Immigration Minister to reconsider Sroubek residency decision

Minister of Immigration Iain Lees-Galloway announced that he would reconsider the decision to grant residency to illegal immigrant and convicted drug importer Karel Sroubek after National brought up ‘new information’ in Parliament yesterday.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had suggested that media ‘read between the lines’ on the decision and it was assumed that residency was granted because Sroubek feared for his safety if he returned. However it has been revealed that he has returned to the Czech Republic voluntarily since coming to New Zealand. This suggests that the safety concerns may have been overstated, and he may not have informed officials of his travel.

Both Lees-Galloway and  have pointed their fingers at immigration officials for not providing complete information.

1. Hon SIMON BRIDGES (Leader—National) to the Prime Minister: Does she stand by all her Government’s statements and actions?

Hon Simon Bridges: Why did her Government grant residency to Karel Sroubek?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, to correctly categorise the decision that was made, my understanding is that he already had residency, albeit in an incorrect name.

Hon Simon Bridges: What is her response to the Dominion Post this morning, which said, “So yes, prime minister, we have read between the lines. Our reading of it suggests that Sroubek is a person of poor character, a criminal who cannot be trusted, who arrived here under false pretences. He should be deported. You have got this wrong.”?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Again, as that member should know given that when he was in office there were roughly 100 deportations cancelled. From time to time to time Ministers do have information put in front of them that makes for very difficult decisions. I have seen information that would suggest, from the information reports, that they have been in very similar circumstances.

Hon Simon Bridges: Isn’t it clear that her Government has prioritised a dangerous criminal’s welfare over public safety, contrary to her statement that any further offending actions by Karel Sroubek “sits with this individual … anything further is off the minister’s conscience and it’s on theirs.”?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: That is being made absolutely clear by the Minister. He has put into writing that anything further would mean that he would automatically be deported. On the face of it, of course, it looks like an obvious decision, which demonstrates that from time to time, Ministers in this position do receive additional information. What we have to make sure is that that information that the Minister makes the decision on is consistent and clear, and that’s for officials to ensure that they have provided that.

Hon Simon Bridges: Isn’t it the case that since the early 2000s, Karel Sroubek has been back to the Czech Republic, and doesn’t that make any decision by Iain Lees-Galloway ridiculous?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: The Minister made the decision based on the information he had at the time, and he is no different to any other Minister of any political persuasion. They have to deal with the information provided to them by officials. If there is information that contradicts the basis on which the Minister made the decision, then that would be for him to go back to the officials and seek further advice. I would have an expectation that he would do that.

Hon Simon Bridges: Did she and the Minister not know he had been to the Czech Republic since the early 2000s, and is she going to fess up they just got this clearly, badly wrong?

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Every Minister does rely on the advice that they are provided by officials, and the Minister is no different in that regard to the last Minister, who overturned 108 deportations. We are all, as Ministers, reliant on the information we are provided. Again, if there is anything that contradicts the information that’s been provided, it is for the Minister to go back to officials, and it would be my expectation he would do that.

Winston Peters jumped in to try to support Ardern, and tried to divert blame to the National Government. His initial efforts were ruled out of order, and responses by National MPs were disproportionately punished by the Speaker.

Rt Hon David Carter: Because it’s not your job—

SPEAKER: That’s six. Any more?

Hon Gerry Brownlee: Yeah, OK. It’s worth it.

SPEAKER: That’s 10 supplementary questions that will be taken from the National Party today.

But Peters was allowed to rephrase.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: On the basis of information being given to this House in good faith, has the Prime Minister been appraised of the number of times this man came back into the country, and who was the Government at the time?

Ardern briefly took the opportunity to take a swipe at National but switched back to the more serious matter before her.

Rt Hon JACINDA ARDERN: Obviously, members will draw their inference from the fact that we have only been in Government for 12 months. Again, though, I reiterate that a Minister would make a decision based on the information in front of him, and we would all have a fair expectation that if there is information to contradict that, we would expect the Minister to go back to his officials.

The next question also addressed the issue.

2. Hon MARK MITCHELL (National—Rodney) to the Minister of Justice: What is New Zealand’s process for extraditing Czech nationals to the Czech Republic, and what stage is the application for extradition of Karel Sroubek, also known as Jan Antolik, at?

