Dr Liz Gordon – Time to act on bail


We all know the story.  A beautiful girl was killed by a mad bloke when he was bailed to a property near her.  A terrible tragedy that should have been avoided by good offender management. But what it has led to has been a ridiculous increase in the number of people held in prison on remand.

Half of them never spend another day in prison once they are actually tried in a court of law, either because they were not guilty or because they had already served their time before they were brought to trial.

In September 2010, before the death of Christie Marceau, 20% of people in prison were on remand, that is being held before their case was heard.  As a result of changed legislation and pressure from the no bail lobby, that figure is now 30%.

Let’s do the maths on that. 1207 more people were in prison on remand in September 2017 than in 2010.  It costs around $103,000 to keep someone in prison for a year, so if these numbers are fairly constant, this means that stricter bail laws are costing around $124 million each year.

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Most of the people on remand are young offenders who are inducted into gangs while in the remand prison.    Once they get out, they are more likely, not less likely, to be a criminal. We are actually paying for young people, mainly young men, to be trained up for a life of crime by the worst in our society.

Oh yes, and while in prison they lose contact with their best supports, including family and friends.  Many (about half) have children who are being brought up in single parent families.

And did you know that the Department of Corrections does not provide the full range of therapeutic programmes to remand prisoners because they are not sentenced, and therefore cannot be required to attend courses and programmes?  Added to that, many remand prisoners have a burning sense of injustice about being locked up without trial, which just makes them worse and more likely to re-offend.

In short, the well-meaning and heartfelt call to keep dangerous people in prison awaiting their trial has led to an expensive and counter-factual policy nightmare. There are about 3000 people on remand in prison, each one representing a life crisis and great personal trauma for themselves, victims and family.

A review of all remand prisoners on 3 criteria: community safety; ability to be maintained effectively in the community without re-offending; and family or friends willing to take the person in, would be a good start to reducing prison numbers.  And urgent action is needed!


At the other end of sentences, there are many prisoners who cannot get out of prison on parole because they still need to meet various criteria like going on courses.  Many are at very low risk for re-offending and should serve out their time in a community sentence.

We are now at the end of a 30-year experiment where more people have been imprisoned without making a single bit of difference to community safety or overall crime rates. Each year we spend about another 100m million on the Corrections vote, which is now at the all-time high of $1.673 billion.  At the moment it is still looking likely that another billion of your taxpayer money will be spent on building a new prison. Would you rather build that or spend the funds on health and education?

For years and years, successive government have declared that public opinion is against reducing the numbers in prison.  And yet, what the public opinion consists of is a small number of people with extreme views who just want to lock up huge numbers of people, whatever the cost to us and whatever the cost to the families and communities that lose fathers, sons and workers.

Of course there are people who need to be locked up for shorter or longer periods.  Of course there are people that should pretty well never see the light of day on the streets again. But I volunteer in prisons and I know that most should not be there.  They need alcohol and drug treatments. They need good mental health support. Some need community supervision, a home, a job and some incentives to lead a good life.

It is beginning to look a lot like we are going to get some leadership on these matters from the Minister of Justice. More power to his elbow! This blog will continue to support innovative and therapeutic initiatives, plus new rules for the judiciary (probably via law changes) to bring about a significant reduction in prison numbers. Start with remand numbers – there’s at least 1,000 unnecessary and harmful places right there! And please don’t build that new prison.  Urgent action NOW can remove the necessity for this.


Dr Liz Gordon began her working life as a university lecturer at Massey and the Canterbury universities. She spent six years as an Alliance MP, before starting her own research company, Pukeko Research.  Her work is in the fields of justice, law, education and sociology (poverty and inequality). She is the president of Pillars, a charity that works for the children of prisoners, a prison volunteer, and is on the board of several other organisations. Her mission is to see New Zealand freed from the shackles of neo-liberalism before she dies (hopefully well before!).


