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Learning about the Official Information Act and putting it into action

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James and Ishan explain how they learned about the Official Information Act and how they went on to protest in Hastings to raise awareness about the conditions in New Zealand prisons as a result of the Ombudsman's reports.

© Office of the Ombudsman, 2019.


My name is James Barr, I’m 15 years old and I go to St John’s College.

My name is Ishan Parmar, I am 15 years old and I’m a year 11 at St John’s College.

We have been studying the Official Information Act in business studies over the past year. And we decided to look into some of the reports of places of detention that the Ombudsman had done reports on, and we found things from Hawkes Bay Regional prison, Christchurch Men's prison, Whanganui [prison]. And we found shocking things.

We saw that the bedding was inadequate. The mattresses were moldy, stained and in very bad condition. We also learnt many prisoners did not feel safe.

We wanted to do something that would catch the public eye and would get attention on this matter. And we chose to sit specifically in a cage because we believe that was a representation of the prison.

If we did it on a school day, it would grab more public attention and get more people to talk with us. They’d be curious why we weren’t in school. And it succeeded, it worked. We talked to hundreds and hundreds of people during the day.

My name is Paul Melloy, principal of St John’s College.

When I realised what it was about and spoke to them, I was actually quite proud of what they were doing. It wasn’t just a protest and it wasn’t just an immature protest. If you listened to what they were saying they had solutions as well. So James was particularly clear where he said he wanted more money for mental health, which he said was causing an issue, and he wanted a drug court in the Hawkes Bay.

I believe that not many secondary students know what the Official Information Act is and I believe they should know about it. I believe it should be more commonly taught at schools and pushed more commonly on platforms such as social media. I do think young people do have the interest in politics, internal affairs, things like that.




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