Serco private prison hell in New Zealand

This video from New Zealand says about itself:

24 July 2015

Patrick Gower and Lisa Owen lay out the timeline of the allegations at Mt Eden Prison and uncover more of Serco‘s shortfalls.

By Tom Peters in New Zealand:

Inhumane conditions in privately run New Zealand prison

19 December 2015

The National Party government announced on December 9 that it will not renew the contract for UK-based company Serco to manage Auckland’s Mount Eden Prison when the contract expires in 2017.

The announcement followed months of revelations about the inhumane conditions at the remand prison. Since the government privatised management of Mt Eden in 2011, Serco has been served with 55 breach of contract notices for a wide range of issues, including understaffing, inadequate staff training and leaving dangerous items like razor blades in prisoners’ possession.

Video footage emerged in the media during July showing organised “fight clubs” among inmates and at least one Serco guard. There have been claims that guards also failed to stop beatings among prisoners.

Former prisoner Kevin Mussard is taking legal action against Serco, claiming it failed to prevent him being almost beaten to death. The family of Alex Littleton has also blamed Serco for not stopping an attack on him in February when he was allegedly thrown from a prison balcony and broke both his legs.

An Ombudsman’s report released this month revealed that under Serco’s management around 70 remand prisoners aged 16 to 19 were being confined to their cells 23 hours a day, apparently because staff cuts meant they could not be supervised. The report noted that prisoners’ conditions had worsened since a similar critical report in 2014. In April that year, the Ombudsman’s office warned against the practice of locking up teenage prisoners for 19 hours a day.

Such solitary confinement has been defined by the United Nations as inhuman and degrading punishment, which may sometimes amount to torture. Then corrections minister Sam Lotu-Iiga told Fairfax Media on December 3 that the practice was “unacceptable” but added: “That’s the nature of our prisons … they are hard places.”

In response to media coverage of the prisoner “fight clubs,” the Corrections Department took over the running of Mt Eden Prison in July. In a further attempt at damage control, this month Prime Minister John Key replaced Lotu-Iiga with Judith Collins as corrections minister.

Serco, however, will retain its 25-year contract to run Wiri Prison, which opened in May in South Auckland. Key told the media that Serco would also be allowed to “re-pitch or re-tender” for the Mt Eden contract in 2017. At her swearing-in on December 14, Collins declared that she had no regrets about awarding Serco the contract to run Mt Eden when she was previously corrections minister at the end of 2010.

The government is committed to private prisons as part of its austerity agenda, aimed at cutting costs and boosting corporate profits at the expense of working people. It is moving to sell off thousands of state houses, privatise more welfare services and expand for-profit charter schools.

For years the government covered up the unsafe and inhuman conditions at Mt Eden Prison. The Corrections Department issued no more than financial wrist slaps for Serco’s repeated breaches of prisoner safety. On April 1, Lotu-Iiga assured parliament that the prison had an “excellent” record, claiming “it is one of the highest-performing prisons in New Zealand.”

Serco has been implicated in human rights abuses elsewhere. Since 2009, the company has operated prison-like detention camps in Australia where asylum seekers are held indefinitely in atrocious conditions. There has been a litany of protests, hunger strikes, suicides and reports of abuse by detainees, including last month’s riot at the Christmas Island detention centre following the death of refugee Fazel Chegeni.

At the Serco-run Yarl’s Wood immigration detention centre in England, detainees have alleged verbal, physical and sexual abuse by staff, limited legal representation, scant access to interpreters and poor standards of health care.

New Zealand’s main opposition Labour and Green Parties called for the government to immediately sack Serco. Labour’s corrections spokesman Kelvin Davis, posing as a champion of prisoners’ rights, told the media on December 9: “Private prisons just aren’t working. They haven’t worked overseas and they’re not working here … [Corrections Minister] Judith Collins brought [Serco] in and now she has to sort the mess out that she started.”

Such statements are profoundly hypocritical. For a start, the country’s first privately-run prison was Auckland Central Remand Prison, operated by Australasian Correctional Management (ACM) from 2000 to 2005, during the Labour government of Prime Minister Helen Clark. Labour and its coalition partner, the “left wing” Alliance Party, agreed to honour ACM’s five-year contract to run the prison, signed by the previous National government in 1999. Legislation to ban private prisons was not passed until 2004.

While criticising the abuses at Mt Eden Prison, Labour agrees with National’s basic agenda of austerity and privatisation. It has made no pledge to renationalise power companies or social housing if it wins the 2017 election.

Successive governments have promoted hard-line “law and order” policies, including tougher jail sentences and increased police powers, to deal with the social tensions produced by the crisis of capitalism. The 1999–2008 Labour government opened four new prisons and oversaw a 36 percent increase in prisoner numbers, from 4,917 in 1999 to 7,771 by the end of 2007 (by the end of 2014 the figure reached 8,641). By 2006, New Zealand’s incarceration rate was one of the highest in the OECD, with 185 prisoners for every 100,000 people, more than double the rate in 1987.

