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Listen to public - Robson to penal reformers

9 APRIL 2001

Listen to public opinion: Minister's message to penal reformers

"Listen to public opinion." This was the message tonight from the Minister of Corrections Matt Robson to penal reformers.

He announced new initiatives to reduce the prison population by 10%, by targeting teens in trouble, disqualified drivers who repeat offend, and offenders with drug and alcohol problems.

"This way you reduce the prison population by reducing the crime rate. It's a win win situation," he said.

He was giving the key note speech in Christchurch tonight at the Annual General Meeting of the Howard League for Penal Reform.

"There are no Mark Middletons marching in the streets for penal reform.

"My job - and I think it is your job too - is to reassure the public that the very few in our society who commit terrible crimes are locked up and will remain locked up - sometimes for the rest of their lives.

"Our job - mine and yours - is to separate in the minds of New Zealanders, the terrible few - the Taffy Hotenes, the Paul Dallys, from the sad many," Matt Robson said.

The new initiatives are part of a report on Reducing The Use Of Imprisonment, compiled by a government Taskforce. Matt Robson set up the Taskforce last year and will release the findings of the report shortly.

In 1999 29.4% of offenders were in prison for property offences, 22.2% for traffic offences, 20.5% for other offences including drugs.

"I'm not saying these offenders shouldn't be in prison. But I am saying that with intense and targeted programs we can turn many of them away from a life of further crime."

The report recommends Day Reporting Centres as a tougher, more effective new community sentence for teenage offenders between the ages of 15 and 18. Teenagers guilty of violent or sexual offences would not be included.

Matt Robson also called for an increase in the use of programs in prison targeted at disqualified drivers and offenders with drug and alcohol problems.

"All of these combined, and prevention initiatives aimed at at-risk families in the community could reduce the prison population by at least 10% and reduce the future crime rate," says Matt Robson.


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