Banned from entering prison – for criticizing Corrections Department

On 29 July, TVOne News broadcast an item reporting that the manager of Rimutaka prison, Mr Chris Burns, had banned me from entering the prison to conduct alcohol and drug assessments on inmates – because of criticisms I made about the Corrections Department in a newspaper article. I’m contracted to conduct these assessments by the Ministry of Justice – and I conduct similar assessments for the parole board.

When I need to interview a prisoner, I ring up the prison; make an appointment to see the inmate, and when I get there, I show my driver’s licence. I’ve been doing this for 13 years, and up till now, it has never been a problem.

Be a volunteer

But about two months ago, I was out at Rimutaka and one of the officers at the gatehouse said: “Mr Brooking. You come out here a lot, don’t you? We’ve got a new ID system for prison visitors. You need to fill in a form as a volunteer.”  I told him I wasn’t a volunteer as I get paid by the Ministry of Justice. I thought that would be the end of the matter, but far from it.

Next day I received a phone call from the head of prison security. He repeated the story:  “We’ve got a new ID system for prison visitors. You need to fill in a volunteer’s form .”  I told him I wasn’t a volunteer too but he was equally unimpressed. He told me to download the form off the Department’s website and send it in.

It doesn’t pay to argue with prison management – so I did as I was told. I filled in my name and where it says: “Why do you want to volunteer with the Department of Corrections?” I wrote: “I don’t. I am not a volunteer. I’m contracted to the Ministry of Justice.”

Be a specified visitor

Two weeks went by. Eventually I received an email saying that since I was not a volunteer I should apply for a Specified Visitors ID. So I filled in another form. Another three weeks went by and then I was told to attend a “Getting Got” presentation at the prison – in a month’s time.  Getting Got is a one hour power point presentation in which an officer explains how villainous prisoners are and how they will all try to corrupt visitors to bring in drugs, cell phones and other contraband. Having completed the formalities, I thought I was a shoo-in.

Another three weeks went by and then I received a letter from the prison manager, Mr Chris Burns. He said my application to be a Specified Visitor was declined because:

1)      The comments you made in the Upper Hutt Leader 12 June 2013 edition, in which you are critical of the way the Department of Corrections operates in regard to stopping prisoners using cell phones in prison.

 2)      The fact that in the article mentioned above you admitted to breaching prison security procedures by using a 2 degrees cell phone in Rimutaka prison in 2011.

I thought – you must be joking! I never wanted to be ‘specified’ in the first place. I’d rather keep using my driver’s licence. So the following week I went out to interview another inmate, showed my licence, and got into the prison with no problem. But big brother was watching. The next day, I got another call from the head of prison security. He told me I’d been seen at the prison in breach of the ban.

What ban?

Mr Burn’s letter said I couldn’t have the Specified Visitor ID; it didn’t say I was banned. The security chief explained to me, very politely, that Mr Burns had actually banned me from entering the prison – even though his letter didn’t say so. I told him – somewhat less politely – that New Zealand is a democracy, we have free speech and I can criticise the Department as much as I bloody well like.

I even explained that I made the phone call from the prison car park – not from inside the prison – and that when it comes to accusing someone of an offence, the Upper Hutt Leader is probably not a reliable source of information. The security chief was sympathetic but none of this common sense made any difference. He was just ‘following orders’ and I was still banned.

Statutory visitors

So I looked up the Department’s definition of Specified Visitor. It applies to those who provide “religious, spiritual or cultural support to prisoners” and specified visitors “must not receive any money, gratuities, rewards, gifts or benefits of any kind”. That ruled me out entirely – I could never be a specified visitor.  What they were saying was that I couldn’t have a particular ID that I was never entitled to apply for in the first place – which makes the decision to ban me a legal “nullity”.

The reality is that as a contractor for the Ministry of Justice, I’m a Statutory Visitor and “Statutory visitors may visit a prison and have access to a prisoner(s) or staff at any time as long as the visit is consistent with the visitor’s statutory duties.”

In other words, I’m allowed to go into the prison “at any time” – except they won’t let me. Talk about ‘Getting Got’. In the end, it wasn’t the prisoners that ‘got’ me – it was the prison manager.

17 thoughts on “Banned from entering prison – for criticizing Corrections Department

  1. This is nonsensical Roger, could we talk in the week and see what We might do to highlight such foolishness?
    Regards
    David C

    David Clendon
    Green MP

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  2. Allot of Red Tape there. Maybe you will have to stick to Private Prisons in the future? One can also see why no-one can speak out about anything. Once the death warrant is signed the end is near and subtle. You could always back down, eat crow, get on your knees and apologies for your bad behavior?

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  3. It’s not a surprise to me, this nonsense happens everyday in Corrections. Accountability is their greatest fear.

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  4. Roger,

    What about a ministerial complaint to prompt Great Leader Chris Burns. Has he read Flemming’s C of A decision? I did enjoy the ‘Getting Got” re villainous prisoners….wow! Keep it coming. Cheers Eb

    E.P [Eb] LEARY, BARRISTER, VULCAN CHAMBERS, LEVEL 1, GIFFORDS BLDG. CNR.VULCAN LANE & HIGH ST, AUCKLAND P.O.BOX 941 AUCKLAND 1140

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  5. As a prison volunteer for the past six years I can tell you it isn’t easy to get an ID even when they want you to. Lot’s of good people able to share skills and experience have been put off by the red tape and crazy system. Sometimes I turn up for my scheduled volunteering and I am no longer on the list. It can take 6 months to see the video again before you are cleared.

