Four editorials on Corrections

March 11th, 2009 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

This is getting to be a habit. Two days in a row, and all four major dailies again have editorials on much the same subject.

This time we will start in the South with the ODT:

There was some evidence taxpayers had been saved money by private enterprise: one study showed the cost of keeping an inmate in a high security prison run by the Department at the time was $72,000 per year; the cost in a minimum security prison was $54,000, and the cost in the privately-run remand prison $43,000 a year.

The Treasury also told the Labour government that the Corrections Department was unlikely to run the remand prison for a cheaper price. Nevertheless, it was taken over by the department. At the time, the co-leader of the Maori Party, Tariana Turia, commented the prison had operated “extremely well” under private management.

Today, we have record prison inmate numbers, about half of whom claim to be Maori, and an exceptionally high recidivism rate. The state system is clearly far from properly addressing their rehabilitation. It is this failure that needs to be the focus of the Government’s attention, rather than whether private enterprise can do a better (read cheaper) job.

The is wrong to interpret better as meaning cheaper only. The private managed prison has lower levels of drug abuse and violence – both major factors into recidivism I would say.

Yet, what do we find in the most recent review of the department, by commissioner Ian Rennie: the Labour government failed to provide anywhere near enough funding to pay for required extra parole officers; it refused to pay for the much-needed 10 additional psychologists; it refused the department’s request for more funding to meet just “satisfactory” standards of service.

I think the ODT overlooks the Auditor-General saying very very clearly that any lack of resource can not explain the massive breaches of their own procedures and policies, that resulted in incraesed risk to the public.

Next The Press:

The minister had no doubt expected that this latest report would lead to the sacking of Corrections’ chief executive, Barry Matthews, by Rennie, who is technically his employer. Matthews had refused to resign.

But to Collins’ chagrin, the report said that sacking Matthews could not be justified. Rennie acknowledged that non-compliance with parole management procedures was too high, but said there had been recent improvements.

His report also pointed to the increased workload of the department and said that requests from Matthews for more staff had been rejected by the previous government.

This finding might create the suspicion that the head of the public service bent over backwards to clear the chief executive, and Collins is certainly correct to say that most New Zealanders do not have confidence in the department or Matthews. But, realistically, Collins had no real choice but to grit her teeth, accept the findings of a report which she had ordered, and promise to put more resources into Matthews’ department.

The alternative would be for her to tell Rennie that she could not possibly work with her chief executive, which would virtually force the commissioner to replace him. Yet after being cleared by the latest report, Matthews would almost certainly have sought a substantial payout, especially as he had two years of his $375,000 a year contract to run. That would have been politically unacceptable.

Yep. In one sense Barry Matthews has been put onto probation rather than given a recall!

The Dom Post:

Strip away the verbiage and State Services Commissioner ’s report on Corrections Department accountability can be read two ways.

Either it is an elaborate exercise in buck-passing chief executive Barry Matthews cannot be held accountable for his department’s failings because the last government woefully under-resourced it or it is a charter for mediocrity: departments should not be expected to follow their own procedures.

To be fair to the last Government, I understand funding for Corrections has been:

99/00: $427m
08/09: $965m

Departments always say they want more money. Corrections has had its budget double and they still couldn’t follow their own procedures in the *majority* of their own cases.

Protecting the public is the department’s No1 priority. The Burton case should have have served as a wake-up call to all within Corrections. Mr Matthews has devoted extra attention to high-risk parolees since the Burton case, but it is surprising that he appeared to be unaware of the extent of his department’s failings till the auditor-general conducted his review.

It is almost as surprising that Mr Rennie does not consider that a sackable offence. The department’s failure to follow its own rules put public safety at risk.

In standing by his beleaguered chief executive, Mr Rennie has made himself accountable for the department’s performance. If the department continues to fall short of public expectations, he will find that an uncomfortable position.

That is very true.

And finally the Herald:

The Corrections Minister’s instructions to the State Services Commissioner, Iain Rennie, were quite explicit. He was to “establish who is accountable for serious failings identified by the Auditor-General’s report into the management of offenders on parole”. By any yardstick, Mr Rennie has failed miserably. He has found no one accountable in terms worthy of justifying dismissal. That includes the chief executive of the Corrections Department, Barry Matthews, and the parole head, Katrina Casey. And there is not a murmur about who else, among the problem-plagued department’s staff, should be held accountable for these “serious failings”. The Government’s quest for public-sector accountability seems to have passed Mr Rennie by.

To be fair to Mr Rennie, he is hamstrung with our employment laws that basically do not allow you to sack people just because they have failed at their job.

His report is the more abject in that he confirms the department has been failing to make the grade. Corrections’ internal standard is 85 per cent compliance with its own parole management procedures. Last December, it managed 80 per cent. Further, Mr Rennie judged that the department could have moved earlier last year to manage the potential risk to public safety caused by far more offenders being placed on community-based sentences.