  1. Syria or Norway? I know where I’d rather live. Syria has the kind of justice system Mr. Earnshaw is in favour of while Norway (and a lot of other democratic countries in Europe) have a justice system far more in line with the human values of a democratic society.
    It is so discouraging (scary really) to hear people advocate for physical and mental torture as a good thing.
    Great article Dr. Liz Gordon

  2. I’m a tax payer and I am not happy to foot the bill. I can think of far better things to spend money on than prisons which simply don’t reduce crime. The type of prison you suggest would not work either as so many of the prisoners have addiction problems or mental health issues – they are only in prison because our mental health system is such a disgrace. The disgrace does not arise just from the past nine years either, it is an issue we have had for far too long.

    • That New Zealand is amongst the top 20 educated nations in the world could not produce state punishment as you suggest. That the system could create a conveyer belt that ends in the dead hand of capitalism means our attractiveness as a 100% clean green democracy is worth less, and less. So we shouldn’t put our reputation on the line to satisfy ones own confusion.

    • “Death penalty”?! “Chopping off hands”?!

      Dear gods, are you for real, Steve? If you’re such a fan of that kind of barbarity, I don’t understand why you’re living here? I would’ve thought Saudi Arabia would be more to your tastes.

      Your brutal, simplistic “solutions” indicate you have no concept of the complexities behind what pushes some people into crime.

      You also haven’t stopped to consider that the most heavily incarcerated nation – the United States – is still a violence-ridden society.

      To achieve the kind of brutality you apparently desire, our entire society would have to become more harsh; more uncompromising; less tolerant. A Victorian-age society on brutality-steroids.

      I doubt very much you’d want to live in such a society, Steve. After achieving your goals, you’d end up leaving that violent, brutalised society because the next person who broke into your home would be even more heavily armed and ready to use extreme violence against you.

      If you brutalise people, they will be brutal toward you.

      Be careful what you wish for.

      • Steve… It’s not my place to say, but have you ever thought about a nice holiday on a tropical island, some pina calabas and a crouch rub while having a wet shave. I highly recommend it.

        • I was trying to say that the whole world isn’t a war zone all the time. And I’m not here to tell you how to live your life but a cultural tradition to be good neighbours in New Zealand.

      • well it hasn’t stopped people from committing crimes in America steve they had to release prisoners thousands why steve cause your backward ideas don’t work unless your in the phillipines

  3. Well if you read the article you sure as hell did not comprehend it! And the treatment for those in prison which you are advocating Steve contravenes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as the Bill of Rights.No meat and you expect prisoners to carry out physical labour???You are a moron Steve ! And when it comes to NZ’s prison population you don’t know shit from clay.

    • Have you even done the numbers? Every prisoner means forty two thousand dollars for somebody. Prisoners switch on lights, eat, cloths. That’s all payed for by the state into a totally private supply chain. All the equipment and training is big bucks. With people like you prisons are a safer investment than housing. And that’s not what prisoners are about. Doing more prisoners for the sake of it will make tax payers poorer and society unhealthy.

    • ” I replied, no, he knew he was a dead man walking. I then explained that I had spoken to him the day after and had told him exactly what was going to happen to the culprit when I found out their identity.”

      Riiiight, Steve.

      So you’re admitting to be willing to break the law for your own selfish needs?

      I look forward to you going into the same harsh prison environment you’re advocating here, with your hands chopped off, and a good whipping.

      Let’s see you pontificate then about how tough you want things to be in jail.