Hon ANDREW LITTLE (Minister of Justice): The Czech Republic is able to make an application for extradition of one of their citizens, and any application is made under the Extradition Act 1996. There is a process that usually starts with an application being made through diplomatic channels. It goes to the Minister of Justice in New Zealand. It is an application ultimately determined by the District Court on the grounds of eligibility, and then the final decision on whether or not an extradition is made is made by the Minister of Justice of the day. On the second part of the question, despite the Czech Republic indicating to the New Zealand Government in 2015 that it had an interest in Mr Sroubek, no formal application for extradition has been made.

Hon Mark Mitchell: Why is the Parole Board aware of an extradition request?

Hon ANDREW LITTLE: I’m not responsible for the determinations of the Parole Board.

Hon Mark Mitchell: Did the Minister speak with the immigration Minister ahead of the Minister approving residency for Karel Sroubek?

Hon ANDREW LITTLE: No.

Hon Mark Mitchell: Was the Minister aware of any controversy around Karel Sroubek before the Minister of Immigration granted residency?

Hon ANDREW LITTLE: No, and there’d be no reason for me to have been so.

Hon Mark Mitchell: If officials advise there is sufficient evidence to support an extradition request, will he extradite Karel Sroubek back to the Czech Republic?

Hon ANDREW LITTLE: That member will be well aware that it would be entirely inappropriate and not in the public interest for me to comment on any case that may be the subject of an extradition application.

It became a triple whammy.

4. Hon MICHAEL WOODHOUSE (National) to the Minister of Immigration: Does he believe he has considered all relevant factors in deciding to grant residency to Karel Sroubek, also known as Jan Antolik?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY (Minister of Immigration): Shortly before question time today, I became aware that information may exist that appears, on the face of it, to directly contradict information that I used and relied upon to make that decision. I am now taking advice on my options and need to consider the veracity of the new information that has been made available to me.

Hon Michael Woodhouse: Did all of those factors include submissions from Czech Republic officials about any statements Mr Sroubek had made relevant to them, and, if not, will he be also asking the Czech officials to provide submissions?

Hon IAIN LEES-GALLOWAY: Given the potential new information that I have just become aware of, I do not intend to make any further comment on the information that I was provided. I need to take advice, and I need to carefully consider the way forward from here.

So a commitment by Lees-Galloway to reconsider the residency decision due to new information becoming available.

This issue was already awkward for the Government. It has now become embarrassing. One would hope that a minister would do as much as possible to ensure he had all relevant information before making an obviously contentious decision.

National have called for the Minister to resign over this, but I think that’s a silly overreach. This looks more like a stuff up than anything like a sackable offence. Perhaps sloppy, but probably not a misuse of ministerial powers.

So Lees-Galloway should learn a lesson from this and be a more careful minister in the future.

This is a bit of a blow to Government credibility, but probably isn’t a major. However it reinforces National’s campaign that keeps claiming the Government is soft on criminals.

Nation: Andrew Little on abortion law

The New Zealand Law Commission has made some suggestions on abortion law reform – see Law Commission – alternative approaches to abortion law overdue.

This morning on Newshub Nation (9:30 am) the Minister of Justice Andrew Little will be interviewed on this.

Law Commission – alternative approaches to abortion law overdue

Justice Minister Andrew Little seems intent on fixing archaic and unfit for purpose abortion laws this term. Good. About time.

Law Commission abortion law reform briefing received

Justice Minister Andrew Little received today the Law Commission’s briefing on alternative approaches to abortion law.

“Our abortion law is over forty years old, starts with the proposition that an abortion is a crime. In February, I asked the Law Commission for advice on treating abortion as a health matter could look like,” Andrew Little said.

“I would like to thank the Law Commission for its extensive work on the briefing paper. I asked the Commission to gather the public’s views, and they received comprehensive submissions,” said Andrew Little.

“I acknowledge that the subject of abortion is a personal one for each MP. I will be taking time to talk to my colleagues across all parties about the Law Commission’s briefing before progressing further,” Andrew Little said.

The Law Commission received just under 3,500 submissions from the public, as well as meeting with a range of health sector bodies in developing its briefing paper.

The Law Commission’s briefing examines what abortion law could look like if abortion was treated as a health issue. The paper outlines:

  • three models for when abortion is available
  • changes to:
    • the criminal aspects of abortion law
    • access to abortion services, where abortions are performed, and by whom
    • the oversight of abortion services
  • related issues, such as women’s informed consent, counselling services, and conscientious objection by health practitioners.