Labour oversaw squalid and dangerous conditions in publicly-run prisons. An Ombudsman’s report from December 2005 found that prisons were struggling with soaring prisoner numbers. Many were kept in their cells with nothing to do for up to 15 hours a day. A report by the New Zealand Herald on February 28, 2006, noted that “as the nation’s prisons have filled to overflowing, police cells have been called in to hold surplus prisoners for days and sometimes weeks.”

The Herald reported that 95 percent of prisoners with drug and alcohol problems could receive no treatment in 2006 due to a lack of programs. It also pointed out that the 140-year-old Mt Eden Prison building was in a severe state of disrepair, with “sub-standard conditions for inmates (e.g. insufficient day light and day space)” and sewage flooding onto the exercise yard.

Conditions have worsened under National, which introduced double-bunking in some prisons in 2009 (installing bunks in cells intended for one person). A report on New Zealand by the United Nations Committee Against Torture, released in May, criticised overcrowding and inadequate health services for prisoners, the high number of assaults at Mount Eden, and the disproportionate rate of imprisonment among Maori.

Ancestors of New Zealand bats’ fossil discovery

This video says about itself:

Suzanne Hand: Miocene Fossils Reveal Ancient Roots for New Zealand’s Endemic Mystacina (Chiroptera)

26 June 2015

Dr Hand talks to about her recent PLOS ONE publication: Miocene Fossils Reveal Ancient Roots for New Zealand’s Endemic Mystacina (Chiroptera) and Its Rainforest Habitat.

Albatross, shark kill each other

This video, recirded on the sub-Antarctic Crozet islands, says about itself:

Do albatrosses have personalities?

12 jan. 2015

Surprisingly, albatrosses do have different personalities. A bright blue plastic cow is used as an albatross personality test, helping scientists to discover how personality affects success in rearing chicks.

From the blog of the Te Papa Tongarewa museum in New Zealand, with photos there:

Albatross vs Shark

Posted 4 December 2015 by Alan Tennyson

This beauty and the beast tale did not end happily ever after for either character.

Te Papa staff member Hokimate Harwood collected a rather smelly deceased albatross on Wellington’s south coast on 15 November.

A Shark Tale

In the lab we were astounded to see a shark’s tail protruding from its neck. When we cut the dead bird open we found that the shark was intact and reached the entire length of the bird’s body cavity! The shark was completely undigested – no doubt it had been protected by its tough, sandpaper-like skin – and we speculate that the bird choked on the fish.

A little shark that can take on a whale

This was no ordinary looking shark – it was a seal shark (Dalatias licha), a worldwide species with a particularly vicious set of teeth distributed in a circular arrangement in its jaws. It uses these teeth for bandsawing chunks out of creatures as big as whales. A cousin, the aptly named cookiecutter shark (Isistius brasiliensis), has similarly delightful habits, including sometimes munching on submarines and humans! We looked inside the shark’s gut also but there was no evidence that it had been eating the albatross from the inside.

An untimely end for bird and shark

The unlucky bird was a northern royal albatross (Diomedea sanfordi) – one of the world’s largest seabirds and the species famous for nesting at Taiaroa Head, Dunedin (although its main colonies are on the Chatham Islands). The graceful flying ability of albatrosses is not matched by their less wholesome diet, which consists largely of scavenged food, such as dead squid and fish, found floating on the surface. As seal sharks are a deep water species, we suspect that the hungry bird gulped down the shark which it found as waste from a trawler, and thus both bird and shark met an untimely end.

What happens next?

Te Papa will skeletonise both specimens for its permanent research collections. These will be used mainly for identifying fossil remains. Some of the oldest known fossils of a seal shark are from the Eocene of New Zealand – c. 40 million years ago.

Thanks to Tom Shultz and Colin Miskelly for their assistance, Andrew Stewart for identifying the shark, and Hokimate for bringing in the unfortunate creatures.

National birds of various countries

This video from New Zealand says about itself:

21 January 2010

Last night the worst drought in 20+ years here on Purerua Peninsula was broken with a 36mm rainfall. This afternoon, one of our local kiwis came out in broad daylight. We think it had been getting hungry because the ground was too hard and dry to penetrate during the drought, but with the softer soil today, the bird came out to catch up on feeding.

Kiwis are the national birds of New Zealand.

This week, the black-tailed godwit won in the Dutch national bird election.

Dutch Vroege Vogels TV then went to The Hague, where the foreign embassies are, to ask the ambassadors of New Zealand, Israel, India and the USA about their national birds. The interviews are on this video.

The national bird of India is the peacock.

This video is called Pavo cristatus – Indian blue peacock calling.

The peacock is the symbol of the gods Indra and Vishnu in Hindu religion. Killing a peacock used to be punished with the death penalty.

This is a hoopoe video from the Czech republic.

In May 2008, the hoopoe was voted national bird of Israel. 155,000 people participated in the election.

