Rare praise

May 23rd, 2012 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Not often the Howard League for Penal Reform  and Rethinking Crime and Punishment praise the Government, but Stuff reports:

Prison reform groups have praised the Government’s $65 million funding boost for the of criminals, saying it signals a shift away from costly, punitive policy which had not worked.

Corrections Minister Anne Tolley has announced an ambitious plan for Thursday’s Budget to cut reoffending by 25 per cent in the next five years.

She said this target would be achieved by extending drug and alcohol addiction services to all prisoners, expanding education and employment training in prisons and greater support for prisoners to find jobs when released.

If the goal was reached there would be 18,500 fewer victims of crime, and 600 fewer people in jail by 2017. The target of cutting reoffending was one of 10 goals for the next five years set out by Prime Minister John Key in March.

The $65m funding targeted includes:

  • 33,100 additional offenders receiving new and expanded drug and alcohol treatment in prisons and in the community (a 500% increase)
  • 7,855 additional prisoners and community offenders receiving new and expanded rehabilitation services (230% increase)
  • 2,950 additional prisoners in education and employment training (30% increase)

So this is a massive increase in those areas.

However I disagree with the lobby groups which say it is a shift away from more punitive policies that have not worked. That is just ideological ranting.

To use an analogy, I hate it when some Green MPs talk about transport policy being a choice between roads/motorway and public transport. It is a false dichotomy. We need both better roads and better public transport. The debate should be about the exact funding mix – not an either/or choice.

The same goes for corrections. We need both very tough policies on sentencing and parole to keep the worst violent and sexual offenders locked up so they can’t keep victimizing innocent New Zealanders. But we also need to invest in rehabilitation and support for those criminal who can be rehabilitated (which is not all of them – in fact probably not even most of them).

So I’m all for a three strikes policy and tougher bail and parole laws. But I’m also all for investing more in drug and alcohol treatment in prisons so the reoffending rate drops. It is not a choice between one and the other.

Howard League for Penal Reform spokesman Jarrod Gilbert said it was a brave move based on robust evidence instead of fear and populism.

He had some reservations about whether the goal of a 25 per cent reduction could be reached but welcomed the Government’s shift in rhetoric away from “zero-tolerance”. …

Rethinking Crime and Punishment spokesman Kim Workman supported the changes but said they would be difficult to achieve given the “very high imprisonment rate” in New Zealand.

One of the most dramatic proposals in the pre-Budget announcement was the expansion of drug and alcohol treatment to 33,000 more people in prison and in the community.

It won’t be easy. Once someone is one a life of crime, it is difficult to shift them. But it is worth making the effort.

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31 Responses to “Rare praise”

  1. Graeme Edgeler (3,289 comments) says:

    So I’m all for a three strikes policy and tougher bail and parole laws.

    You can legitimately put three strikes a tougher parole laws in the same group, because they’re about dealing with convicted criminals. Bail laws are about dealing with the innocent.

    [DPF: Tougher bail laws for those with previous convictions I will amend that to]

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  2. philu (13,393 comments) says:

    i don’t really care if they are doing it for economic reasons..(legitimate reasons tho they may be..)

    ..it’s a govt policy that on the surface i haven’t got many arguments with..

    (..and the ends justify/excuse the means/reasons..)

    ..one of my most abiding incarceration memories is how so many fellow prisoners were functionally illiterate..

    ..and how all that time they were locked up was wasted…as they received no training/education..

    ..just to be released..to re-offend…

    ..it was (expensive) madness then..it still is now..

    ..phillip ure@whoar.co.nz

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  3. tvb (4,416 comments) says:

    The government needs some positive initiatives in its budget and not just be slash a burn. Shifting mobey fro one area to the next is a valid reordering of priorities

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  4. philu (13,393 comments) says:

    (and if we are serious about wanting to rehabilitate/civilise…we have to stop treating prisoners the way we treat animals..)

    http://whoar.co.nz/2012/inside-halden-the-most-humane-prison-in-the-world/

    “..Halden – the high-security jail in Norway where every cell has a flatscreen TV – an en-suite shower –

    – and fluffy white towels..”

    phillip ure@whoar.co.nz

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  5. bhudson (4,740 comments) says:

    A good illustration that a ‘zero budget’ is low/no new govt spending, but not zero outcomes. Reprioritisation of existing funding and savings (as opposed to ‘borrow and spend’) is sound management given gobal economic circumstances.

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  6. Keeping Stock (10,337 comments) says:

    For a rare moment, I agree with Phil’s 9.13am post. Having been involved in prison ministry for several years, I have seen the hopelessness that many prisoners experience on release. They can’t get jobs and have time on their hands, and it’s only natural that they gravitate back to the gangs, booze, drugs and crime.

    Any initiative designed to reduce reoffending and to help reinegrate inmates into work and into constructive lifestyles should be applauded.

    PS: DPF – sorry to be a pedant, but your link goes to the NZ Herad, not Stuff…

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  7. Ryan Sproull (7,109 comments) says:

    A step in the right direction. Where commitment to punishment (inflicting suffering) conflicts with rehabilitation and quarantine, the latter two should take precedence.