The Law Commission’s briefing paper is here.


This will go to a conscience vote, but surely well into the 21st century we should have sensible abortion laws.

The current law works in practice but it is demeaning for women.

Just about everyone uses some form of birth control these days. The world is badly overpopulated by humans.

Women who are not in a good position relationship, health or finance-wise are better deferring having a family until a better time.

I don’t see any practical difference between a women having say a couple of children then going onto birth control or her partner having a vasectomy, or a women having an abortion or two prior to having a couple of children and then relying on birth control. The end result is much the same.

 

More talk on ‘drug use is a health issue’ but where’s the action?

More talk but still a lack of action on drug abuse issues.

Minister of Police Stuart Nash talks some talk on addressing drug problems, but his Government is still failing to walk any meaningful walk on addressing urgent drug abuse issues.

RadioLive: Drug use should be treated ‘as a health issue’ – Stuart Nash

So why the fuck doesn’t the Government take urgent action to do that?

Police Minister Stuart Nash is refusing to say whether he’s for or against ending marijuana prohibition, but appears to be leaning in favour.

“I’m not going to give you a yes or no, because I want to see what this looks like,” he told host Duncan Garner.

“I’ll weigh up the benefits and I’ll vote accordingly.”

But as long as there are sufficient social services in place to deal with the harmful effects of marijuana, Mr Nash appears to be in favour of legalisation.

But the Government seems to be dragging the chain on this – they opposed Chloe Swarbrick’s bill, their own bill is limited to medicinal use of cannabis and they are not exactly rushing on that, and while greens got a promise of a referendum on cannabis law before or at the next election there is no sign of action there.

Drug abuse is already a major health and crime and prison issue. people continue to die, lives continue to be ruined, and all Nash does is parrot ‘drugs should be treated as a health issue’.

“I was incredibly proud of Jacinda Ardern not to sign up to Donald Trump’s new war on drugs,” he added. “We need to treat this as a health issue – the police are doing this, we’re doing this as a society.”

But nowhere enough, and nowhere near urgently enough.

He said the police are already using discretion not to criminalise drug users – even those consuming hard drugs.

“We refuse to treat every single addict out there as a criminal. This is a health issue. An example – Operation Daydream, this is going after the meth dealers and suppliers. Police did that, they rounded them up.

“After that they went to all the addicts and instead of putting them in front of a judge, as they have done in the past, they put them in front of social services to help these people. That’s the sort of society we need to create.”

One approach has had some success. Newsroom: Addiction courts save millions in prison costs

With more than 10,000 people behind bars and total prison costs expected to top $1 billion next year, politicians are desperate for ways to rein in the corrections system.

The problems sometimes seem intractable, the financial and human costs ever-increasing.

But far from the halls of power and policy summits, one approach being employed to stop people offending and going back to prison has had some real success.

Grounded in evidence and criminal justice research, the country’s two Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment (AODT) courts are tasked with handling one of the toughest, and most costly, cohort of offenders: recidivist criminals.

There is a clear pattern in the lives of this cohort. They commit crimes, go to prison, get released, and then start the cycle again.

In the AODT courts, the offenders also have an added layer of complexity – their offending has been clinically assessed as driven by their alcohol and/or drug addiction.

The two Auckland-based pilot courts, set up nearly seven years ago, have shown interesting results.

Great. So why not have more of this?

In an interview with Newsroom, Justice Minister Andrew Little is positive about the AODT courts, but says any expansion will not occur before a final impact evaluation. This is due to be completed next year.

An interim-evaluation took place four years ago, and showed positive progress.

“I have a personal and principled commitment to seeing more of this, but there is a commitment to doing a more formal evaluation of the court,” he says.

“That is underway. Following that, [will be] the basis for making my bid for more resourcing to see more of them.”

Little also alludes to the challenges of pushing for long-term change.

“This is the whole question in the broader criminal justice system. Treasury kind of weighs it every time. There might be greater resources needed at the front-end, but if that means that is resulting in fewer people going to prison, and we are still reducing the reoffending rate significantly and materially, then … that is the right place to put the resources rather than at the far end when it is kind of too late.”

