Prisoners aren’t really human – so torture and scalping are allowed

BoshierThree weeks ago, the Ombudsman Peter Boshier, issued a report which said the Corrections Department had been tying difficult prisoners to their beds for up to 16 hours a day. The report described one case as follows:

 “The man spent almost 600 hours restrained on the bed and in some cases was not released in order to go to the toilet. His limbs were not moved during the periods of restraint… The inmate also did not receive his medication upon being imprisoned… Corrections also failed to seek medical approval to secure the prisoner to the tie-down bed 36 out of 37 times.”

The five prisoners subject to this inhumane treatment were deemed to be at serious risk of self-harm. In the absence of adequate mental health treatment in prison, chief executive Ray Smith (below left) justified these extreme measures as the only way to keep these inmates alive.

Peter Boshier identified four different prisons where this insidious substitute for mental health treatment was taking place: in Auckland, Christchurch, Otago and Waikeria.  He said the way these prisoners were treated was so cruel, the Department was in breach of the Crimes of Torture Act 1989.

That’s a pretty serious allegation.  Section 3 of this Act, says that anyone who commits an act of torture in New Zealand can be sent to prison for up to 14 years. If it’s that serious an offence, you’d think the media would be up in arms, the police would take immediate action and the prison managers who allowed this mistreatment to take place would be prosecuted.

Ray Smith
Ray Smith: “Appropriate action was taken”

But that didn’t happen of course. Ray Smith assured the public that the matters were “fully investigated and appropriate action taken”.  You must be joking.  One prison officer was fired (for assaulting a prisoner who was already tied down). No one was prosecuted for torture and the media lost interest in the story two days later. Why? Because the victims of these crimes are prisoners; and for the last 20 years or so, with the willing help of the media, the Sensible Sentencing Trust and most MPs have successfully depicted prisoners as something less than human.

As such, they don’t seem to have any rights. Well that’s certainly what Labour MP, Stuart Nash, seems to think. After hearing last week that the High Court said convicted murderer, Phillip John Smith, had the right to wear a toupee in prison, Nash pushed his unrestrained mind into overdrive and posted a message on Facebook claiming “He has no rights!!”  He went on to suggest other inmates should scalp Mr Smith. This is what he wrote:

Stuart Nash: “He has no rights!!”

“Scalping is associated with American Indians but it was actually started by Europeans. Perhaps someone in jail who isn’t too fond of monsters who destroy little boys’ lives by stealing their innocence in the worst way possible could reintroduce Mr Smith to the practice.”

Posting an incitement to violence on Facebook is a potential breach of section 22 of the Harmful Digital Communication Act which states:

  • A person commits an offence if the person posts a digital communication with the intention that it cause harm to a victim; 
  • Posting the communication would cause harm to an ordinary reasonable person in the position of the victim.

Will Nash be prosecuted? Of course not.  This is the era of fake news where myths, spin, and slander are normal narrative – often replacing the truth. Even law professors are not immune from this insatiable need to denigrate those in prison as less than human. In an opinion piece in Pundit, Otago law professor, Andrew Geddis (below) argues that Phillip Smith does have rights, including the right to wear a toupee. But in order to show he’s not a snowflake or a bleeding-heart blouse, Geddis describes Smith as ‘a piece of shit’ – adding ‘most definitely’ for good measure.

Prof Andrew Geddis: Called Phillip John Smith “most definitely a piece of shit”

That may not be against the law – although one could well argue that such a ‘communication would cause harm to an ordinary reasonable person’. If someone texted that to a schoolboy (or girl), it would be called bullying. Calling an adult a piece of shit online (where it lasts forever), could well cause an ordinary person hurt and distress. Sometimes this kind of abuse leads to suicide.

The thing is – prisoners in New Zealand are barely seen as people, let alone ‘ordinary’ or ‘reasonable’.  You can say anything you like about them. It seems you can also do anything you like to them.  You can house them in shipping containers; feed them poor quality food; lock them up for 23 hours a day; deny them access to mental health treatment when they’re suicidal; expose them to fight clubs and violence; withdraw opiate pain medication when they need it; deny them access to the dentist when they have toothache or an abscess; prevent them from voting in elections; prevent them from talking to the media – the list goes on.

Now you can even torture prison inmates and encourage them to scalp each other.  Except for the Ombudsman, no one in New Zealand seems to give a shit – because according to the Sensible Sentencing Trust, Stuart Nash and now a prominent law professor in New Zealand, that’s all they are.

