Mt‘Torture: Children locked up 23 hours a day’. At least that was the media created impression, unless one chose to delve behind the headlines and ten-second TV screamers. But it was handy for giving Serco a pasting even though whatever fault there was, belonged entirely with the Department of Corrections.

First, the young prisoners under discussion were on remand in Mount Eden Prison and therefore not allowed to mingle with sentenced prisoners.

Second, apparently 18 of them were under 18 years and therefore not allowed to mingle with adult prisoners. The other fifty-odd young prisoners were 18 or 19-years-old, still youthful but considered adults for the purpose of classification.

Serco asked for a youth unit. The Department said no, even though the Departments’ website says prisoners under 18 years must be held in a youth unit. Not that provision of such a facility would dampen down this chronic social and political issue. Some people think youth units are a ‘gateway to prison.’

In my view it would be helpful if, instead of providing opportunities for politicians and news organisations to argue over the administration of prisons, the benefits or otherwise of so-called rehabilitation today was given a thorough, public examination. For instance, if we believe that association with other prisoners is detrimental to rehabilitation, why the cry for more association? If we believe that we must protect young offenders from criminal contamination, why are we insisting that they mingle for many hours of the day? If we believe prison officers can have a positive effect on the attitudes of young offenders, why are we undermining them by insisting that what young offenders need is close association with the very group they need to be separated from?

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Chris Horan

Chris is a former social worker, probation officer and Family Court counsellor, living in Hawea in the South Island.