However, for those who understand the improved outcomes achieved through AODT courts, waiting for another evaluation is a tough ask. Feedback from the recent Justice Summit in Wellington included queries around when other parts of New Zealand would have access to AODT courts.

As drink driving researcher Gerald Waters puts it: “I’ve also looked at all offending in New Zealand – 80 percent of crime is alcohol and drug related. It’s obvious that you shouldn’t be having drug court once a week – you should be having it six days a week with one day for normal crime”.

Like may things under the current Government, after making a big deal with what the achieved in their first 100 days – mostly initiating things that would take more time – Andrew Little ‘says any expansion will not occur before a final impact evaluation. This is due to be completed next year.’

In the meantime, drug use will be in part treated as a health issue, but will remain a large criminal and prison issue until they get off their inquiry laden arses and take urgent and comprehensive action.

Jacinda Ardern has promoted her Government as progressive – it may be, but it seems to be snail’s pace progress on things she and he ministers have claimed to be in need of urgent attention. This is very disappointing.

The most damaging effects of the waka jumping law will be invisible and immeasurable

It is difficult to know what the effect of the ironically named Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Bill that passed it’s final vote in Parliament this week. We may never know for sure.

We do know that it has made Labour look like Winston’s patsies, especially Andrew Little who had to front the bill as it went through Parliament. And it showed the Greens as far less principled than they had made out for so long while out of government – this could be damaging to them in the next election.

However Audrey Young says that the most damaging effects will be “invisible and immeasurable” in Winston Peters wastes hard-won power on wretched law.

…the party-hopping bill passed in Parliament ahead of the party’s convention can barely be called an achievement, let alone qualify as a proud one.

It has been Parliament at its worst – indulging a powerful politician with an obsession with defectors.

The law is a fetter on dissent, and Peters’ decision to demand its passage as the price of power stands in contradiction to his own history as a dissenter and maverick.

The law will enable a caucus to fire a duly elected MP not just from the caucus but from Parliament if they decide that MP no longer properly represents the party.

The hypocrisy is galling. Peters built New Zealand First on party-hoppers such as Michael Laws, Peter McCardle and Jack Elder.

In those days, Peters was upholding the freedom of any MP to leave a party without having to leave Parliament if their conscience demanded it.

Self-interested hypocrisy is nothing new for Peters.

It was only when party-hoppers left New Zealand First rather than joined it that the notion became objectionable, to Peters. It was only after MMP that what the voters decided on election day suddenly became sacred to Peters.

Essentially, the new party-hopping law is based on self-interest disguised as principle.

It is a draconian solution to a problem of defection that has not existed since those formative days of MMP.

And Labour and the Greens went along with this and enabled it.

New Zealand First did not campaign on party-hopping at all last election but then put it up as a bottom line in coalition talks, while the vast number of bottom lines actually enunciated by Peters in the campaign were surrendered in the horse-trading of coalition talks.

The law does not have the true support of the majority of the House but the Greens have been blackmailed into supporting it against the alternative – a toxic relationship with Peters.

Electoral law changes should have wide support of any Parliament but the law was railroaded through by a party with 7 per cent of the vote because it held the balance of power at the election.

Will Greens learn from being backed into a corner by Peters and then painting themselves in? They could perhaps gain back some of their credibility on being principled it they  don’t campaign next election on a status quo governing arrangement leaving Peters in a dog wagging position.

The most pernicious effect of the new law is not the actual expulsion of an MP from Parliament. Rather, it is the chilling effect it will have on strong, independent thought and voice of MPs within parties and within Parliament. In turn that will have an impact on the selection of MPs.

The most damaging effects of the law will be invisible and immeasurable.

It was the impact on dissent that drew the harshest criticism from Green luminaries Jeanette Fitzsimons and Keith Locke.

Did Green support of this bill go to party membership for a decision? They used to claim that their membership played a part in any important decisions. Surely they must have done that, especially given that it was a change to electoral law, and it had an obvious impact on the party ethos and integrity.

It has been sad to see a raft of new Labour MPs kowtowing to Peters to convince themselves that the law will enhance democracy when it is really a management tool for Peters to keep potentially difficult MPs in check.

One could wonder what threats or promises were made between Peters and Labour and Green leaderships to make both parties roll over on this for Peters.

Dissent has been a strong theme throughout Peters’ career.

