Jailhouse lawyer Arthur Taylor is preparing to take Corrections to court again over a decision to ban the book Gangland from New Zealand prisons.
Taylor is gearing up to fight the Corrections decision to ban New Zealand Herald journalist Jared Savage’s best-selling book, saying if the case goes to court, Corrections will lose.
The decision to bar prisoners from having the book has been labelled “silly” and “absolutely ridiculous”.
While Taylor was an inmate at Otago Corrections Facility in Dunedin last year, he was sent a copy of the book, but it was confiscated before he could get his hands on it.
He was initially told it was because the book – which delves into a collection of police investigations around drug crime and violence in New Zealand – contained “gang regalia”, he said.
After laying a complaint and asking for the decision to be reviewed, he received a further response from Corrections, with a different reason for the confiscation.
Corrections’ response, which has been viewed by the Herald, quoted the blurb for the book and said it could promote violence and drug use in prison.
“Management believes that this publication promotes violence and drug use and is a negative influence within a prison and reserves the right not to issue this book,” the response said.
Savage was “not surprised” by the ban, but said it was “kind of silly”.
He did not think the book glorified gang crime – in fact it clearly showed the consequences for perpetrators of such offending.
“I basically stitched together lots of things that were publicly available through the court trials. It’s not like I’m revealing some deep, dark secrets that no one’s ever heard about.
“It’s a very straight accounting of those court cases and the history of organised crime in the last 10 years.”
He thought the second part of Corrections’ response – that the book could have a negative influence – might hold slightly more weight.
“I guess I can see the potential for problems to arrive, in terms of most of the people mentioned in the book are still in prison so maybe they would take exception to how some cases have been portrayed.”
But in general the book would be more likely to act as a deterrent because the cases ended in successful prosecutions and jail time for offenders.
He questioned whether whoever had made the call to ban the book had actually read it, given they had only quoted the blurb in their decision.
Taylor told the Herald the decision was “absolutely ridiculous” and he was prepared to take the matter to court if need be.
“As far as I’m concerned, it breaches freedom of expression.”
He has laid a formal complaint over the confiscation, but has not yet received a response.
“I won’t be letting it go. There’s an important principle at stake here.
“If there was any legitimate reason for banning that book, all power to them … [but] it’s just simply a recording of what’s already public knowledge. There’s a hell of a lot worse books than that in prison libraries.”
Corrections would not put anyone forward for an interview, and did not directly address the banning of Gangland in their statement.
“There is no official list of banned books in New Zealand prisons and the decision to allow certain books into prison is made by the relevant prison director on a case-by -case basis,” a spokesman said in the statement.
“However, there are publications that, while not specifically banned, are not suitable to be authorised in prison, unless the prison director makes an exception.
Policy included prisoners should not have access to material including pornography, overtly violent, objectionable, occult material where it could be prejudicial to reducing reoffending, and gang-related or “other offensive material”.
“We do not want to allow a publication in prison if there are concerns the item may compromise the effective management, security and good order of the prison or constitutes a risk to prisoner rehabilitation by promoting pro-criminal beliefs or activities.”
• Gangland: The Evolution of NZ’s Underworld is available in bookstores around the country
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