Guest Post – David Garrett

A series of Guest Posts by David Garrett, shining light into dark corners in the debate around Corrections, Law and Order and the People involved:

Who is Kim Workman? Should we listen to him?

During my time in parliament, if I was the “go to” guy for comment  in favour of punitive sentencing, Kim Workman was the “go to guy” for the polar opposite view; that prison is a waste of time; that most if not all prisoners can be rehabilitated; and that love and a good dose of maoritanga and Christianity will be  more effective than anything else in preventing re-offending.

After my demise, he has had the “go to” field pretty much to himself – which is of course just how he likes it. But who is Workman, and why should anyone listen to him? What is his background, and what does it tell us?

To best of my knowledge, I first met Workman in 2007 when he and I and –  some English criminologist – participated in a debate with  an author touring the country to promote his book. The author and I were the “applied properly, prison is the appropriate response to crime’” team, Workman and the criminologist were arguing on  the “prison doesn’t work; all they need is love” side.

Workman  is an apologist for gangs; in  his view, they are just another form of whanau. Presumably to support him –  but I suspect more  to intimidate the rest of us, including the audience – he arranged for a number of  members of the Mongrel Mob’s ‘Notorious’ chapter to enter the hall just as the debate began. They included rapist Mark Stevens, once known as the ‘Parnell Panther’, and most of them were masked with red bandanas.

The most obvious  effect was to frighten the audience so that half of them left  immediately for fear of violence – among them  two women of my acquaintance. I am ashamed to this day that I did not immediately appeal to the chairman of the debate – former ombudsman Mel Smith – to ask the masked thugs to leave, or at least take off their face coverings. I assumed Smith was in on this intimidatory tactic by Workman; he later assured me he had not known they would attend, and I apologise to him again publicly for suggesting otherwise.

So just who is Kim Workman? He is a former bureaucrat who rose to be Assistant Secretary – Penal Institutions in the early 1990’s. He is best known among criminologists as the architect of He Ara Hou,  a programme designed to rehabilitate recidivist offenders.

The programme was announced in July 1990. Among Workman’s many ideas was that prison officers should not wear uniforms or insignia denoting rank; inmates could wear what they liked; and  staff were encouraged to become “friends” with their charges. The whole ethos was to remove the “authoritarian culture” within prisons, and to develop instead  a “we are all  on this journey together” culture between staff and inmates.

While the programme operated, Many prison managers allowed “family days” when relatives and friends of prisoners could bring food into prisons and visit in a …ah…’relaxed’ atmosphere. In some cases staff and inmates formed friendships,  with staff informally signing signing inmates out for excursions such as fishing trips on the officers’ days off.

The early results of He Ara Hou  were pleasing. A dramatic increase was reported in the numbers of inmates involved in educational programmes. Break out escapes fell [why would you need to break out of that environment!]. There was a decline in suicides. Interpersonal relationships between staff and inmates,  and  among inmates among themselves improved: (Newbold: ‘Another one bites the dust: Recent Initiatives in correctional reform in New Zealand’; in  2008  3 Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology p. 384)

In the end however, the experiment was a disaster. Family days and the general relaxing of security left prisons open to the smuggling of drugs, money and other contraband, which flowed in unhindered. Close relationships between staff and inmates some times became corrupt and – surprise surprise – there were instances of sexual misconduct between female officers and male prisoners. There was an embarrassing series of scandals involving staff illegally trading with inmates, theft of department property, failure to supervise dangerous inmates and allowing them to escape, drug dealing and serious abuse of prisoners who were unpopular. At Mangaroa prison – set up as a showcase of the new enlightened methods – allegations of corruption, neglect and violence led to the firing of twelve officers, and court ordered compensation totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars to prisoners. (Newbold op cit. p.388)  In circumstances that are unclear, Mr Workman and the Department of Corrections parted ways.

Fast forward ten  or twelve years, and Workman pops up as the leading advocate of   some of the very methods to reduce re-offending which  he had already been given licence to implement,  with such spectacularly poor results. He set up an organization – which later obtained funding from the Clark government –  called “Rethinking Crime and Punishment”, which has evolved into – among other things – a sort of anti Sensible Sentencing Trust.

Despite his spectacular failure, Workman established himself – and remains – the man the media interview to balance comment from people like Garth McVicar and me.  Workman is of course much better educated than either Garth or me – a fact he makes sure is widely known. What he doesn’t do is talk about He Ara Hou, other than to use the well worn excuses that the funding for it wasn’t enough, that the programme wasn’t given enough time,  or that his ideas weren’t fully implemented. A bit like those who still argue that if only it was done properly, communism would be a resounding success.

Next: Workman and “three strikes”.

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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.

To read Cam’s previous articles click on his name in blue.