Rebuilding our prisons and making them accountable to our community

By   /   May 18, 2014  /   24 Comments

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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.

In-Jail

 

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 [2010] 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% [135] – 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

 

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24 Comments

  1. Gosman says:

    300 million extra per year just in Corrections spending. Where is all this extra money going to come from or will the left set up another 10 years of deficits to pay for this?

    • Once was Tim says:

      We’re hoping a bit of philanthropic effort on your part Gosman. I won’t hold my breath though. You could take a leaf from Don McKinnon’s book (going back to earlier days in his career)

    • And by the way, Gosman – “ten years of deficits”? National has had only five deficits so far. (Plus one helluva huge debt of $60 billion – and estimated to keep rising.)

      You can’t be referring to Labour (2000-08) because Cullen only posted surpluses – plus paying down sovereign debt.

      Even Key has acknowledged that.

      You need to keep up.

    • Stuart Munro says:

      It’s only six years Gosman, and if you vote left in September you can help bring that odious period to an end.

    • fatty says:

      Guess what happens when we stop locking people up again and again? Guess what happens when we stop having them go through the court system?..we save money.

      FFS Gosman, how stupid are you? I honestly hope you are trolling because your stupidity really knows no bounds does it?
      Are you honestly a representative of the voting public Gosman, because if you are, then I think we should give up on democracy. I’m not joking, that’s how dumb you are. A democracy with your stupidity or Stalin or Pol Pot is a difficult decision.

      You’re worried about $300 million to address a failing system that spends this:
      $12.5b – the [2010] 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.

    • Stuart Nash says:

      The taxpayer is spending upwards of $5b/ann anyway. I truly believe that we can reduce this amount significantly if we change the way we do things and start addressing the issues that are causing so many NZers to end up in the prison system for substantially longer periods than they should be. The reason why there are so many stats in this post is that on their own they tell the story of a system that is failing everyone: victims, taxpayers, our communities and those who are actually committing these crimes as well.

    • Stuart Nash says:

      Gosman – The taxpayer is spending upwards of $5b/ann anyway. I truly believe that we can reduce this amount significantly if we change the way we do things and start addressing the issues that are causing so many NZers to end up in the prison system for substantially longer periods than they should be. The reason why there are so many stats in this post is that on their own they tell the story of a system that is failing everyone: victims, taxpayers, our communities and those who are actually committing these crimes as well.

  2. Lara says:

    Make marijuana legal and we’d instantly have the funds to pay for it.

    We’d also have less “criminals”, and less crime associated with this currently illegal substance.

    Treat drug abuse as a health issue, not a criminal issue. It’s much more humane, reasonable and logical, and it costs a lot less.

  3. Gosman says:
    May 18, 2014 at 9:47 am

    300 million extra per year just in Corrections spending. Where is all this extra money going to come from or will the left set up another 10 years of deficits to pay for this?

    Same place National/ACT find the money to subsidise subsidises smelters, movie companies, sports tournaments, airlines, etc. Or to fund tax-cuts.

    Funny how Right Wingers demand that question from the Left, but never their own?

    Despite having to borrow around $400 million a week to fund the 2009 and 2010 tax-cuts, you were fine with that, Gosman? After all, by borrowing from offshore, we were in effect using other people’s savings to fund those tax cuts.

    Which goes some way to explain why we are now $60 billion in debt.

    Meanwhile, Cullen paid down NZ’s sovereign debt to $10 billion (nil, net debt) and you Right Wingers bang on about his fiscal incompetence?!

    But that’s ok, eh?

    • Gosman says:

      The rise in debt was predicted to occur before National got in power. Figure 2.13 of the 2008 Prefu. Read it, understand it, then get back to me.

      • Gosman says:
        May 18, 2014 at 5:24 pm

        The rise in debt was predicted to occur before National got in power. Figure 2.13 of the 2008 Prefu. Read it, understand it, then get back to me.

        Don’t get cheeky boy.