  4. As a victim of homicide and a person that attended the Red Raincoat trust(no longer exist) conferences I met many other kiwi victims some dealing with them most heinous of crimes. I believe some people have to be locked up and stay locked up but I don’t advocate for the bullshert espoused by steve earnshaw. Have we not learned from the past.
    I also do not agree with the 3 strikes that was pushed by the sensible sentencing trust this is american policy and not suitable for our country. If someone commits a serious offence ( like murder or rape ) then the penalty needs to reflect that. The high incarceration rates of Maori is unacceptable our Aussie mates have high rates of aboriginal people in their prison and so does countries like Hawaii a pattern has emerged here.
    The Marceau case highlights a number of issues, Firstly why did the judge not ask the lawyers to check where he was bailed to? Why did the crown lawyer not check out this address?
    Where was the mental health advocates ?
    Would the knee jerk reaction occurred if it was brown person killed ? as the gnats government were quick to change the law when battered women have dealt with protection orders that are just a piece of paper with no monitoring from our Police.
    Our justice system needs an overhaul. And if people like steve want that backward type of justice he can move elsewhere maybe the Phillipines.

  5. I have met many people who feel the same as you until their son / brother is in the cells on the word of a person they feel to be dishonest. It’s amazing how quickly the old ‘throw away the key’ line catches in the throat then.

    You seem to believe that if a person pushes a bouncer while being thrown out of a pub they should be locked up until sentence NO DISCUSSION. Presumably you have never acted in a manner which is anything less than perfect. You should run courses for the rest of us.

    • They’re aren’t bouncers any more. They’re crowd controllers. Insurance and legal costs built up to now no one wants to pay for stupid any more.

      I don’t know if people are getting softer or your average joe throwing punches are getting heavier and stronger. But it seems like more people are ending up dead from one punch assaults.

      Face it Steve. Your old.

  6. Excellent, thought provoking article Dr Gordon and so refreshing to see some common sense applied to this area.

  7. Does that mean the cricketer Ben Stokes (NZer who plays for UK) should be sitting in custody instead of playing cricket against NZ.

  8. Put me in charge, with no restraints, and I will have the prison population halved in 5 years.

    “No restraints”?!

    No thanks, Steve. A brutal prison environment produces more brutal people. That’s the last thing we need.

    Your simplistic, violent “solutions” haven’t worked in the US – I fail to understand why you think they would succeed here.

    To be honest, I think you’re living in the wrong country.

  9. Excellent article, thank you very much.
    I am heartened our justice minister seems to have a heart and a head.
    What a contrast to the last regime.
    Must admit, I haven’t visited this site for a while, I am pleased I dropped by.

  10. On the other hand, id be more than happy with the return of public floggings in the city square at noon of Fridays and a return of a prison diet of bread and water while showing steak dinners on the tv, Joe Arpaio style.

    Well then, go live in Arizona with Sheriff Arpaio, Steve.

    But you’d better be damned careful you don’t drive 1 mph over the urban speed limit, Steve.

    That would be worth a flogging.

    Can you take your own ‘medicine’ Steve?

  11. Excellent points raised, Liz! National’s “tough on crime” has been a “moral and fiscal failure” as Bill English admitted a few years ago.

    We need to move away from the ignorance of red necks like Steve Earnshaw, and look at ways of rehabilitation and reintergration into our communities.

    If we keep people apart, they will stay apart.

  12. Murderers deserve harsh punishment. All the great socialist societies penalised murderers and other violent offenders in an appropriately brutal manner. Christies murderer should be put in a hard labour camp until he dies and be denied medical treatment along the way should he require it. As one of my family members was a victim of a murder there isn’t a single argument anyone can make to convince me to change my mind.

  13. what about manslaughter Bazza should they be put in hard labour camps
    That young man that did this, wasn’t he mentally ill. Now I’m not making excuses but where were our mental health advocates why wasn’t he in a mental health facility being monitored? what has happened to our systems? why is there so many sick people walking around at large.
    Also what about people like Pora and Dougherty, our police don’t have a very good track record this is why we cant put people to death we cant even trust our own system. Yes some need to never be released.

  14. based on what you have said steve Pora and Dougherty would have been put to sleep when they were both innocent please don’t raise the d -penalty in our country we already have a litany of innocent people in our history. I prefer murders to suffer in prison and stay till they die not the d.. penalty

  15. don’t you mean judge and jury steve style. I take that back about the slow boat to china you need to be put on a jet boat

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