Collins versus Swarbrick

Judith Collins made another unfathomably bad taste tweet attack again today, and Green MP Chloe Swarbrick was one prepared to call her out for it.

A reprehensible crime punished with a sizeable prison sentence, but a reprehensible response from Collins:

Swarbrick stood up to Collins:

A poor look for Collins, and Swarbrick shows more maturity than most MPs.

Also:

Ngāpuhi ‘is probably the most incarcerated tribe in the world’

The Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis says that Māori make up over 50% of the population, and the Northland tribe Ngāpuhi “is probably the most incarcerated tribe in the world”.

Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis at the announcement.

Kelvin Davis (RNZ): ‘Ngāpuhi [probably] ‘most incarcerated tribe in the world’

Mr Davis said Māori make up over 50 percent of the prison population, and he wants that number reduced.

“Of that 50 percent, half again, are from Ngāpuhi, my own tribe, so this is personal.

“My tribe of Ngāpuhi is probably the most incarcerated tribe in the world, per head of population, so we really have to look at what we’re going to do differently as a country, to turn these figures around.”

Mr Davis said Māori must be included in the conversation, and is pleased half of the justice advisory group, set up by the Justice Minister Andrew Little and headed by the former National MP Chester Burrows, are Māori.

“If Māori make up more than 50 percent of the prison population, we should actually be talking to Māori about what the solutions are too.”

More than talking. Māori need to be prominent in implementing solutions.

“The question then becomes, ‘so, what do we do about it?’

“Because if it’s not unconscious bias, well then it’s conscious bias and we’ve got to make changes to make sure that Māori aren’t particularly picked on, or seen as the ones that are committing all the crime.”

Is it policing bias and judicial disadvantage for Māori? Or are Māori  proportionally more inclined to commit crimes. Probably some of all of those things.

He points to an instance in the last year near his home up north, where people were incredibly upset about the imbalance of justice.

“A couple of families who could afford justice, actually got a form of justice. Whereas people who couldn’t afford justice, for lesser offences, actually got a prison sentence. And that sort of stuff is not right.”

The cost of ‘justice’, of defending oneself in the court system, is a major issue. If you can afford a good lawyer your chances of being found not guilty or of a reduced sentence will be greater.

Mr Davis said they were looking at all aspects of the system to make sure it was fair for everybody.

He said the justice summit this week is an opportunity for people from all parts of the system to have their say.

“We’re expecting a lot of thought and a lot of ideas to come out of this, and we’ve got to sift through and see which ones are the best ones that can make a short term difference, medium and long term differences,” he said.

It isn’t going to be easy turning poor crime and imprisonment statistics around for Māori, but different approaches have to be tried, by the police, by the judicial system, and probably most importantly, by Māori communities and iwi.

Davis can play a significant role in finding social and judicial solutions for Ngāpuhi in particular.

And there are wider issues that probably contribute to the problems up north. RNZ: Little meets with Auckland-based Ngāpuhi members

The Treaty Negotiations Minister, Andrew Little, has met with hundreds of Ngāpuhi members based in Auckland this weekend to discuss the contentious claim.

Ngāpuhi have been quite divided on their treaty claim.

Police and prisoner numbers

The new Government aims to increase police numbers and decrease prisoner numbers.

From the Labour-NZ First coalition agreement:

Strive towards adding 1800 new Police officers over three years and commit to a serious focus on combating organised crime and drugs.

Earlier this year the previous government had already committed to increasing police numbers:  Ten per cent more police to reduce crime

A $503 million package which includes increasing police staff and resources across the country will reduce crime and make our communities safer.

Police Minister Paula Bennett says the Safer Communities package announced today by the Prime Minister will provide an additional 1125 police staff over the next four years, including 880 sworn police officers.

I presume the new Government’s plans are on top of this. They also want to decrease prisoner numbers, which could be difficult if more police catch more criminals.

NZ Herald:  Govt wants to axe new prison and lower prison muster

Labour’s target is 30 per cent drop in prisoner numbers in 15 years.

