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Peaceful Prison Protests Halt Family-destroying Transfers

Prisoners in Christchurch Men’s Prisons undertook two acts of peaceful protest last month, successfully pausing controversial plans for mass transfers. The transfers, which would have violated a section of the Corrections Act requiring the Department to preserve family relationships, were opposed by prisoners and their families as well as the Corrections Association. Community group People Against Prisons Aotearoa, whose prisoner newsletter encouraged prisoners to peacefully protest against human rights violations, say they’re pleased with the developments.

“The Department of Corrections has a clear responsibility, laid out in legislation, to protect whānau ties,” says the group’s spokesperson Emilie Rākete. “Transfering almost a hundred people across the country, away from their families, spits on that responsibility.”

On two occasions, groups of prisoners sat in exercise yards and peacefully refused to leave until the decision to remove them from their families was changed. Rākete says this shows that peaceful protest is both justified and effective.

“This kind of action is exactly what our human rights newsletter for incarcerated people has encouraged. Incarcerated people, their families, and their communities outside can prevent the violation of human rights in New Zealand’s prisons, but only if we act. People Against Prisons Aotearoa is ready to provide support to the protesters and their families in whatever forms are needed to ensure these unwanted and unlawful transfers don’t go ahead.”

“Despite hysteria from the Minister and senior Corrections bureaucrats, political activity by incarcerated people is not a threat: it is an opportunity. We have an opportunity to keep vulnerable people in their family relationships, or we can allow Corrections to tear those relationships away. For us, the best option is obvious.”

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