He talked about in his maiden speech in 1979 when he lambasted people whom he saw as destructive critics who criticised for the sake of it: “Opposition, criticism and dissent are worthy pursuits when combined with a sense of responsibility. They have a purifying effect on society. Areas in need of urgent attention can be identified and courses of action may be initiated. However embarrassing to community or national leaders, the results are enormously beneficial to the total well-being of the community. The critic I am [condemning] has no such goals. He sets out to exploit every tremor and spasm in society, the economy or race relations, seeking to use every such event as a vehicle to project his own public personality.”

An unkind person might say that Peters has gained power in New Zealand politics by becoming the sort of critic he so despised in his maiden speech.

It is a remarkable achievement to have built a party, and sustained it, and to be at the peak of his political power when most people his age are checking out retirement villages.

It is also remarkable that Peters should be wasting that power on such a wretched law.

And that Labour and especially the Greens have wasted their integrity by enabling the wretched law to pass with barely a whimper.

 

 

 

 

Bill introduced to establish a Criminal Cases Review Commission

Minister of Justice Andrew little has introduced a bill designed to address a deficiency in our judicial system – a better means of addressing possible miscarriages of justice.

The timing of this looks suspiciously like it is designed to bolster Andrew Little’s image after the Waka jumping bill passes third reading yesterday, but it is a much more laudable bill.


Significant step to correct miscarriages of justice

Justice Minister Andrew Little has introduced the Bill to establish a Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC).

“The Government agreed to establish a Criminal Cases Review Commission as part of the Labour New Zealand First Coalition agreement,” said Andrew Little.

“A Criminal Cases Review Commission provides a mechanism for addressing miscarriages of justice – this is a priority for the Government.

“The CCRC is an independent body that will review convictions and sentences where there is a suspected miscarriage of justice. It can refer cases back to the appeal courts, but it does not determine guilt or innocence. The CCRC will replace the referral power currently exercised by the Governor-General under section 406 of the Crimes Act 1961.

“The CCRC will be accessible and will take away some of the burden from applicants who require assistance.

“Given the resources the state puts into securing a conviction, I believe there is good reason for it to put adequate resources into correcting mistakes that may have been made. Having a CCRC will ensure there can be investigations into potential miscarriages of justice that are timely, fair and independent.”

“We have consulted with other countries who have CCRCs about their experience, and with senior New Zealand lawyers and academics. Their contributions to the Bill have been invaluable.”

“I look forward to the Select Committee’s consideration of this Bill and welcome public submissions on the Bill,” said Andrew Little.

The key aspects of the Bill are:

  • The test that a case must meet to be referred by the CCRC to the appeal court
  • The power that the CCRC has to access information, the way this power interacts with existing privileges, and the circumstances when the Commission may disclose this information
  • The interaction between the Commission and the residual Royal prerogative exercised by the Governor-General
  • The Commission’s powers to undertake inquiries into practice, policy, procedure, or other matters it considers to be related to miscarriages of justice
  • The ability for the Commission to make its own initial inquiries into a conviction or sentence.

Full text of the Bill

Waka jumping bill passes third reading

All Green MPs have voted with Labour and NZ First to pass the  Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Bill (commonly referred to as the waka jumping bill), so it will now become law.

Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Bill passes third reading

The Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Bill has passed its third reading in Parliament and will become law, Justice Minister Andrew Little said.

“The Electoral (Integrity) Amendment Bill is about enhancing public confidence in the integrity of our electoral system.

“The Bill ensures that it is the voters, not politicians or party leaders, who decide the proportionality of parties in Parliament,” Andrew Little said.

The Bill’s passing fulfils the Government’s coalition commitment to introduce and pass a ‘Waka Jumping’ Bill in this term of Parliament.

It has been challenged by some as ‘an attack on democracy’. It is unlikely to actually have much effect, but it will be difficult to know if it has a chilling effect on any MPs who oppose what their party does.

The most notable aspect of the bill is the Greens voting in support of it while strongly opposing it. This has somewhat dented the party’s integrity.

It has also raised questions about Andrew Little’s integrity in promoting the bill on NZ First’s behalf.

The bill is unlikely to make much if any difference to Winston Peters’ control over the NZ First caucus and MPs, but supporting it has been damaging to both Labour and the Greens.  Perhaps that is success for Peters – before Jacinda Ardern took over the Labour leadership last year Peters fancied NZ First’s chances of taking over from Labour as the second largest party in Parliament.

