Prisons “a moral and fiscal failure”

Today’s Dominion Post editorial says that More prisons are not the answer.

A recent announcement from Corrections Minister Judith Collins claimed that levels of crime are down but, and this may seem paradoxical, the prison population is up. According to Collins, this necessitates a massive $1 billion plan to create another 1800 beds in prisons.

Cynics might wish that houses could be built with such speed and commitment.

Yet our imprisonment rates are already more than a third higher than Australia and the UK, with an alarmingly high number of reoffenders. Figures show that 69 per cent of people starting new sentences have been sentenced previously, according to Act leader David Seymour, who calls the “prison population blowout largely a reoffending blowout”.

Which is what the ‘3 strikes’, introduced by the Act Party, was supposed to address? Locking up more people for longer will inevitably lead to more prison beds unless something else changes.

Has ‘3 strikes’ failed to deter recidivist criminals?

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Bill English famously called our prisons a “moral and fiscal failure”. That line has come back to haunt the Government. 

As it should. The Government continues this moral and fiscal failure.

Advocacy groups such as the Howard League argue persuasively that reoffending could decline if education and training was more accessible to prisoners, nearly 65 per cent of whom have literacy levels below NCEA level 1.

That’s a failure of our education system, and a failure of parenting.

By contrast with Corrections’ big spend, only a fraction of the $15 million recently allocated by Prime Minister John Key to tackle the methamphetamine problem will go towards treatment and education programmes in schools and prisons. Despite some gestures by this Government towards more sophisticated social investment approaches, the numbers tell a different story about populist, simplistic answers to complex crime and punishment questions.

Perhaps we need something different than prisons for drug addicts.

Something appears to be going badly wrong when our imprisonment rates are a third higher than Australia and the UK.

Talking tough may appease some lobby groups and voters. It’s a lot tougher finding solutions that work.

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34 Comments

  1. Alan Wilkinson

     /  25th October 2016

    There is a multi-generational criminal subculture maintained by welfare as the previous discussion on gangs showed. Prison just becomes part of the inevitability of that life.

    Reply
    • Joe Bloggs

       /  25th October 2016

      And we talk about how the term dangerousness has been replaced by risk to signify a move from a fixed quality inside a person towards a societal continuum of risk, and this is part of the process of attributing blame eh…

      In effect there has been a refocusing from the therapeutic values of improving wellbeing towards to regulation and social control, and a greater focus on surveillance and incarceration.

      So when we talk about a multigenerational criminal subculture maintained by welfare, I wonder about how this enables us to neglect attending to the underlying social factors that predispose individuals to crime?

      How does incarceration help? What does it really teach? Can we ever really expect to achieve humane reforms in contexts that are fundamentally dehumanising? How can we release ourselves from being quick to judge, so that we might become receptive to more restorative outcomes?

      I don’t have the easy answers as to how we overhaul New Zealand’s social and economic systems so that welfare becomes unnecessary, but it seems to me that this is where the more fundamental issues with criminality lie.

      Reply
      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  25th October 2016

        “the underlying social factors that predispose individuals to crime”

        Being born into a bad culture, you mean?

        Reply
        • Joe Bloggs

           /  25th October 2016

          if by bad culture you mean the increasing gap between the have’s and the have not’s, the privileging of wealthy white men over everyone else, an oppressively colonialist system of policing and justice, social inequalities that result in health and education issues for New Zealand’s poor, social power relations both limit and impose barriers on how we understand difference between/among people, and so on, then yes I mean being born into a bad culture…

          Reply
          • Alan Wilkinson

             /  25th October 2016

            No. I mean a culture that despises work and education and glorifies violence and physical force. That simple.

            And if they could understand your Lefty jargon would call b.s. on it as it deserves.

            Reply
        • The problem lies within a State system that does nothing to address the ignorance and lack of civic pride in the demographic that produces criminals. Any initiatives made after a child has completed the State educational curriculum, and failed to have been taught to read and write will be largely pointless. A state system that pays parents to raise children without strings or even the simplest of obligations to their progeny is insane. NZ utterly fails to monitor the progress of our functionally illiterate. Every initiative to structure programs to address the individual and varied needs of our at-risk children are thwarted and strangled by selfish Unions that simply don’t care. Where there is no accountability in our education system for the achievement of each and every child to at least functional literacy we are doomed to prisons groaning at the seams.

          Reply
        • Blazer

           /  25th October 2016

          culture…vulture…’ multigenerational criminal subculture maintained by privelege’…..this is a big problem…errant bankers merely fined for fraud,money laundering and other heinous crimes….. the average man is imprisoned for…less!

          Reply
          • The “errant” banker, in essence, does not cause any child to be brought up in woeful ignorance by ignorant parents, having no respect for, or understanding of, the merits of education and civic participation. Any link you allude to is spurious at bes.t

            Reply
  2. duperez

     /  25th October 2016

    I recall a school principal a few years back outlining how funding for dealing with kids with behaviour problems in schools in Northland was being cut. At the same time there was the significant money being spent on building Ngawha Prison.

    Maybe the long term strategy was to provide employment in the mid-north – prisons always need staff and service providers and builders are needed for extending it.

    So inevitably the resources saved from helping young ones not get on the path to places like Ngawha were used for them – at Ngawha. I am not saying a facility is not needed there, but think the point is able to be grasped.

    Tough talking doesn’t just appease some lobby groups and some voters, it is cheap.
    In that realm Judith is Queen.

    Reply
  3. Zedd

     /  25th October 2016

    It apparently costs >$90k/year to keep an inmate ‘locked up’.. it is increasingly been seen by ‘team key’ as a ‘one size fits all’ to the problems in our society. BUT in other OECD countries they are looking at other options, to keep the ‘prison muster down’; education, drug rehab/treatment, mental health facilities etc.

