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

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.

Nation: Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis on reducing prisoner numbers

I think it’s fair to say that Kelvin Davis has been quite disappointing in his public appearances as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Corrections.

He has taken part in this week’s Justice Summit, which has been trying to kick off discussions on how to reduce the currently surging prisoner numbers.

As Davis is also Minister for Crown/Māori Relations, and about half of male prisoners and a greater proportion of female prisoners are Maori, he has some work to do to try to address things.

Kelvin Davis (NZH): Letting prisoners vote brings them closer to society and takes them further from crime

Minister of Corrections Kelvin Davis has spoken in favour of prisoners having the right to vote, saying it is an important part of reducing reoffending.

He said those who had been in prison were more likely to offend – and in doing so, create more victims of crime – if they were excluded from society.

I think there’s likely to be much more important factors than being able to vote.

Davis was a constant throughout the summit with his department, Corrections, coming in for greater scrutiny and criticism than others in the justice system.

He spent the two days speaking to attendees from the stage, listening to criticism from the floor and later seeking out critics to better understand their frustration.

For Davis, it is personal. Maori are far more likely than non-Maori to be victims of crime – and more likely to be revictimised.

Maori make up 15 per cent of the population but 51 per cent of the prison population – and half of those inmates are Ngapuhi, as is Davis.

“These are family, these are friends, these are whanaunga (relatives) of mine – I want my tribe to succeed in every way possible, culturally, socially, economically. We’re not going to do that by locking people up.”

The discussion about reforming the criminal justice system was easier with Maori, he said, because the disproportionate burden felt by Maori meant “they get it straight away”.
Justice statistics show Maori have 660 people per 100,000 in prison against New Zealand European numbers of 93 per 100,000.

Davis said: “It’s harder with other parts of the general population.”

Odd comments. It seems that Maori don’t get what they need to take ownwership of and responsibility for in order to reduce their high crime, imprisonment and recidivism rates.

Newshub Nation this morning: As the Government’s Criminal Justice Summit draws to a close, Lisa Owen asks Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis how he’ll achieve the bold target of reducing inmate numbers by 30 per cent in 15 years

Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis says the govt has reduced the prison population by 600 in six months – but he wants more ideas about how to reduce it further. It’s a good start he says.

Lisa Owen puts to Davis that the increase in police numbers will result in more prisoners – there’s an OIA saying that – Davis is emphasising the police taking a preventative approach.

The Government’s new prison dilemma

After years of populist politics pushing up police numbers and sentences the number of people in New Zealand prisons has grown markedly.

We have just about used up all available beds, projections are for more prisoners (more than the more predicted), and there are plans to increase the number of police by another 1800.

The previous Government had planned a new prison to cope. The new Government wants to reduce prisoner numbers, so they have a dilemma – proceed with the new prison, or risk appearing soft on criminals.

Dave Armstrong: Locking away the logic and throwing away the key

Help! There are only 300 prison beds left to accommodate our booming prison population and our useless Labour Government is sitting on its hands wondering whether to build a new $1 billion prison.

That’s the present situation, if the National Party is to be believed.

The facts are that despite our crime levels staying pretty much in line with other countries over the last 30 years, our prison population has skyrocketed thanks to various “get tough” policies enacted by previous governments.

The policy of the previous government seemed to be that in order to get tough on law and order you needed to build more prisons to accommodate all the new criminals. And build them it did.

Now Davis, thanks to his predecessors, is in the unenviable position of either committing to building a $1b prison he doesn’t want or risking an accommodation crisis and alienating police, prison and justice staff – the very people he needs to help him reduce the prison population.

So, given that we don’t want violent criminals roaming the streets, how do we reduce prison numbers?

One option is that, instead of using the extra police to catch more criminals, to focus them on crime prevention.

Another is to re-evaluate what sort of people should be locked up.

A good start would be to get rid of people who aren’t violent. Thankfully, the Government wants to treat drug addiction as a health rather than criminal problem. Governments that do this, such as Portugal’s, report a decrease in drug crime. I suspect the legalisation of cannabis would greatly reduce gang-related crime.

But the current Government seems seriously averse to addressing to obvious problems with our drug laws, apart from allowing a Green referendum probably at the end of this term, that will probably be ignored by the next Government.

Half of prisoners are Māori, so let’s admit that the New Zealand penal system has failed dismally and that we need to look at new initiatives. I understand that many Pākehā may feel uncomfortable with autonomous Māori-run penal facilities, but how would they feel if such facilities were found to slash Māori offending?

The most vocal seem to be focussed on locking up and punishing, rather than addressing the causes of crime.

We know that many prisoners lack education.

We should be locking our prisoners in the classrooms of whatever they want to learn, with inspiring teachers, and throwing away the key.

A large number of prisoners are illiterate.

You don’t need qualifications to be a criminal – but prisons are effective crime universities, but associating people with bleak mainstream futures with experienced criminals looking for recruits.

Davis has had a shaky start in Parliament this term but his record on Corrections has been exemplary. I hope he listens to the top academics who have recently urged him not to build the new prison and ignores the calls from the people who are clamouring for yet another expensive hi-tech monument to our failed penal policies of the past.

But that could be tricky. They can’t just release prisoners to reduce numbers. It’s not an easy or quick thing to turn around in the timeframe needed to make decisions on new prisons.