But he excuses these grave shortcomings by pointing to improvements in performance. Compliance with parole management procedures had dipped as low as 60 per cent in November, 2007, he notes. What he does not mention is that this was almost three years after Mr Matthews took the Corrections reins. It was also about the time community-based sentences came into force, a move that necessitated the training of new probation officers. This innovation may, as Mr Rennie suggests, be a mitigating factor. But it is not an excuse. It should not distract from the long-term problems under Mr Matthews’ watch.

As I said previously, the improvements in performance had better continue.

13 Responses to “Four editorials on Corrections”

  1. jacob van hartog (309 comments) says:

    I think you have been reasonable about Corrections and its funding under labour. The big increase in funding is for the new prisons that were built in the last few years. A better comparison would be the funding for the parole branch.

    But I note the ODT comparing apples with oranges over cost per prisoner. There is nowhere the numbers for private v public remand prisoners, other than the Treasuru saying it couldnt be done cheaper ( with no evidence)
    My understanding is that the public cost is about $38,000. Then again its hard to exactly compare as there was only one dedicated remand prison, which was the private one. Also the costs seem to include headoffice overheads and the cost of depreciation for buildings. Really we need a ‘running costs’ per head , which would be on site staff, power, food , actual maintenance etc to give a more real view

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  2. PaulL (6,059 comments) says:

    So Jacob, you have no evidence at all to back your assertion that the public running is cheaper. In fact, there is evidence to the contrary. What do we call it when someone says something they know is untrue?

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  3. jacob van hartog (309 comments) says:

    Its allways a sign the numbers DONT show private is cheaper when the ODT doesnt use them but gets around the issue with other unrelated numbers, which is the sign of a clever con job

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  4. dad4justice (7,896 comments) says:

    Jacob thinks that the post is unfair on Labour, who paid huge money so we could build correction facilities that boast underground heating, comfortable single cells and state of the art gymnasiums like the one at camp Rolly Youth Offender Unit. Not to mention huge budget blowouts at places like the Invercargill Prison. The department of corrections has proved it’s a laughable joke, but a great earner for construction companies. How much money did prisoners get in compensation for hurt feelings under the Miss Klark absolute power corrupt regime? I know who should be sharing a double bunk cell unit. Anything would be cheaper to run than a mismanaged department of imbeciles that Labour criminals put in place!

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  5. MyNameIsJack (2,414 comments) says:

    jacob is spot on re the ODT – their figures are a fudge. A remand prison will always have lower running costs than a max security one, for obvious reasons.

    d4j …boast underground heating… doesn’t give a tinker’s cuss about the health and welfare of those who work in the prisons.

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  6. dad4justice (7,896 comments) says:

    Jack, most prison officers that work on the front line are disgusted by the ludicrous decisions made by senior management who hinder them doing their jobs. Maybe the HRRT will pay out for prisoners who get cold feet? Anything is possible? Remand prisoners double bunk in the pods, hence the saving made doh Jack in the head.

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  7. Redbaiter (12,013 comments) says:

    “Corrections’ internal standard is 85 per cent compliance with its own parole management procedures.”

    What the fuck?????

    “parole management procedures had dipped as low as 60 per cent in November, 2007”

    What the double fuck?????

    This is ridiculous. Such incredibly low standards are clearly why people are dying at the hands of unmonitored parolees. Sack this useless prick and all the people who presided over such a slack arrangement.

    How damn incompetent do you have to be?

    Who takes responsibility for these deaths??

    Outrageous. Utterly outrageous.

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  8. jacob van hartog (309 comments) says:

    D4J , if you dont provide some form of heating then they will burn mattresses etc instead

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  9. Redbaiter (12,013 comments) says:

    “D4J , if you dont provide some form of heating then they will burn mattresses etc instead”

    Fuck off. You’re a complete idiot. You need to clutter your own blog with such mindless crap. Not this one. I don’t know why Mr. Farrar tolerates such juvenile shit.

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  10. dad4justice (7,896 comments) says:

    Jacob – if they burn a mattress then I suggest they sleep on cold concrete. If they don’t like the food, then don’t feed them etc… Labour’s soft approach to efficient procedures is a sick failure. Can a victim of crime claim for hurt feelings?

    Jacob- are you James Sleep?

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  11. Ross Miller (1,762 comments) says:

    The mantra from JVH …. This folks is as good as it gets. This folks is as good as it gets. repeated endlessly

    The SSC in clearing Matthews et al have ‘unwittingly’ put the knife into the Corrections Department. The public sector model has failed and failed miserably and Collins is now free to proceed apace with opening up the running prisons to the private sector.

    THe SSC in winning the battle have lost the war.

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  12. freethinker (776 comments) says:

    What was there to stop Matthews going public and telling the taxpayer that Labour wouldn’t resource him to do the job they charged him with – nothing just a lack of backbone and balls. Talking of no balls or backbone when is the spotlight going to be turned on our useless police Kommisar?

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  13. Ratbiter (1,265 comments) says:

    Baiter: “I don’t know why Mr. Farrar tolerates such juvenile shit.”


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