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Minister plans to talk to front line staff

"We have thousands of people working in the front line of the justice system. These are our experts. I want to hear what they think works," Minister of Corrections Matt Robson said today as he delivered the annual Allan Nixon lecture in Auckland.

He announced plans to spend a day with South Auckland probation staff to see what they do on an average day, and how the job might be made more effective.

This comes shortly after former probation officer John Gilbert was awarded nearly $1 million compensation for proving job stress caused him ill-health.

"It's important to hear what staff on the ground are saying. How can we improve their ability to be effective? There is no doubt that previous governments carry a large part of the responsibility too."

In his conclusion to the John Gilbert case, Judge Colgan said changes in the workplace in probation 'were driven… department policy initiatives based upon a then prevailing philosophy of cost-saving, delegation to community/voluntary agencies and a general philosophy of striving to do the same or more with fewer resources.'

Matt Robson also talked about the need for alternatives to prison sentences to be rigorously monitored and properly resourced if they are to succeed.

"I want prisons to do what they do best: keep violent offenders behind bars, often for long periods of time and deliver concentrated rehabilitation programs. If our prisons are over-crowded with offenders who don't necessarily need to serve their sentence behind bars, then prisons can't do their job properly.

"It is vital that sentences served in the community are tough, rigorously monitored and effective if they are to gain public confidence.

"I am keen to have my officials look at the effectiveness of community sentences so far, whether it be Home Detention, community service or half way houses dotted across New Zealand. It is just as important for community safety that we invest in the infrastructure of our community sentencing, as it is to invest in the prison service.I would also like to see more talk about toughening up our post-release programs so that we can have stricter supervision of offenders once they leave jail. The tough talk focuses too much on what goes on in prisons, and not enough on what goes on in our communities," says Matt Robson.

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