Do Good Thursday: End solitary confinement

People Against Prisons Aotearoa (formerly No Pride in Prisons) are campaigning to end solitary confinement in New Zealand prisons – or as Corrections insists on referring to it in the most Orwellian way possible, “directed segration”.

PAPA says:

Every year, thousands of New Zealand’s prisoners are put in solitary confinement. This means they are forcibly isolated from meaningful human contact for 22 to 24 hours a day. In many cases, they are not even given access to natural light or fresh air for 23 hours a day. Some cells have nothing in them other than a thin mattress on a concrete slab, and a cardboard box to pee in.

Often, the Department of Corrections will use solitary confinement in the name of prisoner management, health, and safety. But in reality, people who are exposed to these horrible conditions, especially for long periods of time, come out of them with irreparable mental and physical damage. Rather than promoting wellness and good order in the prison, it increases the risk that prisoners will hurt themselves and others.

Removing people against their will from all human contact, and other basic human needs, is degrading and dehumanising. There is no excuse for the cramped, barren, monotonous, and miserable environment that Corrections forces on thousands of people a year. It’s time to demand the end of solitary confinement in New Zealand prisons once and for all.

Sign the petition here.

Find out more about PAPA’s work here. Prison abolition can sound very scary to comfortable middle-class types, but once you wrap your head around the genuine harm done by the prison system, and the possibilities of dealing with crime and violence in ways which, you know, don’t perpetuate crime and violence, it starts making an even scarier amount of sense.

That’s just, like, your legal opinion, man

Almost nothing irritates me like the way politics is reduced to a series of “they saids” – as though nothing is factual, everything is relative, and it’s all about the game, and how you play it.

A classic example which is burned into my brain for no particular reason is the initial reporting around the Employment Relations Amendment Bill back in 2013:

Labour Minister Simon Bridges said the bill would speed up the process at the Employment Relations Authority, increase confidence and make it easier to get jobs.

But CTU president Helen Kelly believes the bill will remove workers’ rights and make it easy for employers to simply walk away from collective agreements.

If you read that, the amount of weight you give to either side is probably most informed by where you already sit on the political spectrum. You either think Helen Kelly is a staunch advocate of workers and therefore is more trustworthy than a Tory who hates unions, or you think unions hate the entire concept of work and always demand too much from innocent businesspeople. Or maybe you’re not particularly political and you honestly don’t know who to believe – because all you’re getting to base your judgement on is warring “he said, but she believes …” statements.

But “the bill will remove workers’ rights” isn’t a matter of opinion. It’s a testable statement. Previous to the bill, workers had the unequivocal right to a minimum set of rest breaks, depending on the length of their shift. After the bill passed, they didn’t.

You can debate whether this is necessary, ethical, safe, exploitative, fair, too far, not far enough – those are subjective matters of opinion. You can’t debate “this bill removes existing rights from the law”. It either does or it doesn’t.

And so we get to Anne Tolley’s recent comments on the establishment of a sex offender registry.

Attorney-General Chris Finlayson tabled a report on the bill, saying it breached the Bill of Rights Act.

But Mrs Tolley had a different view.

“There are no restrictions placed on where the individual can live or work, who they can live or associate with, or when and where they can travel – including overseas.

I’m honestly not sure exactly why Anne Tolley’s opinion – based on her extensive lack of legal expertise – is relevant to the question of whether the bill breaches the BORA.

BORA vetting is something every government bill has to go through. From the Ministry of Justice website:

Under section 7 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, the Attorney-General is required to notify the House of Representatives of any provision in any Bill introduced into the House that appears to be inconsistent with the Bill of Rights Act. Parliament may form a different view about whether a particular right or freedom is limited or whether the limitation is justified. The purpose of section 7 is to help ensure that decisions made by Parliament to limit fundamental rights and freedoms are not taken without its full knowledge and proper consideration. The section 7 process also ensures that Bill of Rights considerations are a significant focus in the development of policy and the drafting of legislation.

