Dom Post on prison work

February 4th, 2013 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

A good prison system should have three functions. It should keep the public safe from dangerous criminals, punish those who have seriously or repeatedly broken the law and rehabilitate offenders.

By and large, New Zealand’s penal system does the first two reasonably well. When it comes to the third, it has been an abject failure. …

But while the prison system is good at keeping inmates locked up – escapes are rare – it is not so good at preparing them to reintegrate back into society once they are released. The recidivism rate among former inmates is alarmingly high. Nearly 40 per cent of those freed from jail each year are back inside within 24 months of their release. …

That is why the Government’s to investigate the merits of “working ” should have the support of every party in Parliament.

Under the scheme, every inmate at Tongariro and Auckland Women’s prisons will be engaged in some type of work or rehabilitation activity for 40 hours a week. The scheme is already running at Christchurch’s Rolleston Prison, which has a contract with Housing New Zealand to refurbish earthquake-damaged properties.

Provided the expansion is carefully planned to ensure jobs are not taken away from workers in the community, it could have a significant effect. According to the Government’s figures, reoffending rates for inmates on Release to Work programmes are 16 per cent lower than for those who are not, and prisoners who undertake work in jails per cent lower.

Yet the Herald said the scheme will do more harm than good!

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14 Responses to “Dom Post on prison work”

  1. OTGO (551 comments) says:

    OK then let us explore the word “work”. Although I don’t know the statistics I’m fairly certain that the majority of people in prison weren’t employed prior to their incarceration. They saw an opportunity while unemployed to steal, assault, rape, murder etc all actions which landed them in prison.
    Since 42% of the NZ prison population is male Maori (60% Maori women) I can only deduce that these brown folk weren’t gainfully employed at the time of their imprisonment and they were already dependent on the state plus the addition of proceeds of crime to survive some sort of lifestyle. The same could be said for the other % but since they are an overall majority I’m thinking of the brown folk who as 12.5% of the total population are way over represented in prison.
    “Work” as I know it is a foreign concept to these people. Decades of handouts has conditioned them to believe that NZ Inc owes them a living. They have never been nor will be productive members of NZ Inc. They just don’t think like the White or Asian, middle classes.
    Trying to sell them the notion that “work” in prison will somehow be good for them is just a politicians wet dream.

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  2. thor42 (971 comments) says:

    @OTGO – I don’t think we *need* to “sell them” the notion that “work will be good for them”.

    The wardens just “light a bonfire under their backsides” (metaphorically speaking). “You will do this work, or else….” Privileges can easily be withdrawn, that kind of thing.

    I’m not saying that the proposed scheme will be wildly successful, but I’m sure that there are some examples “out there” of working inmates being successful.

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  3. pollywog (1,153 comments) says:

    Since 42% of the NZ prison population is Maori I can only deduce that they are piss poor criminals, the police use discretionary powers to lay charges against Maori more than other ethnicities and that the judiciary is biased in sentencing Maori to prison rather than alternative means of punishment.

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  4. Rex Widerstrom (5,354 comments) says:

    Sadly, OTGO is in large part correct. Simply equipping a prisoner with a set of skills is like handing everyone a box of tools when they’re released – not much good if the barriers to their obtaining work are not also addressed.

    In addition to the attitudinal issues OTGO mentions there are also systemic issues – the most significant being that over 7% of the non-prisoner population are also seeking work. And most employers will understandably preference those without a criminal record. So to employ prisoners we need to create enough jobs to take the employable unemployed (i.e. the majority) and then still more jobs for prisoners.

    That’s no reason not to train prisoners and make them work; we should do that anyway. But unless there’s intensive post-release support, including housing for those that need it and work for all (and remaining in the job provided to you on release, or a better one you’ve found yourself, is part of your parole conditions) we’re addressing only one aspect of a much larger issue, and therefore expecting it to create any real and lasting change is unrealistic.

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  5. OneTrack (3,107 comments) says:

    “A good prison system should have three functions. It should keep the public safe from dangerous criminals, punish those who have seriously or repeatedly broken the law and rehabilitate offenders.

    By and large, New Zealand’s penal system does the first two reasonably well”

    The prison system may ” keep the public safe from dangerous criminals”, but I don’t see much “punish those who have seriously or repeatedly broken the law” going on. The public’s view is that many people see prison as a home away from home.