    Part of the problem is they have one person working 20 hours a week in a low paid job covering the biggest prison in the southern hemisphere and Arohata. Another problem is they don’t know what we do and don’t try to. It’s crazy because we are providing free rehabilitation and positive links to the community. I have to remain anonymous sorry as I’d hate to be banned.

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  6. I have only entered two prisons; Wellington and Waikeria. At Waikeria my car was searched in the car park and I handed in my cell phone and wallet to collect on the way out. I was visiting an inmate on remand as one of his whanau. Everything went OK. The inmate beforehand had to agree to see myself and his sister and that was the only requirement to my knowledge. He was in need of drug and alcohol counselling but I’m not sure if he received such or not. The people I rang were non-committal. However on neither occasion was I banned etc. It does seem odd that a contracted counseller could be banned from doing his job. Is the Prison Service that sensitive to criticism?

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  7. Roger was a guiding light and helped me through my darkest times of addiction. Without his help I would be still there. He is one of the only people that I know genuinely cares about helping people getting through their addictions and will use all the skills he has to help them. We are all entitled to have opinions and it is just ridiculous that they can ban him after all the people he has helped and just giving his honest opinion.

    Justin Rys

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  8. What saddens me about this is the degree to which Corrections continue to develop their siege mentality in their interactions with the public and, as in Roger’s case, people who are doing their best to offer support to those in prison who want to make changes in their lives. Are there people in prison who are dangerous and/or who will do everything they can to smuggle in contraband? Yes. Are there people outside prison who are willing to try to smuggle contraband in and who in doing so, make the work of prison staff difficult and/or dangerous? Yes.

    That said, what we need to remember is that the ‘average’ person in prison is someone who has made a bad choice or who has been boxed into a corner by the life they were born into and who, given half a chance, will take any opportunity they are given to learn to live life differently. Corrections need to stop operating from the lowest common denominator in terms of their policies and procedures and need to remind themselves often about their oft-stated objective of the reduction of re-offending. Another way of saying that is perhaps that they perhaps need to get over themselves and get a grip.

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  9. Another example of NZ bureaucracy, the backward, detrimental small minded attitudes that have absolutely no interest in improving the chronic and crippling prison statistics for the better.
    I don’t think the Department Of Corrections understands that NZ is a democracy, but then you could say this is true of the entire NZ government because John Key continues to allow the prison stats to increase with his mindset. The stats will never decrease with this ignorant, oppressive attitude.
    I recently watched http://www.3news.co.nz/Reducing-re-offending-rates-Inside-Rimutaka-Prison/tabid/817/articleID/296761/Default.aspx The reality of prison life is a totally different story, this media coverage is nothing but government propaganda.
    Incidentally Roger, family members are also refused visits I heard of one newly approved visit being denied yesterday because they hadn’t arrived 20 minutes before visiting time to complete forms, apparently they had to do this even though nothing was written on their info to advise them and despite traveling an hour and a half and pleading their case they were denied a visit for no other reason.Really is just boils down to small minded, spiteful behaviour.
    Perhaps if NZ looked at adopting Norway’s positive policies the chronic prison statistics will alter http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/feb/25/norwegian-prison-inmates-treated-like-people
    I hope this ban is lifted immediately Roger it is disgraceful. Your beneficial counselling should be welcomed with open arms and your constructive criticism should be listened to, heeded and taken on board then we’d probably see benefits in reduced numbers in recidivism etc etc.

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  10. Have you thought that its possable that visitors of any kind to a prison might have to go through a vetting process from time to time.
    Its a prison not a public space.

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  11. Roger – what has happened with you lately? A lot of people have stood up on your behalf and I am sure we all would be interested to have updates from you.

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    1. Aleandre, thanks for you query.

      I had a couple of meetings with management at Head Office and had to take a lawyer along with me. After a month Corrections reluctantly agreed to let me back in – but the whole process was quite stressful – they were denying me the ability to earn my living by conducting assessment on prisoners for the court and parole board.

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  12. I actually have a love one in Rimutaka and I too work for a Government Department. It’s about power and control. My loved one has told me that it’s not the other prisoners you worry about it’s the staff. I too have had problems with visits, property, things going missing. Lack of communication terrible terrible management

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  13. Having just been released from prison after Court of Appeal quashed my convictions I can relate to dulcine perfect’s experiences. So long as criminals like Ray Smith are in the system nothing will change. DoC never admit to making mistakes and when they do make mistakes (which is a regular occurrence) they always find a way to blame the prisoner(s). Amongst prison officers there are a few decent specimens but they are few and far between.

    Meatheads who have NO face to face contact with inmates make stupid rules for front line staff to follow and it is the front line staff who get flack from inmates. Sadly our Criminal [in]justice system is fundamentally flawed and prisons are the last port of call for a problem that starts with our corrupt police force. Commissioner Bush is probably the country’s worst criminal not yet behind bars. As for that idiot Minister of Corrections he needs more practical experience behind bars before he makes more (Key Stroke) statements in media.

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