8 thoughts on “Prisoners aren’t really human – so torture and scalping are allowed

  1. Hi Roger,

    “Snowflake”? “Bleeding heart blouse”? Goodness me, we are co-opting the language of our oppressors.

    For the record, I think Smith is “a piece of shit” for the reasons listed in my blog:

    (1) He sexually abused a young boy.
    (2) He then went to that boy’s house and killed the boy’s father.
    (3) He then took advantage of a prison release process intended to help prisoners reintegrate into society to escape the country, which had the all-too-foreseeable effect of causing the prison authorities to clamp down on the programme and thus screwed over a whole lot of other prisoners.

    In addition to this, we may look at Smith’s 2014 parole decision, where the parole board noted the fact he committed multiple fraud offences whilst in jail, hasn’t payed to his victims the reparation ordered against him (despite having the means to do so), and continues to describe his original offences as “spur of the moment” actions.

    So I don’t call Smith a “piece of shit” because he is in prison. I call him that because he repeatedly acts in a shitty way towards other people. Just as, for instance, I think Donald Trump and Cameron Slater are both “pieces of shit”. Because if it walks and quacks like a duck … .


    1. Andrew, no offence intended but it seems to me that you are the one using the language of a well known oppressor – Garth McVicar. The SST has been oppressing prisoners human rights for 20 years with similar comments, and your labelling of Smith in this way simply adds fuel to his fire.

      Penal populism is a battle for public opinion and McVicar has been winning that battle for years. You’re an academic. If someone in your position denigrates those in prison, you bring yourself down to McVicar’s simplistic level of analysis. You should know better than to join him in such common vernacular – which makes your reasons for doing so irrelevant.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. “…writes self-indulgent blog posts at” (From the Otago University website). Says it all really. Andrew, would you like to indulge yourself enough to tell us what your doctoral thesis was about please? Just curious. I don’t see that information mentioned on the particular part of the site that I was reading. Cheers.


    2. Hi Andrew

      As a law professor I would have expected you to express your views in a more balanced way, less the emotive rhetoric.

      Whatever Phillip Smith’s sins, he is entitled, as you well know, to have his rights upheld as much as he must be held accountable to the law, just like anybody else.

      I think your comments show a real lack of character, as well as a lack of professionalism.

      Sam Daniels


  2. Restraining people for long periods has been standard mental health practice for decades even when they haven’t committed any crime. Done to children in fact. One could say they are getting mental health treatment. They have no mental health treatment that works, hence they are restrained. It’s still been done in current psych wards.


  3. Of course prisoners aren’t human they are convicts. Take away their right to vote and they cease to be citizens. Most of them probably seldom vote anyway and think poloticians are shit. The latter thought being fairly accurate. 90% of voting public probably seldom spare a waking thought about prisoners unless a family member is inside or something on TV News capures their attention for 30 seconds.

    Of course the blame for the plight of prisoners cannot all be hung on Corrections staff who have a thankless job. The real blame rests with Judges who delight in sending people down and politicians who allow a derilict farmer to direct law and order policy. Obviously there are some monsters who deserve locking up and throwing away the key but that would only account for 10% of the prison population and there are more of those monsters living in the community including a few who inhabit the Beehive.

    During a recent incarceration I developed serious health issues that the prison health service is ill equipped to deal with. One of the consequences was lower limbs and feet swelling to twice normal size leaving me barefoot 24/7 because my footwear no longer fitted which further aggravated the problem. Corrections adopted the ‘not our problem’ stance and medical staff could only offer sympathy. On the morning I was released my driver brought out slippers three sizes larger than my normal footwear but gatehouse staff refused to take those to Receiving Office for me to wear when exiting. Those same cretons laughed as I stumbled over rough stony terrain barefoot because watching prisoners suffer is the only perk of the job.

    As for Ray Smith and his spin doctor minions they operate on the “what’s behind closed doors stays behind closed doors” principle and any negativity sent their way is quickly denied. SERCO were blamed for fight clubs but throughout public prisons staff actively encourage violence and provoke misbehaviour so that they can con the world into believing they have a tough job and that anti-social behaviour is the norm for prisoners.


  4. Dissapointing behaviour from Professor of Law. He should know better than labeling people as faecal. This behavior is unenlightened to say the least.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s