        Of course Treasury was predicting a fall in revenue – we were in recession by then. Have you not heard of the Global Financial Crisis? Economies around the planet (excluding China and Australia) were in free-fall. Lehmanns had collapsed; the Russian stock exchange closed for several days; Bush had signed a bailout to the tune of US$700 billion, etc.

        The GFC began in 2007 and the recession hit us by the following year and why am I having to remind you of all this? Do you have a John Key-like memory-retention problem?!

        Jeezus, predicting years of deficits was not exactly rocket science, was it?

        However, you’ve nicely side-stepped the point I made above; Cullen posted only surpluses and paid down debt till it was net-zero.

        By contrast, National has,

        * posted five deficit budgets and a very questionable sixth surplus budget,

        * cut taxes in 2009 and 2010, necessitating the borrowing of billions to make up for the shortfall in revenue,

        * racked up NZ$60 billion in debt

        Even you can’t deny those facts.

  4. Stuart Munro says:

    It’s a good idea, but probably needs some development.

    The current crime rate reflects failures to create or support viable jobs and communities. If conventional work is inadequate or unavailable both displacement activities – drug or gang cultures – and crime grow as alternative life strategies.

    You’d need to front-foot your changes to courts to achieve any savings and your transition period would be costly. Savings might be hard to produce in practice – lawyers put out of work go into tax evasion, fraud or realestate – you need a more pro-social path for them. You might want to consider the marijuana issue before you go too far with your calculations – it absorbs an amount of police and court capacity completely out of proportion to its pharmacological effects.

    I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the lifelong learning program in Japan, but education as a social good should probably be available without stigma throughout life – not just to the incarcerated. The shameful ignorance of trolls like Gosman and IV should not stigmatise them for life, but motivate them to learn.

    If you were really keen on social uplift you might want to harness the so-called 2 sigma effect of volunteer tuition to lift all education results into the 95th percentile – that’s what an enlightened society might look like.

  5. Matai says:

    Stuart, what is your personal opinion on drug (or at the very least, cannabis) legalisation, and what is the Labour party’s official position in the wake of the recent legal high dilemma? Surely legalisation of cannabis as has just happened in Colorado etc would have positive effects in terms of reducing the prison population (especially the short term incarcerated), reducing influence/ revenue of gangs, ability to regulate the cannabis market (and products on the market) and boosting the tax take (making money available for addiction treatments)?

    • Stuart Munro says:

      This issue arises out of the decision to permit the sale of the so-called ‘legal highs’. (It was a poor decision and has been reversed.)

      Although many of these are probably not very unsafe, they were not adequately tested and caused some deaths and some serious behaviour problems. Allowing an open market-based approach is not appropriate for new drugs.

      There are two drugs that should probably be legal on the grounds of low toxicity and low social threat. They are marijuana, and nitrous oxide. Both have an extensive history of therapeutic use.

      Labour is not keen. My reading of their position is that they are afraid of a voter backlash – a fear that did not prevent broad cooperation on the infinitely more risky ‘legal highs’. They are also not keen on the current social role of psychoactive drugs

      My prescription (which has no standing whatsoever with Labour or anyone else) is that a thaw on marijuana needs to begin. Criminalising it is an expensive habit. The political fear of taking bold steps in this area is not inappropriate. So… baby steps.

      The least intrusive step would be licensing its routine use for palliative care. The introduction of the policy should be to make cannabis a clinical decision. To avoid problems of impropriety it should probably require two medical signatures, a rationale like pain reduction, consideration of schizophrenia risk, and periodic review. This would be enough change for the incoming government.

      A government that was prepared to recognise the need to change, but in no hurry to make a mess of it would prepare a comprehensive policy over the succeeding terms. These would include growing for legitimate supply, and phased softening of legal sanctions. It would be informed by the progress of the US legalisation.

      All this careful process is to get it right, and not to spook the public. But at the end of the day, a young person with a fresh conviction for marijuana has some merit in a complaint that they are being sacrificed to the fears of comfortable middle-age. Responsible parties should therefore move to legalise with due deliberate speed.