    And, unfortunately, the justice system as a whole doesn’t seem very good at “keep the public safe from dangerous criminals” with bail and parole at the drop of a hat, generally short sentences and no real penalty for recidivism.

    Note the the debate (ongoing) around the three strikes legislation. Hmm. Will that law survive to lunchtime after 2014? I think not.

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  6. Martin Gibson (246 comments) says:

    Wouldn’t it be great if prisons had municipal and industrial waste flowing into them, and sorted clean raw materials flowing out? It would be nicely symmetrical . . . people who have created disorder in society spend their time creating order from society’s disorder to atone. Bringing order to chaos would be good for them and our economy and environment.

    It would be like mining without the hysterical greenie reactionism (although of course there would be complaints about the injury rate and exposure to toxins).

    A tonne of mixed plastics can be transformed into about 900 litres of diesel through cracking at a cost of about 30c per litre, so there would be all sorts of ways to make a return on it and there are all sorts of goodies in electronics and cars.

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  7. Scott Chris (6,139 comments) says:

    The prison system may ” keep the public safe from dangerous criminals”, but I don’t see much “punish those who have seriously or repeatedly broken the law” going on.

    What reasonable motive would you have for wanting to punish more severely?

    Research has shown that increasing the severity of a punishment does not have much effect on crime, while increasing the certainty of punishment does have a deterrent effect.

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  8. OTGO (551 comments) says:

    @pollywog – since Maori make up 11% of the NZ police force and are 12.5% of the population I would say they are fairly represented. I used facts in my post. You seem to be using an insinuation of racism as the reason that so many Maori are in prison.

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  9. pollywog (1,153 comments) says:

    Facts my arse OTGO.

    You deduced a random pile of shit about Maori in prison, their work ethic and sense of entitlement to factually show your classic cracka ass bent .

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  10. krazykiwi (9,186 comments) says:

    Trying to sell them the notion that “work” in prison will somehow be good for them is just a politicians wet dream.

    I disagree. Every human is rational. Make ‘work’ optional, and tie the resulting virtual income to improved lifestyle inside the clink (eg 100 Crimodollars = large screen rental for a month) and the result would be educational. If we reward effort and enterprise, and there’s usually a few years for this to sink in, there just may be an improved outcome on release.

    Of course there needs to a counterbalance: Choosing to not work/save/plan would result in bare cells and very basic food, options etc. The objective would be to show that choices have unavoidable consequences – a concept that could be quite foreign to many guests of the crown.

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  11. tropicana (79 comments) says:

    The comment was made that training people in prison and then not following up on release is like giving someone a fishing rod without a river to fish from (or words to this effect) on release from prison.

    But they are separate issues. It is not the job of the Corrections Ministry to employ people on release, and the employment prospects one way or another on release, are not a reason for not supplying the fishing rod. It sounds like our being in search of reasons not to go forwards. Governments are quite good at this sort of logic, and finding reasons NOT to do things.

    Let’s not spoil the Corrections good intentions, by generalisations about what might or might not happen after a prisoner is released. We could of course have a separate Kiwiblog thread on post-release employment prospects, but it is a separate issue, one on which today’s thread does not depend.

    We can’t keep working on the basis that we can’t have a chicken without first having an egg, and we can’t have an egg without first having a chicken. We ought to be able to start somewhere.

    [Sorry for the mixed metaphors.]

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  12. tropicana (79 comments) says:

    Oh, btw, I speak as a retired (senior) public servant who saw far too much chicken/egg / egg/chicken situations over far too many years.

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  13. Rex Widerstrom (5,354 comments) says:

    @tropicana

    Actually, in some countries the job of your parole officer includes helping you find a job on release and then checking you remain in it, with the threat of return to prison hanging over your head if you walk out or are sacked for unreasonable behaviour. If NZ is anything like Australia, the job of a probation officer is to have you come to them periodically so they can ask “committed any crime? Taken any drugs?”, tick the “no” boxes and make your next appointment.

    Not criticising the people – there’s barely enough of them to do even that – but the system that thinks that’s acceptable.

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  14. SPC (5,619 comments) says:

    OTGO, it is pretty simple to make early release on parole conditional on having a job to go to. That creates the incentive to be work capable (rehab from drug addiction) and commit to work training. Then work experience leading to work release from prison, then parole into home detention for work release and then full integration back into society when the parole period ends.

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