 

 

Little ducking for cover over changes to bail, parole and sentencing laws

Being ‘tough on crime’, prison numbers, and law and order have long been a political football, with successive governments pandering to populist demands for fear of being seen as responsible for awful crimes.

The Labour-led government has an ambitious goal of reversing the prison population by 30%, and have already had some success in reducing them slightly (following on from initiatives started under the previous government), but some difficult decisions will have to be made to come close to meeting their target.

If bail or parole laws and sentencing directives are relaxed it will only take one high profile crime to be committed by someone who otherwise could have been contained in prison for the political football to become a head high tackle on the Minister of Justice and the government responsible.

It is a lot less dramatic and more difficult to quantify to promote that recidivism may be reduced and crimes may have been prevented by better treatment and rehabilitation of offenders.

David Fisher (NZH): Andrew Little ducks for cover as National forecasts tragedy from justice reform

The battle lines are drawn on crime and justice reform and Minister of Justice Andrew Little is in a bunker.

It’s not a great place for a first-term minister but the National Party has driven him there by virtue of how it has stolen a march on precious territory over contested ground.

The struggle Little faces is over possible changes to bail, parole and sentencing laws.

Labour had pledged to cut the prison population by 30 per cent in 15 years and Little has talked of possible changes to those laws.

To meet that target, experts in the field agree those laws will need to be changed.

But Fisher says that Little has been avoiding talking about how this might be done, giving Opposition MPs free shots.

Interviews with leader Simon Bridges and Corrections spokesman David Bennett have seen the National Party politicians repeatedly refer to the Government considering changes to bail, parole and sentencing laws.

It was a possibility Little raised early in the debate around criminal justice reform.

While he might not wish to talk about it now, the National Party will do so – and its message is in lock-step across MPs.

Bridges: “He has to reduce the prison population by a third because he’s not building the prison beds and that really leads inevitably to a softening up of the bail, sentencing, parole laws.”

Bennett: “If they are going to relax those bail and sentencing laws and parole laws they should front up to the NZ public now.”

In forecasting those changes, those politicians have forecast what they say is the human cost if those changes are made. There has been no evidence presented to support these statements.

Bridges: “If the bail-sentencing-parole laws are softened up, there will be many more victims of crime that (Little) and Jacinda Ardern will be responsible for.”

Bennett: “They’re talking about relaxing the laws which would be to early release offenders. They are going to release criminals into the community and put victims and other potential victims at risk”.

Bridges: “If Andrew Little gets his head on bail, sentencing and parole changes, the consequences will be dire. I have no doubt if Andrew Little gets his head there will be an uproar in New Zealand over time as the victims of crime become more and more apparent.”

Bennett: “What they are looking at doing is reducing those rules and they’ve said many a time that is their intention, and if they do it then that increases the risk because there are more people out.”

Over the past 20 years, both Labour and National have responded to a public “tough on crime” appetite by ramping up bail, parole and sentencing laws.

It’s going to be very difficult for Little to get the balance right if he makes changes to the law. He will be hit with any failures, whether justified or not.

And he also faces a challenge getting coalition support, with NZ First already pulling the 3 strikes repeal rug from under him.

With Bridges’ past experience as a lawyer and  also prosecutor it would have been good to see him working positively with Little to find better ways of dealing with crime and punishment without increasing risks, but he seems to have chosen a partisan path instead. That’s a real shame.

There’s a lot at stake, but as usual on law and order issues it looks like politics and populism will as difficult to beat as crime and prison numbers.

Davis claims that prisoner numbers have reduced by 600

Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis has claimed that prisoner numbers have reduced by 600 in an interview yesterday on Newshub Nation. If this is true that would be a remarkable turnaround on recent forecasts.

Recently published projections, which show a prison population of 10,308 for 2017.

RNZ (2 July 2018): Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis changes inmate forecast comments

Mr Davis said since January, growth in the prison population was tracking below the forecast for the first time “in a very long time”. There were now 10,500 people in prison, a fall of 300 since March.

Mr Davis has previously said the government aimed to reduce the prison population by 30 percent over 15 years, to around 7000.

That suggests that prisoner numbers peaked at 10,800 in March, and had decreased by 300 by July.