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  8. mikenmild (11,247 comments) says:

    I’d be interested in knowing how the Corrections Department is finding $65 million so easily to fund this increase in programmes.

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  9. PaulL (5,981 comments) says:

    Howard league claim that policies of the past have failed, but also think these new policies will have significant difficulties reducing reoffending by 25%.

    So what does that mean they think? That it’s a good idea to reduce sentences, but that won’t reduce reoffending? Therefore, it’s just OK for people to commit crimes?

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  10. Pete George (23,559 comments) says:

    Maybe this is a field of work that Phil could consider. Serious suggestion.

    There’s a societal conflict between wanting to punish, but needing to prevent recidivism.

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  11. mikenmild (11,247 comments) says:

    The Howard League are probably referring to many previous failed initiatives to reduce reoffending. I’d be interested in the government’s rationale behind such a bold claim that a relatively modest investment would have a significant effect in only 5 years. Great if it does; but proceed with caution.

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  12. Keeping Stock (10,337 comments) says:

    mikenmild said

    Great if it does; but proceed with caution.

    So what would you prefer mikenmild; that the Government try something ambitious and outside the square, or that it just goes back in the “too hard” basket, and nothing changes?

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  13. bhudson (4,740 comments) says:

    KS,

    I’d say mikey is being pretty obvious – the ‘too hard basket’ option is what he wants for this govt as there is much political capital for them to gain through making genuine improvements. It is more important to mikey, I think, that this govt is removed than we achieve positive social change

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  14. mikenmild (11,247 comments) says:

    We spend about $1.4 billion per year on ccorrections. There is capital spending of about 200 million, but the bulk of the money is on prisons (750M) and community-based sentences (200M). The current spending on programmes is about 140M, so the government is proposing to increase this by about 50% for a 25% reduction in re-offending. This would take spending on programmes from 10% to 15% of the vote. I’m not sure that the programmes are that easily scalable, or that the results will be so rapid, but I guess we will find out.

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  15. Longknives (4,737 comments) says:

    All together now-
    “Someone’s singing Lord…..Someone’s crying Lord…”

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  16. mikenmild (11,247 comments) says:

    And if my quick calculations are correct, this shift toward rehabilitative programmes will bring us back nearly to the position in 1999/00, when programmes consumed $68 million of a $460 million budget.

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  17. nasska (11,468 comments) says:

    mikenmild

    The way I read DPF’s post the increase in funding is $65 million but spread over five years, ie $15 million/yr, so more like a 10% increase.

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  18. flipper (4,051 comments) says:

    Ahhhhghgh….
    But it is a very, very long way from a “policy” to an anticipated result.

    The objectives are laudable and the timing excellent.
    But the devil will be in the many undisclosed details.

    It will be important to examine how the $65 million will be spent and when. Sure, we have spend objectives stated. But they do not define the “how”.

    We also have result objectives stated, but they are a long way off and UNLIKELY to be achieved, not because they are not worthy or achievable. But success or failure will be determined by “how” the new iniatives are delivered.

    If they are left to COA prison officers or their “civilian” clones there will be little success.

    More importantly, a culture change is required by our whole “policing/ legal/judicial/ custodial complex”. This massive “money-go-round” has too much to lose.

    To change the culture, start by changing the law – to eliminate prison sentences for all offences with the exception of violence (but not “technical”), drug dealing and the crimes that can now carry a sentence of preventive detention.

    For example, driving while disqualified can (and frequently does) carry a prison sentence.

    This sentence is regarded by many as an introduction to long term, serious crime, and the start of a career of offending from which there is little chance of a return to a life of non-criminal normality.

    The “three strikes” argument ? No problem for violent /sex offending. but only with clear guidelines.

    So, a good start. But lets see the detail (unencumbered by departmental spin).

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  19. hmmokrightitis (1,590 comments) says:

    “..one of my most abiding incarceration memories is how so many fellow prisoners were functionally illiterate..”

    I just wiped the irony dripping off my screen

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  20. rouppe (971 comments) says:

    its all very well to increase funding, but if the prisoners either don’t want to do the rehabilitation or view it as a nice easy time out from the cell, then it is wasted

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  21. philu (13,393 comments) says:

    what do you boil/render down to get ‘irony dripping’..?

    ..sarcasm..?

    phillip ure@whoar.co.nz

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  22. philu (13,393 comments) says:

    and given you were criticising my literacy..or lack of it..

    ..a very clumsy sentence…

    ..eh..?

    phillip ure@whoar.co.nz

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  23. Ryan Sproull (7,109 comments) says:

    its all very well to increase funding, but if the prisoners either don’t want to do the rehabilitation or view it as a nice easy time out from the cell, then it is wasted

    So link privileges with rehabilitation progress. I’m sure they can come up with something.

