Rare praise

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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