Women of #nzpol Twitter: on the incarceration of trans women in male prisons

The “Women of #nzpol Twitter roundup” is brought to you in the interests of amplifying women’s voices in the political debate and also because:

beauty and the beast misandry

[Content note: transphobia, sexual assault, corrections]

It was reported on the weekend that a prisoner at the Serco-run prison in Wiri had been physically and sexually assaulted. But that wasn’t the whole story.

Unfortunately, the fact that the prisoner is a trans woman was initially missed from media reports – and the story then became about Serco, not all the other concerns about where trans women are incarcerated.

@cannibality posted a great set of tweets about the wider issues of incarceration – and why we shouldn’t just blame Serco – starting here (click the timestamp to see the whole thread):

I feel a bit sorry for Jacinda Ardern, who copped a lot of the frustration from people – because no other political party said boo about the story. But there are some good grounds for criticism in Labour’s past treatment of issues affecting trans people, and erasing the fact that this case involved a trans woman in a men’s prison – an issue which covers all correctional facilities in NZ – felt like opportunism to some tweeters.

Another great thread from @cannibality begins here:

It’s easy enough to say “oh well, realpolitik, the story is easier to sell when it’s about Serco being vile” or “let’s focus on one issue at a time” – if you’re not trans and this is thus a problem you get to treat as abstract.

We can think of more than one thing at a time. We can condemn Serco for their horrific mismanagement and criticise the government for pursuing a privatisation agenda and agree that it’s simply inhumane and demeaning to incarcerate trans women with cis men.

The thing we (cis people) shouldn’t do is think our options are to either remain silent or ignore the serious issues at hand in order to push a different agenda.

No Pride in Prisons are holding a rally against Serco’s actions and Corrections’ lack of transparency about its treatment of trans prisoners, this Saturday at noon in Auckland. Please go and support them.

The myth of focusing on front line services

I saw a shocking thing on Twitter yesterday:

A National Party minister admitting that the state has responsibility for something? Ridiculous!

Of course there’s a sting: the way “frontline” services are specifically mentioned.

This is another of the great National Party myths: that frontline services are vital, important, definitely necessary – but of course we can’t just throw money at them or they’ll end up bloated and wasteful and inefficient, like all those back office services we slashed to the bone.

key on public services

It’s fairly smart marketing. Very few people want to see a massive reduction in the public services they use – no one wants to see DOC scrapped or higher teacher:student ratios or longer hospital waiting lists. So when DOC faces cuts, it’s “office-based jobs” that are going. When they’re mashing agencies together willy-nilly it’s “[reducing] duplication of roles and back office functions“. When they decide to focus on preventative healthcare, it’s literally because “back-office cuts will no longer produce the savings required“.

We’re all just meant to accept that “frontline” workers like social workers, police and nurses aren’t just important – they’re all that’s important. We’re meant to buy the idea that anything which isn’t “frontline” – dealing directly with troubled kids, arresting bad people, treating hurt people – is a waste of time and money. Like so many of National’s successful memes, it just feels natural to accept that we should focus on the “core business” and get rid of anything which isn’t “core”.

The problem is that the work doesn’t go away. The notes have to get typed. The paperwork has to get filed. The timesheet reports have to get run. The roster has to be set. Someone has to fix the damn printer. And when there’s no one left in “the back office” to do it, somebody working on “core business” has to stop, find the phone number for the bloody technician, and explain to their boss why they had to pay for a call-out when the only problem was the yellow toner had run out.

That is a waste of time and money. That is a drain on frontline services. And the downstream effects are serious. How can the government tell if targets are being met when the data isn’t being recorded the same way or stored in the same place? How can supervisors measure people’s performance or oversee their workloads when everyone’s so busy the record-keeping is mostly taking place in their heads? How can people access services if their case manager is off sick and literally no one else can find or read their file?

How often do I see journalists or activists complaining that this Department or that Ministry has refused to fill an OIA request because either they don’t have the resources to collate the information, or they don’t even know how to find it? At that point, cutting the back office isn’t just counter-productive, it’s undermining our democracy.

We’ve taken a baby-step forward with Tolley’s admission that at least some CYF work can’t be outsourced to operators like Serco. We have to keep challenging the idea that the rest of the public service is up for grabs, challenging the false economy of splitting “back office” functions away from “frontline” work, and challenging the government’s deliberate strategy of running down public services until the point they can say “look, the state sector can’t deliver. Bring on privatisation!”