Report on dealing with escalating prison numbers

The Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, Professor Sir Peter Gluckman, released a report last week on the growing prison population.

Convicted prisoner numbers have been increasing, in lpart due to tougher sentencing, but the biggest rise recently is of remand prisoners.

The report (PDF) – Using evidence to build a better justice system: The challenge of rising prison costs

Executive Summary

  1. Crime, especially violent crime, hurts individuals and society. Both direct and indirect victims of crime may suffer untold consequences that can endure for years and can even affect next generations. Those who do not suffer personally may nonetheless acquire negative perceptions of people or places because of criminal activity. The net effect of such perceptions can change societal attitudes creating a more negative environment. This is a loss for everyone. These perceptions can be disproportionately magnified by advocacy groups, media and political agendas.
  2. Policy responses are often viewed in binary terms: tough or soft on crime. This simplistic duality has long had political resonance, but its impact on our prison system is a major concern. The New Zealand prison population is increasing and is one of the highest in the OECD at a time when crime rates are actually decreasing. This can only be explained by the systemic and cumulative impact of successive policy decisions over time, often in response to public demand and political positioning.
  3. Successive governments of different political orientations have supported a progressively retributive rather than a restorative approach to crime with unsupported claims that prisons can solve the problems of crime. As a result, the costs of prisons far exceed those justified by the need to protect the public. We keep imprisoning more people in response to dogma not data, responding to shifting policies and media panics, instead of evidence-based approaches to prevention, intervention, imprisonment and rehabilitation. This does not diminish the importance of incarceration for a subset of individuals so as to protect the public.
  4. The strong evidence base related to what fuels the prison ‘pipeline’ suggests that prisons are extremely expensive training grounds for further offending, building offenders’ criminal careers by teaching them criminal skills, damaging their employment, accommodation and family prospects, and compounding mental health and substance use issues. On release, even after a short
    period of imprisonment, for example on remand, offenders have been found to reintegrate poorly to the community. Furthermore, this does nothing to reassure victims that the risk of harm is being effectively managed by the justice system.
  5. It is now well understood that prisons act as recruitment centres for gangs (especially for young offenders) and underpin the illegal drug trade. Imprisonment leaves those incarcerated with high rates of undiagnosed and untreated alcohol/drug addictions and mental illness. They have a negative impact on the next generation, given that a high percentage of people in prison are parents.
    These issues disproportionately affect Māori.
  6. Other countries, such as Finland, have significantly reduced their incarceration rates without crime rates rising. There is strong scientific evidence for putting resources into crime prevention, early intervention (identifying and mitigating risk), and a smarter
    approach to rehabilitation and subsequent social inclusion for those already in the criminal-justice system – not for building
    more prisons.
  7. To assist in such an approach, there must be adequate investment in piloting and evaluating early intervention and prevention initiatives. With leadership and knowledge, we can fundamentally transform the justice system, reduce victimisation and recidivism and make prisons only a part of a much more proactive and effective systemic response to a complex problem.

Much of this stuff has been known for yonks, but there has been a reluctance to address the causes, with public and political pressure resulting in more and more money being shovelled in to longer and more incarceration.

Leave a comment


  1. alloytoo

     /  3rd April 2018

    A few things.

    1. Lets impose crime rates against prison population graphs, we repeated told that crime is at an all time low and that because of that we shouldn’t have such a high prison population.

    There doesn’t appear to be a logic to this assertion, on the other side, the argument that crime is low right now because the vast majority of criminals are already in jail right now seems to be on more solid ground.

    2. The author and commentators of the report tell us that the problem lies earlier in life during the offenders youth, that there are a variety of social factors which need to be addressed in order to break the cycles of criminal and anti-social behaviour.

    Part of that breaking the cycle could well be keeping abusive adults away from vulnerable children during those formative years. Prisons may have a part to play in that.

    3. Identifying risk factors early on and intervening sooner to break sociological cycles sounds awfully like Bill English’s Social Investment policy. Bill advocated using data analysis and agency data sharing to identify the most vulnerable in our society and spend money today to avoid spending money on prisons, healthcare, welfare etc. tomorrow and in the future.

    The importance of Bills approach is that he grasped the potential of emerging technology to address problems centuries old.

    History will look back kindly on Bill, he chiselled away, he tried.

    The current government just couldn’t be bothered, it couldn’t raise headlines in 100 days so it wasn’t important.

