Waikeria Prison riots and calls for prison abolition

The stand-off between Corrections and a group of prisoners rioting at Waikeria Prison appears to be no closer to a conclusion.* Fires continue to be set by the rioters who have made their demands known in a statement via extremist group People Against Prisons Aotearoa (PAPA).

They allege that inhumane conditions are what they are protesting and if their claims of “brown” drinking water, lack of access to clean clothing, and all-round unliveable conditions are correct Corrections must be held responsible. Human rights are not negotiable and incarcerated people are no less entitled to clean drinking water and basic standards of living.

However, the statement then goes on to assert:

These statements betray the political agenda behind the riots. Standards of living are one thing, but essentially calling for the abolition of prisons — at least for tangata whenua — is entirely another. Prison abolishment along with the de-establishment of the police and justice system are the main goals of PAPA who are acting as the rioters’ mouthpiece currently. The group is explicit in their purpose and yet have consistently received endorsement in the media and from certain politicians.

Within social justice activist circles it has seemingly become fashionable to advocate for complete destruction of the justice system. A lot is said about recidivism, structural racism against Māori, cycles of poverty and violence, and the plight of the incarcerated. While I can acknowledge there is truth in some of the issues raised and believe they should be addressed, these conversations seem to always ignore one thing — the victims.

Those who advocate for the abolishment of prisons cannot have ever been victimised (in the old sense of the word where actual physical violence has been perpetuated). For those of us who have experienced sexual violence it is unlikely we will ever see justice, however, in the rare case that is successfully prosecuted, a prison sentence means many different things. It means physical safety for the victim, safe in the knowledge that their attacker is behind bars. It means an acknowledgement that a serious crime has been committed. It means punishment for that crime. It means protection for the community from further offending. In short, it is not all about the prisoner. Recidivism is very important to consider, but justice for the victim and safety for the community should be paramount.

Without prisons — or a viable alternative — we would have little justice and no ability to protect society from those who present a very real threat. I wonder what PAPA and their supporters would do with the Christchurch terrorist or the recently unmasked sexual predator who killed Grace Millane. In their prison-less utopia, what is their solution to dealing with the most perverted and violent in our societies? And what shall we tell families like Christie Marceau’s if PAPA succeeds in making bail automatic and unconditional?

They cannot have considered what it must be like to have a family member ripped from this world in the most horrendous of circumstances. They must be blind to or unmoved by the endless suffering of those affected by violent crime.

Major structural damage to Waikeria Prison after a fire was lit by prisoners. Some of who remain on the roof of the prison. DOMINICO ZAPATA/STUFF

Why have these extremists been given so much support in furthering their agenda? An agenda which has now led to the mass damage of a state-run prison, a huge bill for the taxpayers, and rioting criminals as yet not under control.

The Prime Minister’s office defines ‘extremism’ as the following:

Extremism: Religious, social or political belief systems that exist substantially outside of more broadly accepted belief systems in large parts of society, and are often seen as objectionable to large parts of society. Extreme ideologies may seek radical changes in the nature of government, religion or society or to create a community based on their ideology.

While we have become acutely aware of some forms of extremism in New Zealand, it appears that other extremists are harder to spot. Perhaps in part that is because certain extremists are receiving cover from some of our media and even parts of our parliament. And before you cry “conspiracy theory”, read on; it is all hiding in plain sight.

People Against Prisons representative Emilie Rakete said the actions of rioting prisoners was “commendable”.

People Against Prisons Aotearoa (formerly known as No Pride In Prisons) self-describe as “a queer and trans prison abolitionist organisation”. They have a reputation for showing up at any protest to instigate confrontations with the police and were critical participants in the destruction of Auckland Pride. Despite regular airtime as “experts” in the media and having friends in high places, according to the definition from the Prime Minister’s Office, PAPA is undoubtedly an extremist group.

Stating in their publicly available manifesto “[PAPA] affirms that a complete restructuring of social, political, and economic power is necessary, culminating in the overturning of the New Zealand government”, they make no secret of their intentions to tear down New Zealand society. They not only seek to abolish prisons, they also call for the complete abolishment of the police and the justice system.

“The police,” says PAPA, “serve to maintain a capitalist social order and its racist, colonial dimensions” and while their long-term goals are complete abolition of law and order they lay out intermediary steps towards this end. Just a few of these steps are: the complete disarming of the New Zealand Police (including tasers and police dogs), automatic bail for all regardless of the threat posed to society, the dissolution of sex offender registers, no custodial prison sentences for transgender people, and the abolishment of life sentences.

All of this anarchist rhetoric could be left online on an infrequently visited website if it weren’t for the terribly concerning close ties the group have with political figures in and around our government.

In particular, Green MPs have made no secret of their affinity with the group, but Auckland Central MP Chloe Swarbrick has taken her support for the extremists further. During the recent election, the number 3 on the Green Party list posted a photo to her Instagram account of her on the campaign trail wearing a PAPA sweatshirt. She even tagged the group into the photo.

We can only imagine the entirely righteous outrage of the media and the public if Judith Collins were to wear the insignia of a right-wing extremist group. In fact, we got a glimpse of it through the reaction to the MAGA hat in Todd Muller’s glass cabinet. However, there has been little interest in an MP wearing the patch of a group that wants to overthrow the government.

Situations like the ongoing riots at Waikeria do not occur in a vacuum. Rhetoric espoused by People Against Prisons Aotearoa and legitimised by media and politicians are creating this push for hugely destructive social changes to our society. They are creating a monster they have no idea how to control.

At the very least the overwhelming number of New Zealanders who aren’t embedded in social justice culture are entitled to know which of PAPA’s lengthy list of demands our government supports. The media needs to take a long hard look at itself and reflect on whether they are reporting on the facts or aiding in promoting a political agenda.

It should not be controversial to centre victims in discussions about crime and justice. In fact, it isn’t. The real world doesn’t play out like a Twitter timeline. For most New Zealanders the abolishment of prisons is utterly insane and our government would be wise to remember that.

*UPDATE

The Waikeria Prison riots have now concluded with Māori Party MP Rawhiri Waititi successfully de-escalating the situation and leading the prisoners out of the prison. Shortly after this display of political leadership from the smallest party in Parliament, Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis finally emerged to speak to the media.

“All 16 men have now been secured by staff and have received water, food, access to medical staff and the ability to speak with kaumātua. They will shortly be transported to other prisons,” he says.

“The group has destroyed the top jail at Waikeria Prison, rendering it unusable. Responsibility for laying charges in relation to the destruction of the facility lies with the police.”

Minister Davis emphasised that there are “many legitimate avenues for prisoners to raise concerns about their conditions, including through the Independent Corrections Inspectorate and the Corrections Ombudsman,” but that the prisoners “used none of those avenues and never raised any issues prior to this event”.

“It is my view that the underlying reasons for their actions are not what they claim,” he asserted.

Later in a written statement the minister said the majority of those involved in the protest were members of the Mongols and Comancheros gangs, with five of them deportees from Australia.

“The arson, violence and destruction carried out by these men were reckless criminal acts that put themselves, other prisoners, Corrections staff and emergency services in danger,” he said.

“No one should glorify the actions of these prisoners. They damaged property worth hundreds of thousands of dollars and they put their own lives and the health and safety of staff and other prisoners at risk.

“There is never an excuse for resorting to violence and destruction.

Gender-critical lesbian radical feminist. Support me https://www.patreon.com/aniobrien

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