Waikeria Prison Riot, burning prison
Waikeria Prison Riot

ACT corrections spokesperson Toni Severin: Why should we pay prisoners compensation?

Opinion 25/06/2021

OPINION: The riots at Waikeria Prison over summer were infuriating for most New Zealanders. We watched as a bunch of men who were supposed to repenting for their crimes against property and people committed more crimes against property people.

They set fire to buildings taxpayers have funded to house them.

News this week that taxpayers will now foot a $1.3 million bill for compensation to prisoners whose possessions were smoke damaged is frankly unbelievable.

This is the consequence-free culture under the Ardern Government. The wrong people are getting the aroha under this Government. If we didn’t laugh, we’d cry. Is this really the best our Government can do with leadership and values?

It’s insulting to the prison guards who were caught up in the riot and it’s insulting to taxpayers. Worst of all, there was no onus on the Government to make these payments. Kelvin Davis and Jacinda Ardern just decided it was a good idea.

It’s time to stop making criminals the priority in our justice system and start putting victims at the centre.

As ACT’s Corrections spokesperson, I’ve made it my priority to come up with new ideas for our Corrections system. I have drafted a bill which priorities rehabilitation while prisoners are serving time.

Prisoners face many barriers to gaining employment post-release. While in prison, they have time on their hands, and they should be required to use it. This will enable them to have a better life on release and make it less likely they’ll reoffend.

If they’re busy on the inside, then it’s also less likely we’ll see a repeat of the riots.

Parliament has a responsibility to make our communities safer. We have a fresh opportunity with my Bill to improve lives and reduce victims of crime.

My Bill would stop any prisoner being eligible for parole if they had not completed a programme set in a mandated management plan under the Corrections Act.
It would apply to every prisoner with a sentence over two months in prison to undertake such a programme and could even speed up release in some circumstances.

The Bill allows an offender’s next parole hearing to be brought forward if the prison manager considers that the relevant rehabilitative programme has been completed earlier than the specified date.

A rehabilitative programme is defined as a programme designed to reduce reoffending and includes any medical, psychological, social, therapeutic, cultural, educational, employment-related, rehabilitative or integrative programme.

At the moment my Bill is sitting in a ballot waiting to be pulled out if luck is on my side, but the Government could pick it up anytime it wants. If Kelvin Davis wants to do something positive, he should adopt it. 

This is a constructive change to the law that would improve the lives of offenders and the wider public by lessening the chances of recidivism. It’s the right thing to do and sets a better example for what we expect from prisoners, unlike Kelvin Davis’s soft on prisoner approach.

Toni Severin is a Christchurch East based ACT MP and ACT’s Corrections spokeswoman. She and her husband run their own business which operates in Christchurch, Wellington, and Auckland. Before this, Toni was a Qualified Lab Technician at Christchurch District Health Board for 14 years.

ACT MP Toni Severin
ACT MP Toni Severin