Criticism of ACT prison policy

ACT has succeeded in attracting attention to the prison policy they announced at their conference in the weekend – see ACT: reduced prison sentence for education – with critics claiming flaws.

RNZ: Flaws seen in ACT’s new prison literacy policy

The ACT Party’s new policy aimed at reducing prisoners’ sentences does not match up with its previous hard-line policies, the Labour Party says.

Labour’s corrections spokesperson Kelvin Davis said the policy had merit on the surface because too many people were being imprisoned.

But he said the ACT Party also introduced the three-strikes policy, which was about locking people up.

“It’s sort of counter-intuitive for them to be saying ‘well let’s reduce prison sentences’ but again without any real detail around the policy it’s really hard to measure whether this policy is actually going to make a difference or not.”

It’s not counter-intuitive. Davis should read David Seymour’s speech and read the policy explanation before criticising it.

It’s not difficult to understand that it’s possible to be tough on the worst recidivist criminals while also trying to improve the non-criminal prospects of first time and petty criminals.

Author and researcher Jarrod Gilbert said the idea of cutting prison sentences should be applauded, but the hard-line three-strikes policy fuelled high incarceration rates.

“We’ve got to balance prison policy between a punitive approach which punishes people for what they do wrong but also assists those that require help to change their lives and obviously that’s not just in the individual’s benefit to change but in wider society’s benefit, not only through cost but through reducing victims of crime.”

Gilbert understands that it’s possible to be both punitive and rehabilitate.

Kim Workman, a former head of Corrections who is a research associate at Victoria University’s Institute of Criminology, said any effort to teach literacy and numeracy to prisoners should be supported.

But he said the policy would be unfair on prisoners who can’t join in lessons.

An odd comment. You shouldn’t try and help some prisoners learn to read and write because some can already read and write and some others are too sick to learn?

“Twenty percent of the prisoners for a start, have brain and head injuries and are incapable of taking part in those programmes, 40 percent have mental health issues. So you’re really only looking at a small proportion of the prison community who are able to leave the prison early.”

I don’t believe that all 20% of prisoners with head injuries can’t be helped by education.

Nor all of the 40% with mental health problems. In fact self esteem is a factor in some mental health problems, so better education could help them overcome mental health problems.

But even if only the remaining 40% can be taught to read and write, or even just a half or a quarter of them, that must surely be a very good achievement.

Kelvin Davis said the programmes already running in prisons needed more funding.

Jarrod Gilbert said support for those coming out of prison was urgently needed to help reduce recidivism.

Funding and resources are crucial if ACT’s policy is to succeed.

Mr Seymour said the rehabilitation of prisoners was crucial and the policy would be part of any coalition arrangement, if ACT were in a position to be part of the government after September’s general election.

He said he had spoken with the Prime Minister about the policy and Bill English was open to the idea.

This policy is a good candidate for consideration as a social investment. Putting more money and resources into rehabilitation and education should fairly quickly save costs through reducing the number of people in prison.

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7 Comments

  1. Based on the figures being bandied about – and who knows how accurate they are – I find it noteworthy that in 2017 we still live in a society heavily focused on punishment rather than rehabilitation – despite our pretentions to ‘Christian’ cultural foundations …

    If the head-injury and mental health cohorts are completely separate groups – which is unlikely – and excluding other factors like extremely violent tendencies – this means that [up to] 60% of our prison population should be in secure health or mental health facilities receiving treatment, which might include literacy and numeracy lessons …

    This approach would constitute REAL social investment … the kind I doubt we’re prepared to make … because to actually interrupt the insidious ‘crime & punishment’ money-go-round would be dangerously radical …

    I have tremendous admiration for the Howard League, who have been grinding away at our bizarre ‘criminal education prison system’ for 140 years in Britain and since 1924 in Aotearoa NZ …

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Howard_League_for_Penal_Reform

  2. Noel

     /  February 27, 2017

    Sorry whilst rehabilitation may be useful for some prisioners there is a hard core that are just nasty people and will remain so until they die.

    • They must be like the ‘hard core’ of breeders who reproduce just so they can subsist [or less] on meagre welfare benefits Noel …?

      And how many such prisoners or beneficiaries are there in reality …?

      Gee, we don’t know … No one ever seems to produce statistics. I can’t find any …

      I do remember seeing once that unemployment statistics actually contain a high percentage of ‘churning’ … that truly long-term unemployed are very few indeed. Perhaps its the same for ‘hard core’ prisoners …? Someone on here might have or be able to find the ‘data’.

      Still, good to have that old, well-worn, generally unquestioned expression ‘hard core’ up the sleeve for election year, eh? Tar everyone you can with that brush …

      I expect major beneficiary and criminal bashing this year … The Great Right Fear … 6 more months of it … no doubt escalating as the GE approaches …

        • And … ?

          Oh, yeah … Right. This is criticism of the offenders undertaking rehabilitation programs, not of the department of corrections providing them …

          So, if 11 out of 12 schoolkids graduated Year 9 functionally illiterate and innumerate, we’d blame the children themselves …. Right?

          “In 2015, Corrections spent $169 million on rehabilitation and reintegration programmes, but only about $10 million of this went into reintegration. That means $159 million was spent on rehabilitation. This is almost a total waste of taxpayer’s money if the Department does not have a realistic, financially supported reintegration strategy. It didn’t have one in 2011. Five years later, it still doesn’t have one.”

          At a conspiracy theory level, a ‘corporatized’ corrections dept isn’t going to maintain its income and profitability by succeeding at rehabilitation, is it? Perhaps this accounts for the miniscule amount spent on reintegration?

          Good article … Cheers …

  3. Goldie

     /  February 27, 2017

    “Kim Workman, a former head of Corrections ”
    No he wasn’t. The closest was a junior manager in DoJ in the 1980s.

  1. Criticism of ACT prison policy — Your NZ – NZ Conservative Coalition