The Labour-led Government wants to put the brakes on the burgeoning prison muster so it can axe plans for a new 1500-bed prison – expected to cost close to $1 billion.

The increase in remand prisoners has put pressure on the prison population in recent years and Corrections is now looming as a political battleground, with Opposition leader Bill English warning that it will test the Government.

The number of prisoners has risen since new laws in 2013 that made it tougher to grant bail, roughly doubling the number of remand prisoners to about 3000 today.

The prison muster yesterday was 10,457, well above justice sector forecasts and expected to keep rising.

Even if more police will eventually reduce crime the prisoner numbers are a problem now.

Last year the previous Government unveiled plans to add 1800 prison beds at a cost of $1 billion, with more double bunking in Ngawha Prison, a new 245-bed block in Mt Eden Prison, and the new 1500-bed prison.

Justice Minister Andrew Little said it was his “strong preference” not to build a new prison, which he called a symbol of the “abject failure of our criminal justice system”.

Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis echoed this sentiment, adding that construction work had yet to begin.

“I’m looking at all options to reduce the prison muster, so that it doesn’t end up being built. Officials are being sent away to work out what will have an immediate impact.

“We’ll rule out the stuff that won’t make New Zealand safer.”

Labour wants to lower the prison population by 30 per cent in 15 years, a target Little described as “ambitious”.

Little said he had no plans to revisit the bail laws, switching the focus to crime prevention, prisoner rehabilitation, and rolling out more therapeutic courts, which can divert offenders away from jail and into treatment if they plead guilty.

While all laudable goals none of that is likely to be easy or quick. They have to somehow deal with growing prisoner numbers now while trying to eventually reduce crime.

 

The Nation – prisons or hospitals?

In the third in a series on mental health, crime and justice:

Prisons or hospitals?

This weekend we bring you the final part of Mike Wesley-Smith’s investigation into treatment of mental illness in the justice system.

In this episode we look at conditions behind the wire for inmates with mental health issues.

A ormer prisoner talks about there was yoga and belly dancing offered to her when she was inside but not counselling.

@TheNationNZ

Since 2007, 53 inmates in NZ prisons have taken their own lives and are 4x more likely to attempt suicide

The chief Ombudsman Peter Boshier says the number of suicides in prisons is a real concern to him.

Demands on the forensic services within prisons are growing as the muster increases.

Corrections deals with more people with mental health issues than any other institution and the Ombudsman has raised concerns about training.

Mental health, crime, prisons and hospital care combine to make a very difficult issue to deal with.

Data modelling to estimate crime

Data collating and modelling is being used to try to predict “how many New Zealanders are at risk of committing or being victim to crime – and estimate the total future burden of crime on society”.

NZ Herald: Crime ‘crystal ball’ maps NZers’ risk of committing and falling victim to crime

A crime “crystal ball” is using big data to estimate the probability of New Zealanders committing or being victims to crime.

Cutting-edge computer data modelling is tapping into a powerful IDI database of Government information, which provides data from the tax, education, benefit and justice systems.

It maps the probability of New Zealanders committing or experiencing crime over their lifetime.

They are then assigned to a group – “vulnerable adults”, “career criminals”, “petty criminals”, “at-risk young people”, “vulnerable children” and “not at risk”.

The data is anonymised – officials are not working out how likely certain individuals are to commit crime in their lifetime.

Rather, the work is useful because it can give some idea of how many New Zealanders are at risk of committing or being victim to crime – and estimate the total future burden of crime on society.

The actuarial-type model – developed by PricewaterhouseCoopers – can then be used to estimate how that burden would change if more money is put into certain initiatives or policy.

Is this why police numbers are set to increase by about a thousand over the next few years? If so that suggests the crystal ball foresees an increase in crime.

Early work has resulted in judges being told that in certain cases a fine could be a better option than community work, after analysts found criminals getting the latter were more likely to reoffend and rely on the dole.

Offenders given community work were found to be 4 to 7 percentage points more likely to be reconvicted within two years, compared with offenders who were fined.