This video from North Dakota in the USA is called Bald Eagles (Accipitridae: Haliaeetus leucocephalus) Nest-building.

In 1782, the United States Congress voted to have the bald eagle as national bird; though Benjamin Franklin would have preferred the turkey.

Birds have been honored, revered and worshipped in many different cultures throughout human history, and birds as gods or god-like figures is just one of the many cultural connections humans and birds share: here.

Bar-tailed godwit, New Zealand’s Bird of the Year

This is a bar-tailed godwit video from Sweden.

From BirdLife:

Bar Tailed Godwit. New Zealand’s Bird of the Year

By Mike Britton, Wed, 28/10/2015 – 22:23

The bar-tailed godwit (kuaka) has been crowned New Zealand’s Bird of the Year after three weeks of close competition, heated campaigning and attempts at cheating. The Bird of the Year competition is run each year by Forest & Bird, the New Zealand BirdLife partner.

The godwits spur public imagination having the longest migratory flight of any bird in the world. Between 80,000 to 100,000 of these amazing birds travel over 11,000 kilometres from Alaska to reach New Zealand in less than 9 days. But like many of our `born to fly’ species, bar-tailed gotwits are in decline with numbers arriving dropping by 2% every year. Keith Woodley of the Pukorokoro Miranda Shorebird Centre, who championed the species in the competition, notes that habitat loss is a massive problem for these birds, especially in east Asia where most of them stop to refuel. Addressing the habitat threat is an important part of the BirdLife Born to Fly programme.

There was some hope raised this week for the red knot (Hauhou), another `born to fly’ species. The New Zealand Minister of Conservation, Hon Maggie Barry, announced that discussions with China’s Ambassador to New Zealand is offering hope of safeguarding the bird’s migration routes. They rely on wetlands in Bohai Bay as a refuelling stop on their way from the North Island to breeding grounds in Siberia – a 30,000km round trip.

Chinese Ambassador Wang Lutong has worked with authorities in Hebei Province to gain protection for a significant habitat for red knots and shorebirds, covering more than 3000 hectares, with other extensive wetland sites under consideration. Officials of New Zealand’s Department of Conservation will soon travel to China to discuss details of an agreement on protection of migratory bird habitat in both countries.

A close second in the Bird of the Year was the Kokako, an endemic wattlebird that has benefited from Forest & Bird protection work, especially in its Ark in the Park project near Auckland. Third was the ever popular kaka, a special and cheeking parrot that is making a comeback in the capital, Wellington, thanks to the Karori Zealandia Eco-sanctuary and possum control around the city.

New Zealand Bird of the Year competition, 2015

This video from New Zealand says about itself:

Sharing the Hauraki Gulf – Fishers and black petrel in the Hauraki Gulf

8 December 2013

The Hauraki Gulf is a hotspot for seabirds with over 80 species using the region. In this DVD, wildlife biologist Cam Speedy takes you to his favourite deer hunting grounds to explore ancient seabird territory, and Whitianga fishermen Adam Clow and Wayne Dreadon head to Aotea/Great Barrier Island to band rare black petrel chicks before their maiden voyage to Ecuador and Peru. Adam and Wayne also talk through what seabird mitigation really means on-board their vessels.

From BirdLife:

Who will win Forest & Bird‘s Bird of the Year 2015?

By Mike Britton, Tue, 06/10/2015 – 23:02

The annual New Zealand Bird of the Year competition has kicked off again by the BirdLife New Zealand partner, Forest & Bird.  This year 50 bird species are all vying for the `top bird’ Crown. Started by the late Helen Bain, Forest & Bird’s former Communications manager as a bit of fun, the competition has rapidly become an important way to promote New Zealand’s unique and often very threatened bird species.  As with most bird species in the whole Pacific the biggest threat to New Zealand’s birds are invasive predators and building the communities’ appreciation of the taonga (treasure) that these birds represent is important in getting the support and resources to protect them and control the predators.

Last year the competition was a special one focusing on sea birds in recognition of the recently completed New Zealand Marine IBA Report.  The enigmatic and criticaly endangered Fiji Petrel snuck in to the competition and alsmost won, in the lead for most of the time but just pipped at the post after a big local push (by Forest & Bird) for the New Zealand Fairy Tern, also a critically endangered special bird.

This year there are no obvious favourites but it may swing back to one of the old favourites, Kiwi, kea, kokako or keru (New Zealand wood pigeon).  But our favorite is the New Zealand Black Petrel rocellaria parkinsoni, the special sea bird that is familiar to users of Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf.  Its nesting sites on mainland New Zealand have gone due mainly to invasive predators like feral cats and pigs, mustelids and rats.  But they are also the most at risk sea bird from both commercial and recreational fishers. Forest & Bird, with help from BirdLife and the RSPB is working on to reduce the by-catch of these special birds.  Their sponsor in the completion is BirdLife’s Pacific seabird coordinator. Karen Baird, and if you want to do your bit to support New Zealand birds, and we hope the Black Petrel please go on to Forest & Bird’s website and vote.