Out went the old school chief executive Barry Mathews and in came Ray Smith, a man with a ton of bureaucratic experience but none in corrections, and it was the latter that served him well. He has been bold and acted in ways that only the naïve can: unhampered by past failures or concerns.
Suddenly we are focusing on trying to turn around the lives of prisoners. In short, we are helping them and not just housing them. The culture shift that this requires inside prison walls is one I could not have believed if not for seeing it with my own eyes. The fear, of course, is that all of this will be seen as going soft on crime. And will the electorate support that when for years it has been told ‘lock ‘em up’ is the answer?
Smith is not some mad maverick acting alone, his bravery reflects that of his minister and the government. Smith is overseeing a policy of reducing reoffending by 25 percent over five years. Those aren’t just statistics. Every person who doesn’t reoffend means at least one less victim of crime.
Former Labour Party President Mike Williams, now with the Howard League for Penal Reform, says Anne Tolley is the best Corrections Minister NZ has had.
This will be one of the interesting elements of this election. What part will crime and justice policy play? Can the National Party, who has done so incredibly well in this area, convince the people that this U-turn is actually in everybody’s interests?
Here’s were I disagree. I don’t think a focus on rehabilitation and a tough line on criminals who do keep reoffending is contradictory or a u-turn. You rehabilitate those you can, and lock up those you can’t.