August 03, 2015
SERCO Prison debate
SERCO Prison debate
The SERCO Prison debate has landed Corrections Minister Sam Lotu-Iiga right smack into the political punching ring.
But before we count Sam out or look at replacing him, we should also remember this prison mess is a hospital pass the Samoan-born MP was handed from previous National Party members, namely Judith Collins and then Anne Tolley.
Now poor old Sam might just have an inkling why that pair were happy to flick this portfolio on. He has had a horror last fortnight with problem after problem being uncovered in the SERCO run prisons and the Labour Party’s Kelvin Davis has just about put him out of his job uncovering a big array of problems. But Corrections is probably the toughest portfolio and is seen as a poisoned chalice by many MPs and commentators.
I have to admit I like Sam and believe his head and heart is in the right space for the portfolio. We need a Corrections Minister who has compassion but also realises the obligations to the victims and Sam fits comfortably into those categories. He is a minister who is working at the coal face. My own organisation the Manukau Urban Maori Authority is involved in the reintegration of prisoners and he has been tremendously supportive of the work that ourselves and other groups are doing.
So I’m a firm believer that Sam can do the job and what he really needs now is some savvy media training and support from senior MPs.
Despite Sam sitting at the top table of power, he is a novice. Prime Minister John Key should buddy Sam up to one of his wise old heads, like Gerry Brownlee or Bill English.
Both those Ministers know how the political game is played and also where the potential bomb shells will come from.
But Justice, including prison services and rehabilitation, is always going to be a tough nut to crack.
You can’t be seen to be too soft, the public demands that authorities are tough on inmates but you can’t adopt a lock em up and throw the keys away attitude.
In my view the debacle that we are seeing unfolding from Serco in our prisons is another example of the government handing their core responsibilities to others, leaving them clear of risk.
This has obviously backfired, and the call for the government to abandon private prisons has grown louder by the day. Going back to the state running prisons would be my preference however that still wouldn’t mean that we would suddenly have harmony in our prisons and the gangs would disappear.
No that’s probably impossible, we should though be able to have a bit more order in jail and prisoners should be able to serve their time without fear of suddenly being thrown off balconies or being asked to fight for their lives.
Yes Sam has been unimpressive as the Minister of Corrections but he should be given another opportunity because the problems in prisons are not going to go away overnight and won’t be solved if National puts another minister in the portfolio.
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