How the justice system perpetuates crime

Flying BlindFlying Blind – How the justice system perpetuates crime and the Corrections Department fails to correct.

By Roger Brooking.

Flying Blind was first published in hard cover in 2011. It was a strictly limited edition made available for free to journalists and members of parliament. It is now available to everyone online.

Sir Geoffrey Palmer, former Prime Minister and former head of the Law Commission provided an endorsement. He said:

“New Zealand has serious problems resulting from the abuse of alcohol and drugs. These problems end up in the criminal justice system. The problem is that the criminal justice system as it is configured at present fails to provide the treatment and rehabilitation that would ameliorate the impact of the abuse and prevent its re-occurrence. In consequence, these problems get worse and the level of offending goes up, not down.

 “The evidence about the problem is overwhelming. What is lacking is the will to do what is necessary to make things better. Roger Brooking makes the case for change and there can be no doubt that he is correct.”

Dr Ganesh Nana, Chief Economist, Business & Economic Research Ltd (BERL) says:

“The choice is simple: a fence at the top of the cliff, or an ambulance at the bottom? Roger Brooking favours the fence at the top. And he has compiled formidable evidence that this is not only common sense, but also makes economic sense. 

 “With the call for heightened accountability in today’s fiscally constrained environment, we hear many claims of the waste of taxpayers’ funds in numerous areas.  But, few of these claims are as well documented as in ‘Flying Blind’.  It provides a clear argument that spending more and more to cope with increasing incarceration rates is an obvious misuse of our taxes.

 “ A compulsory read for officials, policy advisors, politicians and taxpayers alike.”

Nicky Hagar, author of Hollow Men and Dirty Politics says:

 “For 10 years, Garth McVicar has argued that the answer to violence and crime in New Zealand was longer and more prison sentences. This so-called ‘sensible sentencing’ has been tried and has failed. If anything, it has made matters worse. We have more and more people in prison while violent crime continues unabated – 80% of it driven by alcohol and drugs. The country is badly in need of some new ideas.

‘Flying Blind’ contains the sort of new thinking that is needed. It is clear, logical and thoroughly compelling. It makes the case for practical and attainable change which, unlike the punitive approach, could actually work. This is a ‘must-read’ for anyone with even a passing interest in crime and justice issues.”

Now available online.

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.

Court of Appeal throws the book at Corrections Department

The Sunday Star Times ran this story on New Year’s Day.

“Dismayed judges have ordered Corrections bosses to read an expert’s book on rehabilitation after being shocked a P-addicted prisoner would be forced to wait years for drug treatment. In a Court of Appeal decision last month, three judges cited Roger Brooking’s book Flying Blind, which slams the government’s hard-line approach to law and order.

Long-term inmates must now wait until they are eligible for parole before being offered drug and alcohol rehabilitation in prison, but judges quashed Glen Fleming’s minimum non-parole term of four years so he could seek treatment sooner. The Bay of Plenty man is serving an eight-year sentence for manufacturing and supplying methamphetamine.

A Corrections spokesperson said the organisation would consider the judge’s ruling but Brooking fears Corrections will dismiss the message. “Corrections operates, as far as I can see, as a law unto itself,” Brooking said. The drug and alcohol counsellor said he comes across cases like Fleming’s on a weekly basis. His frustration at the lack of support and rehabilitation for prisoners led him to write Flying Blind.

Brooking said he was pleased the Court of Appeal had taken the book seriously. “It’s a bit of a poke in the eye for National. They refused to accept copies of the book.” Brooking provided free books to MPs in September, but National members were the only ones to refuse the offer. “Since the Court of Appeal has recommended Corrections management should read the book, hopefully National MPs who refused to even look at it will reconsider.”

Brooking’s affidavit to the court supported removing the non-parole period for Fleming on the basis the P-addict urgently needed rehabilitation. The judges said Fleming’s chances of rehabilitation would be reduced if he was forced to wait until he was up for parole. They removed his non-parole period, and although they refused to express their view on Flying Blind, they called for Corrections to speak up on the issue.

“The wider issue of the availability of rehabilitation programmes in prison for drug offenders, and the timing of such programmes, is a matter of importance and some public controversy,” the judges wrote. “It is important the department’s policies on this issue be known to sentencing judges so they can be taken into account in sentencing decisions.”

A Corrections spokesman confirmed the department had read the decision. “We have noted the comments made and will be giving them due consideration.” Rehabilitation and reintegration assistant manager Dr David Wales said thousands of prisoners received drug or alcohol treatment every year. “It’s really easy to come at this from a drug and alcohol point of view, but we have to look at the whole person and all the issues that contribute to their offending,” he said.

However, Brooking said setting up a drug court, increasing rehabilitation programmes, and investing in halfway houses could cut crime. Parole Board chairman Judge David Carruthers and Chief Justice Sian Elias had read Flying Blind, while Otago University had also made the book recommended reading for criminology students.”

National MPs refuse to accept free book about failures of justice system

Before the recent election, Wellington alcohol and drug counsellor Roger Brooking offered to give a free copy of his critical expose of the justice system to every member of Parliament. His new book is called Flying Blind – How the justice system perpetuates crime and the Corrections Department fails to correct.  He asked Chester Borrows (National), Grant Robertson (Labour) and Kennedy Graham (Greens) to meet him on the steps of parliament on September 13 to accept copies on behalf of their respective MPS.

Grant Robertson and Kennedy Graham agreed. So did Mr Borrows – at first. But after consultations with caucus colleagues, he changed his mind. In a churlish display of ingratitude, the National party has refused to accept copies of the book out of fear that the title of the book is too provocative. Mr Borrows wrote to Mr Brooking saying:

“I think the subtitle of the book runs counter to the current achievements in Corrections…. No matter how you may mitigate the subtitle within the pages of the book, the immediate proposition will be what is reported and perceived. I believe that appearing to receive the books will look like an endorsement of a publication which sets out to be provocative and will be seen as counter to any rehabilitative work being done in prisons presently.”

Is this a classic case of judging a book by its cover? Readers can decide for themselves.

Unfortunately, such anti-intellectualism is rampant in New Zealand politics and undermines the use of academic research and the development of evidenced-based policy. The Prime Minister’s chief science advisor, Sir Peter Gluckman, seems to agree. Sir Peter is quoted  in Flying Blind saying that New Zealand is still driven by a No 8 wire mentality.

Brooking makes the case that Garth McVicar is the chief proponent of the No 8 wire mentality in this country. The problem is McVicar is a farmer – with no qualifications in law, sociology, psychology or criminology.  Flying Blind describes the links between Garth McVicar and the National party and shows how this relationship is responsible for much of New Zealand’s overly simplistic, ‘lock ’em up’ approach to penal policy.