  6. XRAY says:

    If one subscribes to the two wrongs make a right theory then our current prison model is for you.

    Our jails are truly horrible inhuman places largely run by the inmates and overseen by the staff. Not because the staff want it that way so much but because there is no will or budget from government to do anything about it. And the ball lies squarely in the governments court!

    A few prisoners a genuinely evil however a lot of these men and women come from particularly sad backgrounds and have drug dependency as a result as the lives they have come from are so awful. They are frequently psychologically damaged. They have ended up where they are because of what they have become from those beginnings however many are not beyond redemption.

    Been vindictive with the prison population to teach them a damned good lesson doesn’t work and when you treat people inhumanely, no matter how bad some are you will get it back in spades at some point.

    Furthermore if anyone has applied for a job in recent years any conviction for anything will more than likely see an end to that application. So you may want to leave the past behind but in good old NZ, we wont let you!

    We have got to get off the punitive never-ending punishment cycle and have a damned good look at punishment and the use of prisons far differently. Your suggestions are a good start.

  7. Marc says:

    What?

    While I appreciate the cost breakdown and Stuart’s attempt to justify different approaches, this smells too much of the “investment approach” to me, the same this government has brought in for “welfare” or social security.

    So every prisoner will now be dressed up in a uniform with a bar code, representing the cost benefit factor, and what needs to be done to “fix” it? Is that “rehabilitation”?

    As a migrant from a different culture, I always sense a remnant of the “puritan” driven “Victorianism” here, in education, justice and elsewhere, where the “evil” has to be thrashed out of people, now with “modern” and “moderate”, “politically correct” means, but still following the same “idealism”.

    I am increasingly aghast at what “experts” suggest how society should be run. Some may have good intentions, but hey, what about returning to healthy communities, where people are treated as human beings, and learn to talk and deal with each other in a natural way, also understanding their challenges and handicaps, so they are not even given a hint of guilt and burden, which I know, many on welfare carry with them forever, as they have been “shamed” into total submission and servitude now.

    I want people to be allowed to take pride in themselves, and to be given true and unconditional forgiveness, where they are willing to reform. The Criminal Records (Clean Slate) Act may need a rewrite also.

    Take your suit off, Mr Nash, go for a swim or hike, go bush for a week or two, get dirty and human, and forget all these figures, and meet us face to face to share the air, water and land we have around us.

    Best wishes though –

    Marc

    • Stuart Nash says:

      Marc,
      Not too sure of your point to be honest. This is simply the starting blocks for the debate that is long overdue on how we ‘fix’ something that so obviously doesn’t work. I think majority who read this blog agree that the ‘lock-em-up-throw-away-the-key-and-let-them-rot-in-hell’ mentality and approach simply doesn’t work or serve anyone well. A new approach is needed; in fact a radical mind shift is needed in this area which is a political minefield, but that’s what makes the transition so necessary. Corrections policy can’t continue to be about who can prove to voters that they are tougher on criminals than the opposition.

      I make no apologies for wanting to ‘invest’ in people and communities in a way that really does make a difference, but you are drawing a rather long bow to suggest that ‘investment’ equals subservience or having the individualism ‘thrashed out of people’. This is, in fact, about giving individualism, hope and identity back to people who may well have already lost it in a world of dependence that they would love to escape from.

      This is evidence-based policy wrapped around a level of pragmatism so necessary to drive the type of chance required to really make a difference.

  8. Mistery Mistery says:

    Our ACC money is building a new prison in Wiri, and ACC have contracted a private British firm to run it for us!

    Why?

    And what will they care about the rehab of NZ prisoners?

    Opinion.

    • Stuart Munro says:

      Yes – this is completely pernicious.

      Privatisations should be reversed immediately without compensation to deter this form of corruption.

  9. Jem says:

    It was under the last Labour government that alcohol & drug residential treatment centres at Hanmer, Spring Hill and others were de-funded and closed down. Only the Salvation Army remains active in this area.


 
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