It does make sense to analyse what works and what doesn’t.

Justice Minister Amy Adams said the investment approach aimed to prevent people from being victimised in the first place.

Prime Minister Bill English has championed that work and has appointed Adams to the new role of Minister Responsible for Social Investment.

Labour’s justice spokeswoman Jacinda Ardern said evidence-based policy-making was something to aspire to.

The Government is not just aspiring, they are doing.

How it works

  • A model has been built that taps into a powerful database of data from the tax, education, benefit and justice systems.
  • The model estimates the probability of New Zealanders committing or experiencing crime in their lifetime.
  • It separates the population into groups with different levels of risk, such as “vulnerable adults”, “career criminals”, “petty criminals” and “vulnerable children”, and estimates the “total future burden of crime” on society.
  • The model can simulate how the burden of crime might change if investment is made in certain initiatives or policies.

If it ends up reducing crime and reduces the costs associated with crime – and they are many – then it is worth doing.

Government battles crime targets

The National Party has been trying to portray successes in dealing with crime, but the Government looks likely to fail to meet it’s own targets on reducing crime.

Yesterday on Twitter promoting less bad crime statistics:

But RNZ: Govt likely to miss violent crime target

The government looks unlikely to meet its self-set target for reducing violent crime, under the latest information released for its ‘Better Public Services’ targets.

It might also miss its target for lowering reoffending rates.

The government said it was on track to meet seven of its targets for the delivery of public services, but said four needed “more work” if those targets were to be met.

The Better Public Service targets, which were set in 2012, include welfare dependency, immunisation rates and violent offending.

One of the targets was to reduce the rate of total crime by 20 percent by June 2018, violent crime by 20 percent by June this year and youth crime by 25 percent by June this year.

Total crime is down by 14 percent since June 2011, and youth crime by 32 percent.

However, violent crime has only been reduced by 2 percent since 2011.

Another target was to reduce the reoffending rate by 25 percent by this year, but that has only fallen by 4.4 percent.

The government had earlier signalled it would change the way this was measured because the total number of reoffenders, as opposed to the rate, had dropped by 26 percent.

So some improvements, but more challenges on crime reduction.

One oddity – if crime is reducing as much as is claimed – 14% – why is the Government increasing Police numbers by about a thousand?

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.

Maori crime statistics

Maori crime and imprisonment statistics are horrendous.

‘One law for all’ sounds impressive in theory but in reality some laws are unequally applied.

If Maori crime was successfully addressed to a significant extent then crime and prison statistics could improve markedly.

Tony Wright at Newshub: History’s role in understanding Māori prison rates

Last weekend I published an article entitled ‘Why are so many Māori in prison?’

The article took an historical view of Māori poverty using the expertise and knowledge of historian Vincent O’Malley and Maori Party co-leader Marama Fox.

Although we don’t allow comments on the Newshub website – particularly for such an emotive and divisive article – I forgot to take into account the flurry of comments that would come through later on the Newshub Facebook page.

It was obvious some posters had simply read the headline and hadn’t bothered to read the article, but many had, and some of the comments were very interesting.

One main theme that came through was one of historical ignorance:

“Why blame century old injustices to Māori for their plight today?” was a common post.

Why indeed?

Intergenerational poverty and welfare dependence has had a direct effect on Māori crime rates. This is fact. You cannot deny it.

And it has had a major negative effect.

In a perfect New Zealand, Māori wouldn’t be on the wrong end of crime, poverty, and poor health statistics. The sad fact is that they are, and shockingly so.

Remember that Māori make up 14.6 percent of New Zealand’s population, but over 50 percent of the prison population.

All Kiwis need to be concerned about that statistic; it’s blight on our country and the end product of a social situation that simply isn’t working for Māori.

Not all Maori, but too many Maori, and this impacts on all of us through crime and costs through things like prisons.

Should New Zealand have a separate justice system for Māori?

A common theme posted was this: “We’re all Kiwis and we should all be treated the same, regardless of race.”

If you look closely at the New Zealand justice system you’ll soon realise Māori aren’t treated the same as everyone else.