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  24. mikenmild (11,247 comments) says:

    nasska
    Yes, I see I have my figures all wrong. An extra $15 million a year would make the cost of the rehabilitative programmes about $155 million, or about 11% of corrections spending. Unfortunately, this initiative doesn’t even bring us back to what was spent proportionately on similar programmes 10 years ago.

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  25. backster (2,171 comments) says:

    I salute the intention but doubt the feasibility. I would prefer the drug and alcohol deterrent money was spent on those who have managed to keep out of prison despite being entrapped by their addictions.

    MIKEnmild “I’d be interested in knowing how the Corrections Department is finding $65 million so easily to fund this increase in programmes.”

    Sheriff Joe managed it by cutting out their lunch and ceasing to supply coffee with the other two meals.

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  26. mikenmild (11,247 comments) says:

    While Sheriff Joe may well be a model to follow if you are a bat-shit crazy; he may not be a very reliable pioneer of penal reform.

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  27. David Garrett (7,270 comments) says:

    This has got to be a good move. But why ask Workman? This is the guy who said New Zealand’s prison population would triple in two years if we passed three strikes in exactly the form in which it was passed. Here we are two years down the track and the prison population is declining and predicted to continue to decline. Whether that drop is attritutable to three strikes, zero policing in Counties Manukau, some combination of the two, or something else entirely is irrelevant – the very opposite to what Workman predicted is happening. The man has zero credibility.

    I used to be a sceptic of drug and alcohol treatment either in conjunction with or as an alternative to prison sentences, but I became converted very late in my short political career. Starting in the US – as so mnay innovative ideas do – drug and alcohol courts and treatment programmes in lieu of sentence, or compulsory treatment programmes in jail, have been proven to work in many places.

    But as Flipper said in his very thoughtful post, the treatment needs to be delivered by the right people in the right way. Our past is littered with abject failures – like Workman’s baby He Ara Hou – where they tried to use prison officers for programmes which failed miserably. I applaud this initiative.

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  28. Harriet (4,967 comments) says:

    With Maori being in jail as political prisoners instead of ‘people who stole stuff’ then why don’t we just appease them further to get the crime rate down ?

    Say, if we renamed New Zealand, Aotearoa, would that have an effect on their behaviour ?

    But seriously, what is it with these people ? Can’t they just except the punishment that they have been sentanced to for committing crimes and just admit that they are not well behaved and need to pull their heads in?

    Drug and education aid is all well and good, but like any other addiction [in these people's cases - crime addiction] they still need to admit they have a problem with that, but they don’t – as groups such as Howard League offer up all the excuses under the sun as to ‘why they behave badly’ and ‘end up’ in prison :Drug addiction, or lack of work, is not why they are in there – but lack of thought to what is good for them as people is why they end up in prison.All the career criminals[recidivist offenders] are just that – progressing their way to prison and back again to prison.It’s a journey to them.One they have gradually taken step by step and become acustomed to gradually, and to the enviroment that goes ALONG with it; drugs, unemployment etc.

    Instead, they really need to be placed into exstensive behavioural therapy.Or at least have someone express some common sense to them for a change instead of the annual message and allotment of funds from the usual idiots.

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  29. Nostalgia-NZ (5,191 comments) says:

    If the proposed programmes are any good what’s the initiative for any prisoner to take them?
    Until there is a comprehensive answer to that the ideas might be good but the practicality and chances of success will be about the same as now.
    Although I don’t understand exactly how the drug and alcohol courts work, that’s only one catchment and if some of those that go through that process and avoid imprisonment I’m struggling to work out that will impact on a target of reducing recidivism by 25%.
    I think Bill English was addressing this earlier with comments about the failure of imprisonment from a social and fiscal point of view, if this is the beginning of tackling that all power to them.
    DPF did it above, the clichéd language about the bad and good prisoners, those that might be ‘helped’ and those that can’t or shouldn’t be. I suppose that is the politics of it all despite how obvious it is. I guess the public have to be treated like morons for fear that a political party might be seen as ‘soft’ on crime, the concern becomes that the initiatives are selective and cautionary so as not to upset some in the public so that potential reformers like English are looking over their shoulders instead of having the confidence of just getting stuck in because they know what they’re doing.

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  30. David Garrett (7,270 comments) says:

    Harriet: I understand your sentiments very well…but the problem is if you DONT intervene like this you end up having more victims, and ever present and expensive incarceration. The really bad bastards are going to jail anyway – they will have their treatment inside if they have a problem. If they blow it on their release, and commit more serious violent crime they are back for a second longer go. Do it again and it’s back for 7, 14, or 20 years, no parole.

    What this is most likely to help are the recidivist burglars and low level violent offenders, who are below the threshold for three strikes. These are the guys who rack up 80-100 convictions, spend more than half their lives in prison – and keep on creating victims. IF – and I am not sure I entirely accept this is the case – their offending is primarily driven by their addictions, then the chance to break that cycle is surely a positive for everyone?

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  31. mikenmild (11,247 comments) says:

    I would be really very interested to see the rationale behind the claim that this quite modest investment will return such a huge decrease in reoffending.

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