National will seek to reduce reoffending, not prisoner numbers

Newsroom reports:

The National Party has announced it would scrap the Government’s target to reduce the prison population, instead reviving its “social investment” approach across the justice system in a bid to lower offending rates.

The party has revealed its slate of law and order policy for the upcoming election, with the introduction of a new category for “young serious offenders” and the expansion of mental health initiatives and specialist courts among its plans.

National leader Judith Collins said her party had shown its ability to reduce offending, improve community safety and “break the cycle of intergenerational family violence and abuse” over its years in government.

“National puts victims at the heart of our criminal justice system because we understand that, through no fault of their own, they are often left with deep physical and mental scars,” Collins said.

“Our policy is simple: victims should get justice and criminals should be held accountable for the harm they cause, while also being rehabilitated into contributing members of our society.”

A policy document outlining National’s plans said the Government’s target of reducing the prison population by 30 percent over 15 years “has the wrong focus and we will scrap it”.

Instead, National’s justice spokesman Simon Bridges said his party would put an emphasis on reducing crime and reoffending by setting clear reduction targets, primarily through the social investment approach launched by Bill English in the party’s last term of government.

 “We will use data to identify the areas of greatest need within the justice system and focus on making New Zealand a safer place,” Bridges said.

National aims to have fewer victims, while Labour aims to have fewer prisoners. These can be very different things,

If your focus is simply on having fewer people in prison, then you can achieve that by relaxing bail laws, letting people out on parole earlier and reducing sentences – all without actually reducing crime.

But a focus on reducing the number of victims of crime (which means safer communities) means a sensible mixture of early interventions to stop people getting into crime, supporting rehabilitation programmes but also keeping those who are recidivist offenders in prison so they can’t create more victims.

National would expand mental health initiatives within NZ Police and widen the use of specialist systems such as drug and alcohol courts which helped offenders deal with addiction.

It would also introduce a ‘Clean Start’ policy to help recently released prisoners get a fresh start in a new community away from where their offences were committed, with community providers offering wraparound support to help provide accommodation, employment and education.

The scheme would only be open to those serving a sentence of two years or less, or who had been on remand for longer than 60 days.

Clean Start would initially be limited to a maximum of 500 prisoners while its efficacy was assessed, with an estimated cost of $30 million over four years.

In addition to rehabilitation initiatives, there is also some traditional tough talk from National on gangs and other serious offenders.

The party would provide police with funding to create a dedicated gang unit, give officers greater powers to search gang members’ homes and cars for firearms, and ban all gang patches and insignia in public places.

It has also proposed a new category for “young serious offenders” – anyone under 18 who has committed a crime with a maximum sentence of 14 years’ imprisonment or more, and who meets other criteria – to prevent recidivism.

The 150 most serious young offenders would be triaged into targeted programmes, with broader funding for specialist services and expanded powers for police and Oranga Tamariki to detain those within the YSO category.

All looks very sensible apart from banning gang patches in public places.

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