Sunday, December 02, 2007

The next visit...

The week after I first visited Rimutaka, I visited Arohata - the women's prison. I'd gone to the prison half a dozen times already, to drop off books, letters, newspapers and visitors forms; I knew the prisons were different. At Arohata they weren't set up for supporters. At Rimutaka there were signs, forms and boxes for anything we might want to do. At Arohata they weren't as rigid, but after a week they wouldn't let us drop any more newspapers off, because they'd never seen this number of newspapers.

I got to Arohata half an hour early - just like I did at Rimutaka. When I rang the bell they told me that visiting didn't begin for half an hour and I'd have to wait outside. About ten minutes later another woman came, she was Maori and there to visit her mother. She'd come down from Palmerston North and we talked a little bit as we waited. I leaned against the fence, and she sat on the grass. She was pregnant, and needed to pee. I wanted to fight for her to get in and get a proper seat, but I'd already spent long enough in the prison system to know that it would just make me tired and get us nowhere.

Theoretically women prisoners on remand have much more visiting time than male prisoners on remand. Visiting time was in two hour blocks, rather than one hour blocks. All visiting time is cut into by the slowness of the prison system, but at the men's prisons they at least seemed to be expecting visitors. At the women's prisons they didn't even realise we were coming, until visiting time began.

As I said, from 12pm Monday 15 October to 4.01pm Thursday 8 November my happiest hours were spent prison visiting. While I was visiting I knew that they were really there, and that they were still them and fears that I couldn't even acknowledge dissipated.

But visiting at Arohata made me so sad, sad and angry, because the other female prisoners didn't seem to get visitors. The woman I'd waited on the grass with was the only other visitor the day I was there, and when other friends had visited the day before, none of the other remand prisoners at Arohata had got visits.

There are fewer remand prisoners at Arohata than there are at Rimutaka (18 vs 81 in the 2003 prison census). There are only three women's prisons in the country, so women as far away as Gisborne would be held in Wellington. But even taking the numbers into account there were five times as many visitors over two days at Rimutaka, than two days at Arohata.

I don't think that I can extrapolate out total support from two days of visiting, but there's other evidence that implies this is a pattern. Three times as many women as men had custody of children immediately before they were locked up (35.5% vs. 12.1%). For men, almost 80% of the children were looked after by their partner or ex-partner. Whereas for women less than 25% of children were looked after by their partner or ex-partner (full figures here. Instead it's immediately family, larger whanau or CYFS.

Women do the work when men go to prison, and when women go to prison there isn't necessarily anyone to fill the gap.

3 comments:

  1. vaca_loca4:25 pm

    Hi Maia,
    I think most of the visitors to Arohata are at the weekend. I volunteer there sometimes, looking after the children of prisoners and visitors, and on the days I have been the visiting area has been nearly full.

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  2. The weekend visits are for sentenced prisoners, who only have one or two visits a week. Remand visitors can have four visits a week (at Arohata at least), but it seems no one does visit.

    I'm sure there are visitors for some female prisoners, but the ratio of visits between male prisoners and female prisoners is raelly depressing.

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  3. Oh and that's a really cool thing to be doing vaca_loca.

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