Bill English has called our prison system a ‘moral and fiscal failure’ and yet has done little to improve the situation. In fact, Corrections lost $100m from its vote in Bill’s latest budget.
I believe that Corrections is one area where we can make a real difference to our communities, save lives (literally and figuratively) and save substantial amounts of money.
A snap-shot of the number of people in prison simply doesn’t tell the story. According to corrections, there are around 6,700 sentenced inmates currently in prison. What this figure doesn’t tell is that approximately 20,000 NZers spend time inside every year, but nearly 80% of those are there for six months or less.
First the rationale for complete reform based on the statistics:
- $12.5b – the  cost of crime
- $5b – is incurred by the taxpayer in court, police, prison costs and crime-related health and ACC costs. The remainder is what it costs the victims.
- $60b – estimated cost of crime from 2010 to 2015
- $25b – cost to the taxpayer.
- 100,000 – number of court appearances every year
- 80% of all crime occurs under the influence of alcohol and/or other drugs – or is committed to feed a drug habit
- 6,700 – current number of inmates in prison
- 20,000 – number of people who spend time inside per year
- 80-90% of prisoners have alcohol and drug problems
- $6.0m spent on new uniforms for prison officers in 2011.
- $3.4m on alcohol and drug programmes in prison
- 5% of prisoners are able to access substance abuse treatment in prison.
- 50% of this 5% are evicted before completing the treatment programme.
- 90% of prisoners are estimated to have problems with basic literacy.
- 1.5%  – of prisoners who completed the classroom-based literacy and numeracy classes in prison in 2010.
- 30,000 people convicted of drink driving every year
- 10,000 of these are repeat offenders
- 20,000 met the criteria for a drinking problem
- 1,500 are ordered to attend an alcohol assessment; let alone any treatment
Since 2002, our prison population has doubled and our rate of incarceration has gone from 119/100,000 to 203/100,000 people. Expected to be 235/100,000 by 2018
- 43% of all prisoners re-offend within a year of release
- 65% of all prisoners under 20 reoffend within a year of release
- 25% of all prisoners are sent back to prison within 12 months of release
- 50% of all prisoners will be back in prison within 5 years of release
- 70% of prisoners under 20 will be back in prison within 5 years of release
- 28 beds – the number of beds in the 2 half way houses in NZ
- <1% of sentenced inmates are released into half way houses or supervised accommodation per ann
- >60% of federal prisoners in Canada are released into half-way houses.
There has to be a better way than simply locking people up, letting them rot for a few months or a couple of years, and then releasing them back into the same environment, from which they came, still damaged, and expecting them to cope. The stats show they are not coping; nor is society – and we are all losing.
There is no doubt that prisons should be places of incarceration but they should also be places of rehabilitation. Then when a prisoner is released, we need to put systems in place to maximise the chances of successful integration back into the community.
Society is judged on how it treats its most vulnerable. Of course, this includes victims of crime, but also must include providing second chances to those who have been victims of sorts themselves throughout their lives.
So instead of slashing the Corrections budget, this is what I would do:
Budget appropriations – Corrections
- Set up a Sentencing Advisory Council to develop consistent sentencing policy and promote planned, rather than ad hoc, decision-making.
- $150m over 3 years for the development and running of community-based drug treatment programmes. Estimated benefit gained is between $1.2b and 2.4b over three years; mainly in reduced costs of crime.
- $150m over 3 years for 30 half way houses designed to accommodate released prisoners.
- $200m per year to implement the process of therapeutic jurisprudence by the way of drug courts. These courts have been proven to be hugely effective at reducing reoffending because clinician involved in the offenders treatment come to court to help the judge monitor progress