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Rimutaka’s ‘faith unit’

  • May 17th, 2011

I've heard several friends quietly pleased to see the exposure of the "Faith Unit" at Rimutaka Prison as not seeming to produce lower recidivism rates. They've had to endure prison 'reformers' criticisms for being too focussed on justice for victims and not enough on rehabilitation so they think this set of reformers had it coming.

I do not share that schadenfreude. I've seen nothing reported so far to justify closing the faith unit. I'm suspicious of the reported reasoning, though googling Rimutaka and faith unit in Stuff shows plenty of controversy

Kim Workman has strongly supported the controversial unit. I've never found Kim to be offensive, though I disagree profoundly with him

We humans all weight factors differently depending on our predispositions, and we will disregard inconvenient information if given any excuse – such as that it has some element of judgment or is open to different interpretations. I think Kim is better at rationalising his support for the improbable than most. But I urge tolerance.

Sooner than we think the loopy "justice as therapy" experiment will end. Our orthodox thinking in this area will be again the establishment orthodoxy.  We should expect and demand for as long as we are able to influence things, that the establishment resist the kind of group-think that has got the current lot into today’s predicament, where rather than re-examine their premises they are desperately defending a system that instructs ordinary people to lie, has judges lying as a matter of policy, is callous to victims, and is grotesquely expensive and ineffective.

We should respect people who persist in disagreeing with us, because we should foster a regime that allows for experiment and a range of approaches. We suffer in this country because we have one monolithic Police force, and one Corrections.

So I am sorry to see the threats to the existence at Rimutaka of the Faith Unit. Though it is creditworthy that Corrections is measuring the effects of different regimes on recidivism rates, and has publicised the lack of apparent effect of the Faith unit at Rimutaka, such a measure alone seems poor justification for ending the Faith unit’s existence, or interfering too much in its administration. I’m suspicious of the motives of Rimutaka management. I’d want to know that it was actually harming, or costing much more, or that there was some other downside before I’d support ending its existence.

I doubt that recidivism alone is enough of a measure. We should know also the relative success of those who do not reoffend. It could be worth having the faith unit if they are more successful in holding down jobs and supporting their families than other prison graduates (acknowledging the difficulties in deriving control groups for comparison). 

I’m also concerned that Rimutaka Prison has such embedded corruption that the real reason for hostility to the faith unit could be that its staff are feared because they stand apart from those who are in the rest of the prison. Perhaps they are thought likely to nark on misconduct?

 How have the various race based programmes (Tikanga Maori units) fared under the kind of scrutiny given to the faith unit? Have they been measured?

I am an atheist, but I detect widespread hypocrisy among people strident in their hostility to suspected ‘cultural’ insensitivity who vengefully support discrimination against any timid assertions of our mainstream cultural tradition known as Christianity. 

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