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Rubbing Hydrochloric Acid into community wounds!

Rubbing Hydrochloric Acid into community wounds!

by Robin Gunston
April 29, 2013

How can a prison construction and PPP ownership project, that only scraped through its resource consent process due to the formative opposition of some 43 community groups back in May 2011, have moved to a stage where it has now got an International financing award, according to Euromoney’s Project Finance magazine?

How can the biggest bank in NZ have got an award for its part in innovative financing of this deal?

During the EPA resource consent phase for this new prison, which none of us who work in the sector ever really wanted, the Auckland Council, NGOs and community groups detailed so much challenging information that the presiding judge of the EPA had to acknowledge in her report that it would have never got through the process but for the diligent work of those opposing it! That was the salt in the wound and we are still hurting from it!

Now those set to profit from it in the finance, construction, and infrastructure sector can all sit back and pat themselves on the back with little thought to the human implications of what May 2015 will bring to the future of South Auckland communities.

It's like hydrochloric acid has been poured on our already deep wounds and as acid does it will cause pain and scarring for life.

There is no such thing as a good prison! There are some that may be better than others with regard to their caring staff, to having waterproof cells, maybe some good recreation areas and a view that is of somewhere peaceful and serene, but even with all that the only effective thing they do for society is prevent or delay further criminal activity. The original Victorian concept of a penitentiary- a place where you would feel sorry to society for what you did has never been realised, except in those places where strong outside community influences, liberally peppered with love and care for those incarcerated have been permitted to work unhindered.

There are no known prisons yet to my knowledge where people are adequately prepared for eventual societal integration, so how one is to be designed to accomplish this is yet to be marveled at! Having already won such praise and awards it must be better than anything we have ever seen!

Our detailed research over the last 2 years has shown us that the theory that best fits what we observe is that of desistance, as espoused by academics Maruna, Martinez, Christian and others in the last 4-5 years.

When we invited Professor Maruna to New Zealand in 2007 to inform us all within both Government and those NGOs concerned about the lives of ex-prisoners, his most telling statement was this. “There are only two parties who can make the decision to desist from crime, the offender or the community into which he/she will come back.”

Rehabilitation, if done really well and followed up consistently when back in the community, may aid the offender to start considering that they should desist from crime before they are released. However evidence shows that without the purposeful will and agency of a willing and able community and its representatives, commencing at the earliest stages of the imprisonment process, proper integration back into society will not occur.

The South Auckland community is widely recognized as having some considerable pre-existing social issues that have needed sorting out for the past 20 plus years. Many NGOs work tirelessly to battle the effects of these deep seated issues with their work being under the radar of both Government and business. From May 2015 however this yet to be constructed prison will place even greater pressures on housing, employment, schooling, churches and other social services in this overstretched part of our country’s largest city.

Who then will be the first of these PPP partners and their bankers, lawyers and advisers to offer their prize money or corporate social responsibility financial support to helping those of us in the community sector who, 2 years out from this industrial scale prison opening , have yet to have any part in the design of the only part of the equation that research shows will give success –the COMMUNITY?


Robin Gunston is the National Director of Prison Fellowship NZ, a national charity working with offenders, their children, families and victims across NZ. These are his own views and do not necessarily represent those of Prison Fellowship NZ.

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