On Wednesday (22 August) RadioLive reports in ‘This is personal for me’: Kelvin Davis on Maori prison stats

There are 10,235 prisoners in our jails, down from 10,800 in March.

That’s 565 down on the Match peak.

Davis on the Nation yesterday:

The facts are that the prison forecast had us at about 11,500 by the end of the year. We’re now at 10,200. Since March, the prison population has reduced from 10,800. So, there’s work that we’re doing just to streamline processes within the system that are actually having a positive effect on the prison population.

Well, we’ve reduced the prison population by 600 in six months…

Well, what I’m saying is that Corrections is doing a fantastic job. It has done a fantastic job already. We’ve only been in government less than a year, and we’ve managed to defy the projections, and we’re a thousand below where they— where we’re told that they would be.

Corrections have put on their thinking caps. We’ve already got the High Impact Innovation Programme that is having a significant benefit. It’s reducing the prison numbers…

We’re actually defying the odds. We’re defying the forecast. We’re defying the projections, and the prison population is actually reducing, and we’re doing it safely.

If accurate, this is a remarkable turnaround.

Andrew Little on Q&A last weekend (19 August 2018):

We’ve had this massive increase of the number of people in our prisons, we’ve got more people serving longer prison sentences, our average prison sentence has increased by something like twenty percent over the last few years.

Sixty percent of those in prison will reoffend within two years of release…

Nearly 40% of those in prison have a mental health problem like depression or anxiety.
Nearly 50% have an addiction problem.

Little’s focus is on helping and treating people while in prison so they are less likely to offend after they are released. That has been asked for for years.

We’ve been putting more and more people into prison and for longer…

It’s not right that we’ve had this thirty percent increase in our prison population in just the last five years, that’s not right, that tells you there’s something wrong. It’s not right that we’ve doubled those remanded in custody just in the last five years.

He means that’s not good, not that it isn’t correct.

But it seems odd that in an interview focussing on dire imprisonment statistics and the need for better treatment of problems and better rehabilitation, there was no mention of prisoner numbers being reduced.

So what about Davis’ claim? From the Department of Corrections prisoner population as at 31 March 2018 (the latest published information):

  • Remand prisoners 3,316
  • Sentenced prisoners 7,329
  • TOTAL PRISONERS 10,645

That’s less than the 10,800 that Davis claimed, and he has given variations on the latest numbers so the exact numbers are unclear.

However if they have reduced over the last five months that is good progress. It would be good to have this clarified.

How is this being achieved? Davis referred to the oddly named High Impact Innovation Programme. From Corrections ‘Our Priorities’:

  • The High Impact Innovation Programme will enhance opportunities for offenders to access electronic bail and home detention options.

Home Detention is a sentence so that is decided by courts (judges). Have they been encouraged to choose Home Detention more? Electronic Bail also sounds like a court decision.

The above numbers show that there are a huge number remand prisoners (as at 31 March), and according to Little that has doubled in the last five years, so is an obvious target in trying to reduce prisoner numbers. Little also said that most imprisoned on remand don’t get prison sentences.

A risk is that, probably inevitably, a person on bail will commit a high profile crime and that will have (some of) the public and some lobby groups and some politicians baying for more imprisonment.

So there are tricky challenges for Little.

As for the reduced prisoner numbers claimed by Davis, which range from 600 (a number he quoted) to 410 (another number he quoted plus an official Corrections number.

However any reduction is good, especially given the forecast increases – until someone on bail or on early release probation does something horrific. It is a difficult balancing act – the need to balance risks.

Bridges, Mitchell negative as justice summit progresses

The justice system summit currently under way in Porirua is trying to find ways of doing justice better – something that could certainly do with improvement.

It’s disappointing to see how negative the national opposition is: Simon Bridges dismisses Government justice summit as a ‘talk fest’ – says it will lead to a ‘softening’ of laws

National Party leader Simon Bridges says the Criminal Justice Summit due to begin today is simply a ‘talk fest’ that will likely lead to a “softening” of bail laws.

Justice Minister Andrew Little yesterday told TVNZ 1’s Q+A programme that New Zealand’s prison system is not successfully reintegrating people into society.

“Sixty per cent of those in prison will re-offend within two years of being released,” Mr Little said.

“We’ve had thirty years of the auction of more penalties, more crime, more people in prison but it’s not working, it’s not making us safe.

