18 Jan 2021

Prison's book confiscation breached Bill of Rights Act, Arthur Taylor argues

4:54 pm on 18 January 2021

Former prison inmate Arthur Taylor has laid a complaint against the Department of Corrections, after a book about organised crime sent to him in a parcel, was confiscated while he was in jail during the New Year period.

Jailhouse lawyer Arthur Taylor, who was released on parole yesterday.

Arthur Taylor. Photo: RNZ

Taylor, known as a jailhouse lawyer, was released on bail last week and said the book Gangland by award-winning investigative journalist Jared Savage was seized by the Otago Corrections Facility on the grounds it contained "gang regalia".

The book explores New Zealand's underworld of organised crime and violent gangs.

Taylor wrote a complaint to Corrections on 12 January, and has since filed another complaint to the Office of the Inspectorate on 16 January.

He said he was prepared to take the case to court.

In the complaint to Corrections viewed by RNZ, Taylor asked for the decision to be reviewed and felt it breached section 14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.

"In short it breaches my right to freedom of expression. There is no countervailing reason that would justify the breach of my section 14 NZBORA (Bill of Rights Act) right," he wrote in the complaint.

In a response the Otago Corrections Facility's management sent to Taylor, also viewed by RNZ, it said the book promoted violence and drug use.

"Management believes that this publication promotes violence and drug use and is a negative influence within a prison and reserves the right to not to issue this book via the prisoner property policy."

Taylor rejects the argument, telling RNZ that most people featured in the book ended up in jail, and believes it will act as a deterrent to crime.

He said he had previously read the book.

"[It's] far from glorifying crime, it's actually filled with stories [where] everyone in there is people that have been arrested and brought to justice and made to account for the criminal offending," Taylor said.

"It's probably a deterrent to crime."

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The book in question. Photo: Supplied

Corrections declined to be interviewed but said in a statement there was no official list of banned books in New Zealand prisons.

"The decision to allow certain books into prison is made by the relevant prison director on a case-by-case basis," it said.

"However, there are publications that, while not specifically banned, are not suitable to be authorised in prison, unless the prison director makes an exception."

The spokesperson said prisoners also had access to library services and Corrections' policy was that prison library collections should not contain any objectionable or offensive material.

Those included pornography; overly violent, objectionable, occult material; gang related or other offensive material; and any other material prison staff considered may interfere with the effective management, security and good order of the prison.

Taylor said he was prepared to take the complaint against Corrections to court.

"An attack on anyone's human rights is an attack on the human rights of us all ... and freedom of expression is one of the most important human rights," he said.

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