As Ms Fox told me: “Māori are three times as likely to be incarcerated for the same crime as non-Māori, and you’re three times as likely to be incarcerated for longer periods for the same crime as non-Māori.”

Does this read as being treated the ‘same’ to you?

Newshub will be looking further into the high incarceration rates of Māori because it’s a major issue and one that’s often misunderstood within New Zealand society.

I believe we first have to first address it, and then seriously look at ways of improving it.

If we can’t at least do that, then what kind of society are we?

If Maori social problems, Maori education problems, Maori family problems, Maori crime and Maori imprisonment rates are successfully addressed then we will all benefit, and we will have a better country.

A different approach is needed, because what is happening now is a disgraceful failure.

Building prisons is taking crime seriously?

Morning Report: Is Govt’s $1B figure for building 1,800 new prison beds far too low? We crunch the numbers with Judith Collins.

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Interview (audio): Corrections Minister Collins on the prison muster blowout

It may more the consequence of reacting to pressure to increase prison sentences.

A minority of prisoners are straight out bad and may be beyond rehabilitation.

But many of those in prison are failures of our society. Locking away those failures doesn’t address the causes.

 

Arrogant, complacent Government

It’s not unusual for Governments to become more arrogant and complacent the longer they are in office.

It’s even less surprising when the main opposition party is weak, at risk of weakening further, and has failed to have good leadership for eight years (and four leaders).

Duncan Garner writes An aloof Government and some criminally bad spin doctoring.

If you ever want to see a government attempt to spin its way out of trouble then wait for the annual release of the crime statistics.

And on cue came National’s Oscar-winning performance this week.

Except no-one was fooled. It was bad comedy. They simply got handed the gong for the all-time international award for ‘bullshitters of the century’.

The ‘criminally bad spin doctoring’ was the announcements by Judith Collins and John Key that the Police were going to do a bit more about burglaries, and then a day or two later we find out that crime statistics show that burglaries have increased significantly.

…crime is creeping up and the Government is seriously exposed on the rates of burglaries.

There were a staggering 11,000 new victims of crime in the past year. Burglaries are up almost 12 per cent in just one year. And only one in 10 burglaries are resolved. Crime clearly pays.

It’s hard not to think this Government has become dangerously complacent: out of touch and aloof in too many areas.

It’s quite easy to think that. In part because it’s obvious that they are slipping into aloofness and out of touchness. And in part because they aren’t even spinning with any conviction any more.

Surging house prices is a classic example of this.

Housing Minister Nick Smith sneered this week that he hadn’t even bothered to read the latest OECD Housing Affordability report – which says our houses are now the most expensive in the world.

You’re clueless minister – I’m not sure what’s worse: that you don’t have any solutions, or that you don’t give a toss. Incompetent? Or just arrogant? Both, clearly.

There’s a growing perception that Smith’s and the Government’s handling of housing has been hopeless and hapless.

The one thing in their favour on housing is that many people will quite like the value of their properties escalating.

National got caught out this week trying to spin its way out of trouble.

But the truth is there is more crime and fewer police per head of population, compared to when National arrived in office.

For the party of law and order – I say they’re guilty of complacency and taking their eye off the ball, at the very least.

The problem for national with crime is that the vast majority of voters are victims or know victims or sympathise with victims.

There’s no counterbalance to the Government dropping the ball on crime.

This is exacerbated by the previous portrayal of Judith Collins as being tough on crime – the crime Crusher.

And all she can say now is that suddenly the Police will start actually attending every burglary to try to stem a crime wave – or try to stem a wave of bad PR.

Many aspects of property values are out of central Government’s control or very difficult to get under control.

The level of resources given to the Police and the focus of the Police is very much under the control of Government. If they keep fluffing that and if the remain out of touch about how us the people feel about increasing crime then voters may give up on them regardless of the governing alternative.

Arrogance and complacency in general is risky enough for a stale Government.

Failure to keep crime under some semblance of control could easily result on the jury of voters condemning Key’s tenure.