have checked that he was safely locked in his cell before releasing other inmates on his landing.
“If they don’t do what we are paying them to do, there is a potential for something to go wrong, and that is what happened two weeks ago,” he told the New Zealand Herald.
That blew it. Within 24 hours, the staff of the prison had passed a unanimous “no confidence” vote in their managers.
Corrections Minister Judith Collins was wringing her hands and calling on management and staff to meet and reconcile their differences.
To add fuel to the fire, their union—the Corrections Association of New Zealand—simultaneously released a report on Auckland’s prisons they had commissioned from an Australian union colleague, Colin Rosewarne.
After a 30 to 45 minute visit to Paremoremo, Rosewarne was able to report what his New Zealand colleagues either could not, or would not, say.
Paremoremo was “putrid”… “a dump”. Watchtowers were unmanned, motion detectors were not working [what, all of them?]. There were no perimeter patrols. There were shortages of guards. Hygiene was poor and the prison hospital was “unbelievable”.
Corrections’ northern region manager, Warren Cummins, was as surprised and disappointed with the Rosewarne report as he was by the prison staff’s vote of no confidence.
Matthews has yet to respond but he has his own defense ready.
His brief to his incoming Minister warns that “a significant proportion of the prison estate is approaching, or has already reached the point of obsolescence. Some facilities can no longer be regarded as fit for purpose, with some being at risk of non-compliance with building standards. The Department is preparing a business case to address various capacity issues.”
Barry Matthews may yet go down as the CEO who had a plan for everything—but no performance to show for it.