Lock them up


The government has started the election year with a tough on crime message. More police on the beat and more prisons. The government plans to spend $1 billion on a massive prison-building programme in a country that already imprisons a greater proportion of its people than all but a few OECD countries.

They seem proud of these policies, as if they are a sign of success. However, more prisons should be seen as an indictment of their past eight years in government. They have failed to offer opportunities to large numbers of mainly young, mainly Māori members of society. The government’s solution: lock them up.

The National government is trying to deal with the consequences of crime, but they have clearly failed to deal with the causes of crime. They put the blame onto parents or young people themselves, while ignoring their own responsibility for a long list of contributing factors. Low incomes for working families and especially for beneficiary-headed households put families under pressure. The education system doesn’t provide enough support for kids with special needs, and delivers poor education in some low decile schools. Families are often crowded into unhealthy and unsafe housing or left homeless by rising rents. There have been too many cases of systemic racism in institutions and a refusal to recognise the damage to kids who have been abused while in state care. And there hasn’t been enough funding for mental health and community initiatives that could provide support and advice on issues such as violence against women and children.

The failure of their policies on drugs has also created a major problem. There is an epidemic of methamphetamine blighting communities across New Zealand. The Police Association has reported that P is cheap and readily available. This year, Reti Boynton from Kaitaia led a hikoi to Waitangi to highlight the suffering of kids and communities in Northland from the scourge of P, and to call for government action.

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Organised crime has established deep hooks into New Zealand’s networks. Under ‘Operation Ghost’ nearly 600kg of pseudoephedrine, the drug used to manufacture P was seized by police in December 2013. Police estimate this is enough to produce $172 million worth of P. That drug haul had a strong link with gambling. The core members of the network used Sky City to plan their operations and launder money. This makes the cosy deals between National government and Sky City over a convention centre all the more dodgy.

The Green Party agrees that more police on the beat are important, particularly when coupled with more community engagement and involvement. Strong community support and action is are essential to tackle the P dealers. But policing is only part of the answer to dealing with crime. A broader set of policies to provide all young people with a decent start in life is essential for the longer term.

In government, the Green Party will increase the minimum wage and introduce a living wage for the public sector; reform the welfare system and support beneficiary-headed families; provide more support for kids with special needs and child-centred hubs in low decile schools; provide support for those with mental health problems; and ensure that all families have a safe, secure and affordable home.

On drug reform, the Greens would legalise marijuana and adopt a health-oriented approach that provides help for users to get off hard drugs rather than just punishing them, while focusing policing resources on the dealers. Reform of the justice system would strengthen access, equity and transparency, and incorporate restorative justice to a far greater extent. These are the policies that will help create the conditions for social inclusion and pave the way for a real reduction in crime.

Barry Coates is a Green Party list MP, based in Auckland.


  1. The plan?
    Create the problem of burgeoning crime with minimal intervention.
    Build the prisons with public money (appease hard-right self-flagellating voter base).
    Then hand them over to the likes of Serco and pay them even more public money to keep their filthy pockets well lined.
    ACT nutters would be proud of this approach.

  2. The self perpetuating raft of policies implemented since the 80s have quite clearly promoted these worsening symptoms of a failing society and the direction outlined in your piece could be expected to have a positive impact on future (in some instances distant) outcomes…however the problem is two fold.

    Investing in supportive/preventative policies to remove the drivers of future dysfunction (as opposed to band aids at the bottom of the cliff) does little to rehabilitate those broken individuals/communities that we have created and virtually abandoned these past 3 decades…..a problem that is likely to be far more intensive,expensive, controversial and ultimately very likely unsuccessful and therefore ongoing.

    Attempting to avoid the obvious mistakes of the past does little to solve the current crisis……I suspect some very difficult and conflicting decisions will be required.

  3. Frank all we need is a good leader but we don’t have one at least not one currently standing for a party and we haven’t had one since aunty Helen.

    • If that were true then the problems wouldn’t be as they are, and have been (compounding) the past 30 plus years….9 of which were led by aunty Helen.

      It will require something much more fundamental than a leadership change and as i previously stated much that is likely required will be controversial and contradictory….that is perhaps where leadership will be important but that leadership is not exclusively political.

  4. Why do we need more prisons?
    jonkey loves everything about the U.S. and his proxy stand ins seem to as well. How many of us know that the head of FEMA U.S. was visiting NZ at the time of the ChCh earthquake and conveniently left just before it happened? How many of us know that the U.S. has over 800 FEMA camps dotted around the U.S. purportedly built for times of emergency to “keep citizens safe” but have high razor wire fences tilting inwards at the top and electronically opening gates? How many of us know that 30,000 guillotines have been imported into the U.S.?
    Why do we need more prisons?
    Are we so dumbed down that we can’t see that people who are mistreated are lashing out in frustration; bored youths find their heroes thru seedy T.V. mind-controlling programmes; youngsters diagnosed with various fairy tale dis-eases are being deliberately fed mind altering prescription drugs which then deliberately lead them on to deliberately available harder drugs; families are deliberately being undermined by ever-changing educational “guidelines”; and on and on.

    We don’t need more prisons.

    We need for the very first time fairness, integrity and an honest government!
    Get rid of the parasites in the beehive.

  5. Tough on crime?

    Wow. Tell me that again when we have:

    1) A sentencing regime with respectable sentences
    2) Judges who will actually use the sentencing regime and not their imagination
    3) A Police force actually able to do its job
    4) Obvious progress reducing violent crime stats – i.e. they are not being reported because there is NOTHING to report

    So, yes. Wow. Tell me that when you have done the above. And then when I say wow it will not be in my most sarcastic voice.

  6. If Mr Coates doesn’t take a seat in the next parliament he would be a whizz at bingo calling. Or dog whistling.

    That was so splendid and refreshing. All the old favourites. All off pat and no need to think.

    It will be parliament as we’ve always known it.

  7. ‘Organised crime has established deep hooks into New Zealand’s networks.’

    Yes, it started in the nineteenth century, when the Rothschild financial empire started lending money to the NZ government for the construction of the rail system (for the extraction of the nation’s resources and transfer overseas).

    And in recent years the banks have established a stranglehold on NZ society of truly mega proportions.

    The petty crime that ‘ordinary’ criminals are engaged in pales into insignificance when compared to the organized crime established by money-lenders.

    Other major players in the organized crime network are the oil companies, of course, who forced NZ society (with help from bought-and-paid-for politicians) to use their products, and lied about it all continuously.

    In fact, when you look at the big picture it is abundantly clear that organized crime is a way of life in NZ, the very foundation of the society. And no politician is going to do a thing about it.

  8. Wait until Pedogate hits our shores … and it will. Our ex-PM’s daughter didn’t take nude photos of herself with strategically placed MacDonald logos and food for no reason! Applauded by the Herald as “art”.
    I rather think many of our laggard politicians and corporate heads will make a rush for the door.
    Maybe then the people will finally wake up, stand up and take control of the country.
    Bravo Iceland … and Bravo Spain! Too bad, shame New Zealand.

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