Editorial: Maximum stupidity

Last updated 05:00 11/01/2014

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OPINION: However you describe "maximum security", wedging our most dangerous prisoners into crowded commercial domestic flights falls crazily outside the definition.

Prison staff and their union are not scaremongering by highlighting the risky practice which the Corrections Department says has been going on, albeit infrequently, for decades. And it hasn't led to any reported ructions, so what's the problem?

Where to begin?

An aircraft cabin is a closely contained, pressurised environment full of potential hostages.

Maximum security prisoners are not known for their placid and biddable natures. Some have proven capable of explosive violence - shocking, but true.

These flights, or at least the ones that have become public, occur when inmates from Rimutaka Prison have been reclassified as maximum security risks, and are being transferred to Paremoremo, our only specialist maximum-security prison.

This invites the conclusion that their recent conduct has been particularly bad. And sure enough, in the now-publicised cases, the prisoners included Dean Vincent who had charmingly stabbed another inmate in the neck with a knife made from a toothbrush and a piece of metal. Another, Arthur Briggs, was involved in a savage 2012 attack on a guard.

We are assured that each prisoner is accompanied by three uniformed guards. This might be more reassuring were it not the case that guards themselves, and their union, are so openly spooked by the risks being run.

The situation also flies, with what seems serene indifference, in the face of an assurance from then Corrections Minister Damien O'Connor in 2007 that only low-security prisoners were transported on commercial flights. It's almost as if someone hasn't been entirely up-front.

As for the lack of dramas so far, the transportation of our most dangerous prisoners cannot continue to be carried out on a so-far, so-good basis. That the public has been told virtually nothing does not invite confidence.

The clowns who okayed this have been assessing other people's risk and reaching conclusions that may satisfy themselves, but which they have not carried out in a way that opens them up to public accountability.

For that matter it does not suffice that Air New Zealand deflects questions beyond saying it is inappropriate to comment on specific security.

No, what's "inappropriate" is to decline to answer questions posed on behalf of passengers who are entitled to have something more than an idle interest in the possibility that they, and their children, will be sharing a cabin with men the courts have found to be so dangerous that they have to be kept . . . what's the word we're looking for . . . isolated.

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That means isolated from the public. Not isolated with them.

For all its excesses, even the deliriously unrealistic, shamelessly over-the-top action film Con Air depicted a scenario where society's most dangerous were transported on a flight that didn't include handy members of the public.

Perhaps the writers considered that - but if they had they would surely have dismissed it as so implausible the popcorn-eating escapist moviegoers would find that bit just too unrealistic.

And rightly so.

Transport these goons by road, for pity's sake.

- The Southland Times

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