Mr Bridges, speaking this morning on TVNZ 1’s Breakfast programme, said it sounded like “Andrew Little knows what he wants to achieve out of it” and dismissed it as a “talk fest”.

“He doesn’t want to build more prison beds so he has to cut the prison population by a third,” Mr Bridges said.

“If I thought they were grappling with really hard issues to reduce actual offending, rather than just those prison numbers, and it was rehabilitation, reintegration, I’d go along with it.

“But it seems to me it’s pretty clear what’s going to come out – and that’s softening up the bail laws, the sentencing laws and the parole laws.

National’s justice spokesperson Mark Mitchell has also been critical of the summit.  It would be good to have seen cross party support for doing something about a prison system described by Bill English last year as a “moral and fiscal failure”.

But the summit can work without National.

Newsroom:  Much talk, some action at justice summit’s first day

Ministers laid out the cracks in the criminal justice system on the first day of the Government’s criminal justice summit. Claims that the event would be just another “talkfest” seemed to be initially borne out, but a better balance developed as the day wore on, as Sam Sachdeva reports.

About 700 people attended the first day of the Government’s criminal justice summit, the starting point for what could be years of reforms if ministers have their way.

Justice Minister Andrew Little…

…contrasted the image of New Zealand as a “small, peaceful country with no obvious enemies on our border” against the country’s darker side: record homelessness; grinding poverty; strained mental health and addiction services; and a skyrocketing prison population.

Little said there were fundamental questions about the justice system that needed answering: how to tackle high levels of domestic violence and reduce over-representation of Māori in prison; and how to ensure prisoners get the support they need to reduce their risk of reoffending.

“Many years of public debate and public discussion about criminal justice [have] focused on one thing: how are we going to lock them up and get them out of our way…

“We haven’t much talked in the last 30 years about what we do to change people, at least those who can be changed because they have understandable, identifiable problems and challenges in their lives which with a bit of effort we can turn around.”

Little made a point of singling out the National MPs in attendance despite their publicly expressed concerns about possible reforms, in a sign of the political battle the Government knows it has on its hands.

“If one of the things that we get from the conversation that we get to trigger in these two days is understanding, an agreed understanding about the gaps in national policy, about the way forward, some things we can do better, some things we can do differently, then that will help the debate,” he said.

Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis…

…asked for a show of hands from those who thought the justice system was perfect – predictably, none were raised – before asking the crowd to “ask hard questions” of the Government and provide ideas for change.

“None of us are precious about what’s going on, and we know things have to change, so we have to have the courage to challenge the status quo.”

Maori imprisonment rates are a significant part of the problem, so Davis needs to step up on this. It will require a lot of consultation with Maori communities.

Police Minister Stuart Nash…

…who on Monday announced the details of where the 1800 extra police funded by the Government would go, said that boost would not mean an equivalent rise in prison numbers as police took new approaches to crime.

“I do believe when I talk to people who are not politically aligned or socially aware, they are uncomfortable with the level of incarceration, they are uncomfortable with the fact that Corrections’ operating budget has increased by a billion dollars a year over the last 12 years, and they’re open and receptive to an alternative vision.”

Parliamentary undersecretary Jan Logie…

…a Green MP who is working under Little on domestic and sexual violence issues – work he described as “profoundly important” – then spoke about the flow-on impact of sexual and family violence on people who then went on to offend themselves, and the need to provide better support services.

Some frustration bubbled over as Logie finished her speech, with an interjector standing up and urging the organisers to “let Māori speak for us”.

“We don’t need to hear some organised speech, a pre-written speech to talk about us,” Anzac Wallace said.

National’s justice spokesman Mark Mitchell…

…seized on the “boilover” as a sign of the Government’s failure to properly plan the summit.

“They feel that there’s been too much talk, too many working groups, no action, and that’s basically what we’ve been saying…this has basically been like a big counselling session, and although these voices are important, this isn’t the right format.”

National had said it would support reforms which made a difference, Mitchell said, but did not support where the Government appeared to be heading.

“At the moment, and this was part of our discussion, fundamentally we’re going down two different tracks: we believe that at the heart of any good criminal justice system, public safety and victims should be at the heart of that.”

Talk and public engagement are important parts of political processes, so long as they lead to significant changes and to improvements.

The proof will be quite a bit further down the track – there are no quick or easy fixes.