Corrections getting smarter

The Herald reports:

The stressed prison network has had a Great Escape – a string of innovations allowing inmates and those charged with crimes better access to justice services has seen a huge fall in inmate numbers.

Our prisons now have 1000 fewer inmates than official projections and the prison population – around 10,200 – has fallen by 600 people in the past six months.

The changes haven’t involved keeping out of prison any people who should have been locked up.

Excellent. Everyone wants fewer people in prison, but not if it creates more victims by letting recidivist criminals out early.

Instead, it has seen “embarrassingly simple” wrinkles ironed out of the system which appear to have improved people’s access to justice.

A number of smaller projects had been underway for about 18 months but minister Kelvin Davis signed off on a permanent programme in January 2018.

So started under National.

The programme of change has been led by Corrections deputy national commissioner Leigh Marsh.

He said he had relied on experience earned on the prison frontline and worked with courts and police staff with similar real-world experience.

Marsh said innovations included trying to understand why so many on electronic bail were “failing and clogging up the system”.

When the process was studied, it was found those arrested with literacy issues were being handed complex forms to fill in that they couldn’t understand.

About 70 per cent of those currently in prison have literacy level considered insufficient for modern life.

Others couldn’t supply phone numbers so addresses could be checked as suitable bail addresses because the number was saved on the phone which was removed after they were arrested.

When prisoners were asked how they intended getting the phone numbers to arrange bail, they had reportedly planned writing letters to family.

Marsh said his reaction was: “This is madness. We can do better than this.”

There were now advisers who were available to talk to those who were freshly remanded to better understand why they had been refused bail – and to help obtain details such as phone numbers.

Great work. If people are eligible for bail, they shouldn’t be in prison because they didn’t fill in a form properly.

A smartphone app had also been developed meaning those on bail had their conditions at hand, would receive reminders of court dates and could ask for exceptions if needed rather than deal with the previous complicated telephone-based system.

What a great idea.

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