Chain gangs for prisoners advocated

01:43, Jan 31 2009

Forget the Milton Hilton. Sensible Sentencing Trust spokesman Garth McVicar has been to see prisons so bad no one wants to come back.

In Arizona prisoners are put up in tents, chained together and made to work outdoors in all weather.

Mr McVicar thinks the idea is "fantastic" and, after visiting the US state to study the regime, thinks it could work in New Zealand.

"The female chain gangs, in particular, are an inspiration to watch – it is entirely voluntary and they work with a zest and enthusiasm unparalleled in this country," he said.

Media reports in US say the prisoners volunteer because the alternative is a lockdown for 23 hours a day in a small cell shared by four people.

The New Zealand prison system would greatly benefit from adopting so-called hard-line American policy, that includes chain gangs and tent prisons, Mr McVicar said.

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"Tent prisons do not have drugs or cell phones and smoking or watching porn movies are not permitted.

"We believe New Zealand's current prison policy is on the wrong track and will continue resulting in escalating levels of violent crime and more prisons being built".

He said the tent prisons are humane and extremely well run.

According to media reports, prisoners are assembled for chain gang duty at 6am. They are padlocked together by the ankle, five to each chain, and marched military style out to a van that transports them to their work site. Work includes grave digging, picking up litter and gardening.

The hard regime in Arizona has been operating for 10 years and is associated with Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, who has been re-elected several times.

Prisoners wear pink underwear and black and white striped uniforms.

They work seven days a week. They get two meals a day. They get no coffee, no cigarettes, no salt, pepper or ketchup and no organised recreation, according to media reports on the regime.

Most inmates are serving sentences of a year or less for relatively minor offences.

Academics dispute that the harsh regime stops people from reoffending.

A number of new prisons in New Zealand have been criticised for cost overruns. The new prison in Milton has been dubbed the Milton Hilton by locals.

NZPA