New ACT on crime and punishment

One of the best known ACT Party policies is the three strikes law which aims to lock up the worst offenders for longer. There is some merit to this, and there are risks of unintended consequences. It’s too soon to tell whether it is an overall success or not.

What three strikes doesn’t seem to be reducing is reoffending rates. Our prisons are full and there are plans to expand them.

ACT MP David Seymour has had a look at this and is proposing a different approach to dealing with increasing incarceration (while retaining three strikes).

NZ Herald: Act’s new approach to crime and punishment

The Act Party will “turn over a new leaf” and launch policy to support prisoners after leader David Seymour witnessed work being done by the Howard League for Penal Reform.

Seymour told the Herald a new policy would be revealed at the party’s annual conference on Saturday.

“We have done tough on crime and continue to promote those policies – extending three-strikes to burglary … but we are also going to turn over a new leaf and start talking about being smart on crime.”

This sounds similar to Bill English’s data based smart targeting approach to a range of issues.

A keynote speaker at the Act conference in Auckland’s Orakei is former Labour Party president Mike Williams.

Interesting to see Williams speaking at an ACT conference.

Williams is now the chief executive of the New Zealand Howard League for Penal Reform, which runs literacy programmes that aim to get prisoners to a competent reading level, enabling them to read books to their children, take driver tests and have a better chance of finding work when they are released.

Almost 65 per cent of the men and women in prison fall below NCEA level one literacy and numeracy.

That’s an awful statistic. Poor education is closely linked to crime.

Corrections formalised a partnership with the Howard League in June 2014, signing a three-way agreement with the Ministry of Education, and has allocated about $100,000 to expand the driver licence and literacy programme.

A very good idea with a bugger all budget.

Last year Seymour joined Williams and Bill English at a prizegiving ceremony at Rimutaka Prison, where inmates who had completed the league’s literacy programme and learnt to read spoke about what it meant to them. Tutors who volunteered in the programme also spoke.

“What they [the league] are doing is very Act,” Seymour said. “They have got a private initiative with volunteers … they have had an extraordinary impact on people who have never had a piece of paper with their name and face on it before, have never been able to open a bank account.

“I went there because I was already thinking about the issue … I still think that people that commit three violent crimes should get the maximum sentence. But I think we can do a bit better on the first two strikes.”

Three strikes on it’s own was populist but inadequate.

Williams – praised as “legendary” in an Act press release promoting his conference speech – told the Herald that he felt very positively about Seymour’s interest in reoffending programmes.

“I am on a completely different side of the fence to David Seymour. However, I am impressed with the guy. He is open-minded about the problem of incarceration in New Zealand, and I have found him intelligent and forward-looking.”

Perhaps Williams could talk to some in Labour too then, if they are prepared to listen. It’s good to see him prepared to promote his cause with any party willing to learn and act.

In October, the Government announced plans to cope with a booming prisoner population including a 1500-bed prison on the current Waikeria Prison site in Waikato.

Those changes will hit the Government’s books by an extra $2.5 billion over about five years.

That’s nuts. A decent dollop of that budget should be diverted to rehabilitation and prevention, that would make a much more beneficial difference to the lives and families of individuals and to the country as a whole.

Williams has previously said that although successive Corrections ministers have supported measures to reduce reoffending, the prison population was growing because of harder bail and parole rules, an influx of deportees from Australia and the three-strikes legislation.

So it makes sense that much more effort and money should go towards reducing  reoffending – and addressing the factors that lead to offending in the first place.

ACT will be announcing policy on crime this weekend.

I expect (or at least hope) the Government will act on this soon, like in May’s budget.

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2 Comments

  1. OR was this just a ‘industry creation program’ : PRIVATE prisons for ACT/Natz & their cronies ?

    reminds me of the speech by Bush snr. (paraphrase) ‘dont think that there isn’t enough room for Drug offenders & other Crims.. we will just build more prisons as we require’
    * now NZ is close to 10k inmates (highest ever with highest reoffending rates) & FIGHT Clubs too, on most nights ! 😀