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.

Police numbers game

With a by-election coming up in December, which will probably include a new party campaigning on law and order, and a general election next year, parties are throwing police numbers around.

Police Minister Judith Collins in a speech to the New Zealand Police Association Annual Conference this week:

The Government has also made significant recent financial investments in policing.  Budget 2016 delivered an extra $299.2 million to Police over the next four years, including $279.9 million to fund pay increases

And of course there are more 600 more officers on the beat than there were in 2009, and advances in technology and strategy have made our police much more efficient.

That said, there is no doubt that demands for Police services have increased considerably and there is pressure on Police resourcing.

I take that very seriously and I have been discussing this with Police and my colleagues for some time.

We’re still working through the numbers but recently the Prime Minister confirmed that the government is likely to increase the number of Police.

Will we see numbers announced before the by-election?

Labour threw down the gauntlet. Oddly it’s not on their website ‘Latest news’ yet (or anywhere that I can see on their website) but Andrew Little also spoke at the conference:

I am committed to lifting police numbers in the first term of a Labour Government.

Today, I am proud to announce that Labour will hire a thousand more Police officers in our first term.

There will be 1,000 more Police officers under a Labour Government I lead.

This will take total officer numbers to 10,000, and it will be enough to bring the Police to population ratio back below the international benchmark of 1 to 500.

We will work with police to prioritise these additional officers on the serious invasive and violent offences like assaults, sexual assaults, burglaries, and robberies, and of course, the scourge that is methamphetamine.

This increase will be fully funded.

We’ll boost the total Police Budget in line with the increase in officer numbers.

That means $180m more a year for policing once all the extra officers are recruited.

Nothing from the Greens website yet.

NZ First have been calling for more police for some time. Winston Peters will address the conference this morning.