    Surely they would be better to look at moving this money into these areas.. ie. the ministry of HEALTH, not just police/prisons

    I’ve heard it said.. ‘build more prisons & they will just find reasons to fill them’, rather than look at the alternatives.

    Old sayings about: having a hammer (solution) & seeing all ‘issues/problems’ as nails &/or using a sledgehammer to crack walnuts ! 😦

    Reply
    • Joe Bloggs

       /  25th October 2016

      And that’s the deal with the prison industrial complex – the overlapping interests of government and industry that use surveillance, policing, and imprisonment as solutions to economic, social and political problems.

      But it’s not just the prisons themselves, it’s a mutually reinforcing web of relationships, between prisons, the probation service, the police, the courts, all the companies that profit from transporting, feeding and exploiting prisoners, and so forth, eh… there’s a whole bunch of mutually reinforcing interests in play that don’t have offender interests anywhere in sight. ‘Cos that’s what happens when you industrialise a service

      Reply
      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  25th October 2016

        The answer is to construct contracts that reward rehabilitation and penalise recidivism. Surely that is hardly rocket science?

        Reply
        • Joe Bloggs

           /  25th October 2016

          and yet it hasn’t happened

          Reply
          • Alan Wilkinson

             /  25th October 2016

            Firstly it is sabotaged by the prison unions and their Labour politician lackeys and secondly by bureaucratic incompetence inside Corrections probably enhanced by self-interest as having no wish to reduce their own empires.

            Reply
            • Blazer

               /  25th October 2016

              what a load of tosh.There are exposes on the private prison system in the U.S where incarceration is encouraged,theres big profits in it.

          • @ Joe Bloggs – “and yet it hasn’t happened”

            As I’m well aware you know, it isn’t rocket science to understand why either.

            An “industrialised social service” is going to prefer ‘contractural rewards’ for putting itself out of business, over-and-above its matrix-like, meshed “mutually reinforcing interests”, self-propagation and expansion mechanisms with all the other ‘business model’ social agencies?

            Yeah ….. Right!

            BTW – You’re comments above are among the best I’ve read anywhere EVER on this sort of subject.

            Reply
        • Gezza

           /  25th October 2016

          “The answer is to construct contracts that reward rehabilitation and penalise recidivism. Surely that is hardly rocket science?”

          Penalising recidivism is the easy bit to understand, Al. What do you have in mind for contracts that reward rehabilitation – who is the contract to be with, who gets the reward, what is the reward, and who pays for the reward, which suggests extra money or low funding for managing the prisons. So far privatising our prisons seems to have been seen no better results than Corrections running them.

          Reply
            • Gezza

               /  25th October 2016

              From The Beehive’s presser of 2012

              “Even with the prison population forecast to fall – due to the Government’s focus on rehabilitation and cutting crime – there is a demonstrated need for a new prison in Auckland to meet population projections. We also need the flexibility to respond to ageing capacity and other future pressures.”

              Say what? Prison population forecast to fall? Hasn’t Hon Judith just told us we another bloody prison because it’s going to rise?

              Too soon to say whether the recidivism rate has actually declined yet, surely?

            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  25th October 2016

              Too soon for this one. It was the contract incentives I was interested in. Incentives matter. What gets measured gets attention.

            • Gezza

               /  25th October 2016

              Here’s how the incentives will work, & the strategies to reduce reoffending. Seeing Serco stuffed up at Mt Eden (when they will have sold the government on how well they’d do) let’s hope they manage to achieve something better at Wiri.

            • Gezza

               /  25th October 2016

              Whoops – the link I missed out above:
              ‘Helping prisoners to come out of the mist’
              http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11443813

            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  25th October 2016

              Serco sold out of Wiri as per my last link.

            • Gezza

               /  26th October 2016

              My understanding of that linked article is they sold their shares in the company with the contract but are still contractually involved as a business in the actual management & running of Wiri.

          • Alan Wilkinson

             /  25th October 2016

            I haven’t searched back for the data, but I’m pretty sure the private prison Serco ran prior to the Clark government shutting them down had a lower recidivism rate and better rehabilitation than the public prisons. I recall the Maori establishment being angry Labour was bowing to its unions and closing it because it treated Maori much better than the public prisons.

            Reply
            • Guess what guys … Ain’t no-one gonna fix this with money alone … This pertains to “how we overhaul New Zealand’s social and economic systems so that welfare becomes unnecessary … [or the negative connotations are removed from the word again] … and … “it seems to me that this is where the more fundamental issues with criminality lie.” – Joe Bloggs.

  4. another option; End the DRUG WAR in Aotearoa/NZ & release all the current inmates (aprox. 20%) currently locked up for possession/use or cultivation for personal use etc.
    * thats hardly ‘rocket science either’ enuf sed 😀

    Reply
  5. Kitty Catkin

     /  25th October 2016

    I have heard that we imprison people for things that other countries don’t, but don’t know if this is still the case-I don’t think that our crime rate is higher.

    Reply
  6. PDB

     /  25th October 2016

    Nothing a good old cuddle wouldn’t fix………

    Reply
  7. patupaiarehe

     /  25th October 2016

    Something appears to be going badly wrong when our imprisonment rates are a third higher than Australia and the UK.

    IMHO, this is the issue that really needs to be addressed. Prison should be used to protect society, not as a punishment. Depending on one’s place on the socio-economic ‘ladder’, a few months/years in prison, with 3 guaranteed meals every day, might not be punishment at all. I have to concur with Zedd on this, if they want to free up prison beds, they need only release the drug ‘offenders’. Also, rather than sending recidivist drink drivers to prison, why not build a secure forced detox facility, so they can ‘dry out’ properly, and be made to deal with their issues?

    Reply

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