Justice advocate slams Kiwi prison culture

Social justice advocate Celia Lashlie slammed New Zealand prisons as "crap" yesterday.

The 250 women attending a businesswomen's conference in Queenstown heard anecdotes from Lashlie's time as the first female prison officer in a men's prison and manager of Christchurch Women's Prison. Since leaving the Department of Corrections in 1999, she has written three books and continues to work in areas linked to at-risk children.

Many of those children had parents in the prison system but the public view that prisons were for punishment meant the cycle of criminal behaviour was being passed to the next generation.

Programmes were being delivered but it was more about putting "bums on seats", she said.

"It's the whole ‘looks like we're doing stuff'." She believed prison should be a vacuum where people were brought into themselves to own what they had done.

"Put them in front of the mirror ... We're not doing it in men's prisons and even less for women. We are not doing well in terms of corrections. Even though it's called the Department of Corrections we're not correcting.

"It's crap." There were other interventions that could be undertaken too. It costs about $100,000 a year to keep someone in prison, yet we can't get teacher aides into schools and then we pay them $14 an hour.

"It's hard to move New Zealanders to the idea that we might have to spend a little bit of money in the beginning for the long-term effects."

When Lashlie started working in prisons in 1985, the population was 3500. Now it was 8000. "When are we going to step up and say this isn't working?"

The Southland Times