Redemptive Idols

Naive Simplistic Foolish Nostrums

Kim Workman: professing Christian, ex-bureaucrat, Maori, “largessee” of Helen Clark, and all round media “go-to” guy for issues of crime and punishment in New Zealand.

An interesting article on Kim has been published by Whaleoil  on his philosophy of prisons and prison “reform”.  (We  disclose at the outset our belief that prisons are blighted institutions, severely compromised in many ways.  However, there is nothing better to take their place right now.  So we had better make the best of it.)  Workman’s Christianity has apparently influenced his approach to crime and punishment.  He appears to believe that “loooooove” is the Great Redeemer of mankind.  When people commit crimes against persons or property it is to be condemned; to rehabilitate them, to prevent recidivism they must be loved.  In this Workman is simply not Christian.  According to him:

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.

If this characterisation is true, Workman has elevated human “love” into an idol, perverting the Christian faith and the Gospel of God. 

Workman’s Maori connections are reflected in his belief that Maori crime really reflects social dislocations, not evil within the human heart.  Consequently, it is alleged that he maintains sympathetic connections with Maori criminal gangs.

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.

 Workman as bureaucrat was largely responsible for the introduction of his ideology of prison-rehabilitation into NZ prisons in the nineties.

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.

Prisons became holiday camps in the grand effort to redeem mankind.  The initial results were wonderfully encouraging, to the naive and simple-minded, and to any perverse intellectuals blinded with ideological hubris.  Nevertheless the Commentariat cheered:

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)

Did it last?  Well, no.  The prisons were “criminalised”: they became one vast state-funded criminal enterprise.

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.

Workman’s Maori connection, his compromised-Christianity,  and his high-flying bureaucratic career have all melded into an avoidable disaster–easily foreseen–except by those whose predilections credulously enticed them to believe and follow Workman’s prescriptions.  Thus spake most of the Commentariat.

When you are one of the champions of the said Commentariat and you lose your job apparently due to a brain-child programme that failed spectacularly one could expect to be shunned.  But no.  Helen Clark, then Prime Minister of New Zealand, believed far too much in Kim to let a good thing go.  Her administration began to fund an advocacy group run by Kim, called “Rethinking Crime and Punishment”.  Workman thus became Clark’s on-going mouthpiece on crime and punishment.  (Incidentally, this was a classic manoeuvre by the radically-left Clark.  When your real agenda is far too radical for the country–at present–you use taxpayers’ money to fund your mates and organisations into “non-political” pressure groups, to say what is far too radical for you to say, until the Commentariat picks it up, repeats it endlessly, and it becomes the new normal.)

And thus, Workman carries on his merry way, funded by Clark, go-to spokesman for the media on crime and punishment, endeavouring to build the new PC norm on criminals and criminality. 

How does Workman justify the failure of his rehabilitation of prisons?  His is the classic response: More Money, please. 

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.

Please note, ContraCelsum does not subscribe to the view that prisons should primarily be places of punishment.  They should facilitate restitution to the criminal’s victims.  We believe that de-humanising people is wrong.  Prisoners need to be treated with the respect due to human beings because they remain, however broken, in God’s image.  Prison should be hard, firm, but fair.  All crime–especially homosexual rape–needs to be driven out of prisons.  All gang affiliation and influence, likewise.  Prisons need to be transformed into places of hard, meaningful work that has an economic value applicable to the restitution of victims.  Crime needs to be re-defined as primarily an act which intends harm to persons and property.  All preventive, prohibition-like criminalising of substances, such as drugs, should be dropped. Abolish parole. Accept that human beings have a right to go to Hell in their own way.  And much, much more.

The challenge is complex.  The solutions need to be multi-faceted.  Workman’s naive simplistic foolish nostrums are risible.

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