    That’s the true tragedy of this Labour government.

  2. Maggy Wassilieff

     /  3rd April 2018

    You really need to read the entire report to see that the key factors concern young, socially disconnected people with few skills who are getting into a life of crime.
    They are criminals long before they enter our prison system.

    The grand experiment of treating gang members as part of the whanau has been a disaster for Maori youth. Predatory adults have corrupted the future of many young Maori.

  3. Gezza

     /  3rd April 2018

    Spoke to one of my two local Indian dairy owners this morning. I asked him again whether, if armed robbers came into his store, he would fight back. He said he can’t: an Indian dairy owner – a Sikh – who did that and severely injured the two robbers was charged with GBH or whatever.

    The defence’s argument (or he was told by the police when charging him – not clear): “Those people are sick – they’re on drugs. You shouldn’t attack them.”

    “First of all”, he says, “why they on drugs? Why even out her. Drugs a crime. Why they not locked up for that? Why I can’t defend myself, my family…?”

    “Well, for a start, mate,” I began, “there’s just not enough room in bloody prison for them all ….”

    (Corky: He said if was allowed to keep a gun. he would.)

  4. Corky

     /  3rd April 2018

    1- Segregate all first time offenders from GP.

    2- Mix gang members up. Authorities fear doing this for good reason. But doing this would also bring fear to gang bangers. It would be a defacto death sentence for many.

    3- Make drugs legal. That’s the end of prison overpopulation. In fact we could close some prisons.

    Regarding Point 6: What these middleclass academics can’t get through their skulls is the fact European countries are first world nations who don’t have huge underclasses like us.
    ( Admittedly that is changing fast with immigration). We need a different approach.

    Professor Sir Peter Gluckman? You have to be joking. I would take Kim Workman over him any day..and that’s saying something.

  5. High Flying Duck

     /  3rd April 2018

    The only solution (for crims as well as commies…)

  6. Zedd

     /  3rd April 2018

    It currently costs about $100k/yr to keep an inmate locked up.. IF it is indeed true that a large number are incarcerated for Drug addiction/use &/or mental health issues then this needs to be addressed; move the resources to the Health Dept. !!

    Unfortunately, under the previous Govt. all we heard was ‘TOUGH on Crime’ rhetoric & calls for tougher sentences & even PRIVATE Prisons, to make money out of locking kiwis up in increasing numbers.

    i recently heard a Labour MP (Little ?) say ‘Prison should be the last option.. not the first’ as had been happening for at least the last 9 LOOOOOOOONG years & more 😦

  7. Alan Wilkinson

     /  3rd April 2018

    Don’t have much time for Gluckman. Seems to pontificate bigly on stuff he has zero expertise in.

    Intelligent questions are more productive than conventional wisdom trotted out as authoritative.

  8. The old adage. Do the crime do the time.And more common sense from the judges.
    I heard of one lot where the animal bashed a baby.
    He got home detention but no-on said whos home

  9. Maggy Wassilieff

     /  3rd April 2018

    Actually it’s not really Gluckman’s report. He just acts as the Grand Pooh Bah to give the report some Gravitas or something.
    The first drafts (the research) of the report is by Professor Ian Lambie.- Science Advisor to the Justice Dept.

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  3rd April 2018

      I don’t have time to study this properly but first impression is that this is advocacy rather than science. For example, the misleading assertion that high imprisonment rates are the consequence of retribution over rehabilitation – wilfully ignoring the need to protect the public from further offending doesn’t inspire much trust in its objectivity.

      I suspect it could be rewritten to be much more informative in a lot fewer words had it actually fulfilled its brief and stuck to the science.

  10. NOEL

     /  3rd April 2018

    I expected to see Finland reported.
    “Between 1960 and 1990 the Finnish imprisonment rate fell from 165/100,000 to 60/100,000. This was achieved by, for instance, reducing the offences for which imprisonment was an available sentence, shortening sentences, increasing early release schemes, introducing community service sentences and severely restricting the availability of prison terms for young offenders.”

    Perhaps the real strength is their open prison system where the inmates work to earn to pay their keep toward the end of their sentence.
    The prison environment is less obvious and places are earned. Onus been on the prisoner not to abscond.

  1. Report on dealing with escalating prison numbers — Your NZ – NZ Conservative Coalition

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