Garner on Pare Max

Duncan Garner has a bit of a wee cry about Pare Max and the conditions there:

I have today spent two hours in NZ’s toughest prison.

Grim is too kind a word; it is dark and evil.

You have to be a seriously bad bugger to be in here – this is Pare Max.

It’s 45 years old, it’s based on the old American prisons and it’s NZ’s only maximum security prison.

It even has an ‘execution’ chamber’, though it has never been used.

I left seriously affected.

This cold, hard, steely and spiritless place is now entrenched in my mind. Life does not exist inside. Even the cockroaches don’t want to be there. I keep seeing bars and locks.

The cells are old, dark and tiny – with a steel toilet in the corner. There are 12 prisoners to a landing. No one double bunks here – no one is trusted. 

Sounds perfect…why the angst?

It’s so bloody miserable, all the experts say there is little chance of rehabilitation in here. Today I saw why. No wonder they are rebuilding it.

Each prisoner is moved around, cuffed and escorted with three members of staff. Only six of them can be in the exercise yard at any one time. There is an open air toilet in the corner.

The cells are on the third floor – the exercise yard is on the ground floor – it takes hours to move these prisoners in and out of the exercise yard. It is a dangerous daily routine for the guards.

The guard told me there are regular and vicious fights on the landings and in the exercise yards. The guards can’t break up the fights until they have three guards for every prisoner involved. If 6 prisoners are involved, they need 18 guards to break it up; that takes time. Sometimes that means seeing a prisoner bashed to within an inch of his life before they have the resources and numbers to intervene.

It is poorly laid out. Staff are at risk every day because of it. Prisoners go backwards – they don’t see any hope around them.

The bill for re-building it is supposed to be around $200 million…a waste of money…the only money I’d agree with is for staff protection, the prisoners can suffer.

No one is going to shed a tear of some of these ratbags get hurt or kill each other.

Basically the place is a grim black hole. If I found myself in there for a long haul, I’d seriously consider taking my own life. I know that sounds alarmist – but you have to see this place. Anybody who says prisons are a holiday camp need to see this place.

No wonder the Government is spending $200m on a new maximum security prison. It will help keep guards safer and help rehabilitate prisoners. This new prison has just two safe rooms where prisoners can meet ‘counsellors’ to start the road to recovery.

The chaplains just rolled their eyes when I asked them about “Pare Max.’ They told me this was no environment to help people, even if they wanted help. It was designed to lock people up and throw away the key. Those days have changed, the world and all its experts have acknowledged that.

It has no sun.

No hope.

No life.

No exit.

Boo hoo…tough shit.


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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.

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