The terrible perspective Jarrod Gilbert gives our appalling incarceration rates highlights the naked racism of our justice system…
That New Zealand is a highly imprisoned country is pretty widely known – but even those who know the numbers can be excused some confusion. For the vast majority of people – both inside and outside the country – the imprisonment rate seems incongruous with New Zealand’s image. Are we really so dangerous and riddled with crime that our imprisonment rates must be 34 per cent higher than Australia, 39 per cent higher than the UK, and 73 per cent higher than Canada? Is New Zealand really that rough and lawless?
Political one-upmanship between National and Labour, increasing sentence lengths, and greater difficulty in gaining parole can help explain our growing prison numbers. But without question, any analysis will look naked if it fails to address the moa in the room.
Fifty per cent of the prison population is Maori. It’s a fact regularly cited in official documents, and from time to time it garners attention in the media. Given they make up 15 per cent of the population, it’s immediately clear that Maori incarceration is highly disproportionate, but it’s not until the numbers are given a greater examination that a more accurate perspective emerges.
With an overall population of 4.6 million and a prison muster of 9400, New Zealand has 204 prisoners per 100,000 people. It’s this ratio that’s used to compare incarceration rates around the world, but it’s the internal comparison, between Maori and non-Maori that is more interesting, and more troubling, for New Zealand.
If Maori were imprisoned at the same rate as non-Maori, then the combined total prison population would reduce from 9400 to fewer than 4900. In this scenario, the country has no prison crisis and we’re closing rather than building prisons. New Zealand’s imprisonment ratio drops from 204 to 105 and we slide from being 7th in the OECD to 20th, smugly behind Australia, the UK and Canada. In other words, if Maori crime and conviction rates are the same as non-Maori, the effect is utterly transformative.
Looking at the data in this way, the impact Maori have on New Zealand’s overall incarceration rate becomes clearer and more concerning. That this impact stems from within just 15 per cent of the population hints at the significance of the problem, which further analysis of the data plays out.
The Maori imprisonment ratio works out to 609 per 100,000, meaning Maori are nearly six times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Maori. If the entire population were to be imprisoned at the same rate as Maori, New Zealand’s prison muster would skyrocket toward 30,000. The numbers seem dystopian, yet they very much reflect the realities of many Maori families and neighbourhoods.
…this is apartheid era bigotry. We are so bloody casual in this country we don’t ever seem to trip over the truth even when it hits us in the face. It is inexcusably racist that our justice system has produced such a cultural massacre within the poorest communities.
This inexcusable fact never pierces the world of Mike Hosking or Paul Henry and journalists are too busy chasing clickbait headlines to allow the public to reflect on the counter productive and racist system of our prisons.
We now have private corporations running our largest prison at Wiri. Over 900 beds, and the Government pays for those beds whether they are full or not.
So there is always a thirst for imprisonment, especially as ACC is a 30% shareholder in the Private Public Partnership that built Wiri.
Now we have prisoners being released after serving their full terms inside prison with no rehabilitation whatsoever. Did we really understand what the ramifications were back in the early 2000’s when Labour and National duelled for who could be harder on crime? Changing the Parole rules were a dreadful social policy blunder.
Prisoners who calmed down and attempted rehabilitation could be released sooner from prison after serving a certain percentage of the sentence. This was altered dramatically and those prisoners who didn’t admit guilt couldn’t get rehabilitation services and so were disqualified for parole and those prisoners who refused to work for dollars a week were also eliminated for parole.
The result is a tsunami of prisoners being released who have served huge times inside prison, longer than we’ve ever had historically, who have had no counselling or therapy whatsoever.
And the States response to this clusterfuck that spite and fear and anger spawned? Why, they simply apply now to lock the prisoner up indefinitely even after the prisoner has served their full sentence.
Corrections know full well that these prisoners who have been locked up longer than any other generation of prisoners are deeply damaged and fear of how extreme their failure to actually do anything other than produce more damaged human beings has created a department focused on indefinite incarceration.
Serco, our Private Prison operator, must be licking their lips in anticipation about indefinite incarceration.
We can’t pretend to be blind any longer .