Yes, Parliament isn’t bound by the vetting process – they don’t have to change bills to be in line with basic human rights if they decide it’s “justified”. Anne Tolley is entitled to her unqualified, self-justifying opinion on the matter and even to pass whatever legislation she can get on the table.

My issue is that there’s no context given. We don’t know what the specific BORA issues are with the bill. We don’t have a public conversation about whether or not people’s human rights are being breached, or if that breach is justified in some way. It’s just “a bunch of Ministry of Justice officials said there are some problems with this, but Anne Tolley said ‘nah, bro, she’ll be right.'” As though those two sets of opinions on the matter are equally meaningful.

As though we should trust a minister in this government to take human rights seriously when they’ve got their eyes set on publicly punishing another demonized group of people in order to bolster their tough-on-crime credibility.

No Right Turn is also scathing about the supposed benefits of the register.

Sexism, babies, and our assumptions about work

It’s 2015, and we’re constantly told that sexism is over, feminism has had its day, and would you nagging witches please just simmer down already?

And then this happens:

An Auckland mother was told that having her kids in daycare could affect her job prospects because she would need too many sick days to care for them.

The mother rang O’Neils Personnel Recruitment Agency about an administration-manager job advertised on its website this week.

“The woman I ended up speaking to asked me if I have any children,” said the mother, who did not wish to be identified. “When I said yes, she asked if they would be in daycare, which they would be.

“She then proceeded to tell me that the client would not be interested in me as an applicant. Why? Apparently because daycare is a hotbed of illness, and I would have to leave work all the time, because they would be sick all the time, and when you are employed you have to be there, to do the job.”

A better headline might be “Sexist assumptions cost woman job chance.”

I’m going to be honest, here: I do not believe that Ms Sleep, the recruitment agent quoted in the story, asks men the same questions. Maybe she asks, “so does your partner take care of the kids when they’re sick?” Or maybe the topic of kids comes up in an interview and she thinks “gosh, he sounds like a nice family man.”

But I sincerely doubt that she’s ever told a man “look, you need to come back to me once you have a Plan B for childcare, because this employer won’t hire you if you have kids.”

We live in a society which makes a huge number of assumptions about work and child-raising.

Women are assumed to be the main carers of children

I know a couple who decided dad would be the stay-at-home parent. This caused shock, because the assumptions are so ingrained – people actually asked her, when she was back at work, “but what have you done with the baby?” – and people asked him, when he took the baby to daycare, “oh … *sad face* what happened to the mum?”

We would sooner assume that a woman would leave her six-week-old baby totally unattended at home, and that a man’s wife has died tragically in the first six weeks of baby’s life, than “she went back to work and he takes care of the kid.”

Ironically, this creates a vicious circle. If you’re having kids in a heterosexual relationship, and one of you needs to take time off after a baby’s born, and the woman in the relationship is far likelier to be paid less or promoted because people assume she’ll be the one taking time off … guess who ends up reinforcing the stereotype?

All women of child-bearing age are assumed to want/be planning children

I have friends who are childfree, and have been for many, many years. And even the women who are most outspoken about never wanting children face the same condescension: “oh, you’ll change your mind when you get older!” and “you’ll feel differently once you meet the right guy!”

There’s a few other poor assumptions right there: all women are cisgender, all women are heterosexual, all cis women can physically have children.

And of course, we can never take a woman’s word for anything because the ~biological clock~ is far more powerful than a silly ~ladybrain~. This points us towards a simple truth: women are seen as less intelligent, capable, and autonomous than men. You could almost argue that the “risk” of pregnancy or childcare impacting on work is a smokescreen; an excuse to justify simply not valuing women as equal human beings.

Children are the only reason people ever miss work or leave jobs

In this 2013 article, recruiter Ryan Densem complains

… he had dealt with employers left “frustrated” from employing a pregnant women after investing time and money into the hiring process and training, only to have to go through the same process a few months later to cover their maternity leave.

Has Ryan Densem really never encountered a man leaving a role within a few months? Does he refrain from head-hunting great candidates who’ve just started new jobs because it would be unfair to their bosses? Do men never get really sick, or injured, or decide to move to a new city?

I’ve worked places with huge turnover. Multiple people quit less than six months after starting. Huge amounts of time and money wasted on recruitment, and work left undone because everyone else was so stretched – and not a pregnancy in sight. There was a poorly-trained team leader and a toxic culture of managerial bullying, but for some reason that’s viewed as unfixable. Much easier to just not-hire an entire gender.

Besides, as recruiter Annette Sleep says in the top article,

It’s risk management and clients don’t pay us a handsome fee to send them risky candidates. The candidates don’t pay us a brass razoo. In business you work for the people who pay you.

Plenty of “handsome fees” to be made off a managerial class who drive good non-pregnant candidates away, I imagine.

What about sick days? Can I refuse to hire young men because they might go to the Sevens every year and I can’t afford to cover their hangover-sickies? People who play weekend sport, because they might get injured?

Ryan Densem wants to pretend that this is all about six-months-pregnant women switching jobs and forfeiting their entitlements to paid parental leave (because this ever actually happens), not systemic and deliberate discrimination against women on the basis of gender. But researcher Annick Masselot notes

“Women are not merely discriminated against because they are pregnant and are about to take a period of parental leave, they are discriminated on the basis of the next 15 years of school holidays”

Because all women will have children, and all children will get sick, and all women will be the ones taking time off because their sick and wanting school holidays off and leaving their jobs at the drop of a positive pregnancy test.

Given all this it’s not surprising that that our Human Rights Act makes it illegal to discriminate on the basis of sex – including

preferential treatment relating to pregnancy and childbirth, and family responsibilities.

At least Ryan Densem has the good grace to be honest about the lies employers tell:

“They’d never say, ‘Sorry, we won’t hire you because you’re pregnant’. They’d say, ‘Sorry, your background and experience isn’t exactly what we’re looking for’.”

It’s okay, Ryan. We know exactly what you mean.

So there’s the gendered, identity-politics side of the argument. But there’s a slightly broader set of assumptions in play, around work and workers, regardless of gender – and my thoughts on that got a liiiiittle bit long, so tune in tomorrow.

QOTD on being “fiscally conservative but socially liberal”

From Greta Christina at Raw Story, Here are 7 things people who say they’re ‘fiscally conservative but socially liberal’ don’t understand:

You can’t separate fiscal issues from social issues. They’re deeply intertwined. They affect each other. Economic issues often are social issues. And conservative fiscal policies do enormous social harm. That’s true even for the mildest, most generous version of “fiscal conservatism” — low taxes, small government, reduced regulation, a free market. These policies perpetuate human rights abuses. They make life harder for people who already have hard lives. Even if the people supporting these policies don’t intend this, the policies are racist, sexist, classist (obviously), ableist, homophobic, transphobic, and otherwise socially retrograde. In many ways, they do more harm than so-called “social policies” that are supposedly separate from economic ones. Here are seven reasons that “fiscally conservative, socially liberal” is nonsense.

If you care about marginalized people — if you care about the oppression of women, LGBT people, disabled people, African Americans and Hispanics and other people of color — you need to do more than go to same-sex weddings and listen to hip-hop. You need to support economic policies that make marginalized people’s lives better. You need to oppose economic policies that perpetuate human rights abuses and make marginalized people’s lives suck.

Spot the difference: Nats on capital punishment

Corin Dann on John Key’s visit to Saudi Arabia, where people are still executed for sorcery:

Yes, John Key did raise [the issue of human rights] but it’s clear he didn’t push very hard.

The National Party Twitter account on the Bali 9:

Yep, we sure do condemn the death penalty. Unless we’re trying to sell you milk.