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Launch Of Expressions Of Freedom And Fantasy

Hon Matt Robson Speech Notes

Launch Of Expressions Of Freedom And Fantasy

Launch of Expressions of Freedom and Fantasy – Art in the Justice Sector
11.15AM Wednesday, 30 May 2001
Auckland Prison, Paremoremo

One of the hallmarks of Corrections is that there aren’t too many stories of triumph.

It’s a part of Government where tragedies and tough breaks happen all the time.

So it brings me real pleasure to be here today to mark one of the true successes of the prison and justice system.

Prisons are sorry, hard places.

And yet the book we are here to welcome today shows that something good and positive can emerge.

To quote from the book -- ‘When given a medium to succeed, individuals find they can contribute positively to their communities.’

The message is that we will have less offending, less victims and fewer prison inmates if we have fewer dwellers on the margins of society.

A more inclusive society is a safer society.

I have some personal familiarity with prison art.

Two paintings by prison inmates are hanging on the wall of my Beehive office.

They are daily reminders that some good can come out of what we do and of the need to find ways for inmates to contribute to the community.

And they are reminders that we need to build a more inclusive society.

One where the talents who can create this art can flourish, instead of being wasted in offending and prison.

Many prison inmates suffer poor literacy.

They lack formal communication skills.

They have few meaningful outlets for expression, and few positive ways to channel their emotions.

Involvement in art is one way that prison inmates can find a voice, achieve a worthwhile success, and be recognised for it.

Of course it takes far more to rehabilitate a person.

But there is a single constant in offending.

People who feel they have a stake in their community – people who believe they can contribute and succeed – are far less likely to offend.

Times are changing in the way we run our prisons.

About ten days ago I launched a searching new report called About Time.

It took a fresh new look at the ways we can turn people away from a life of crime and reduce re-offending.

About Time highlights three strategies.

The first is to work on rehabilitation of offenders who are already in the prison system.

We provide literacy programmes, but also alcohol and substance abuse programmes.

We’ve trialled them, we know they work and so we’re doing more of them, along with new programmes for driving offenders.

The programmes cut re-offending by about a third.

In other words, it is possible to change the behaviour of offenders if they are managed the right way while they are in prison.

It’s worth pointing out that locking people up for longer – or letting them out earlier – doesn’t make much difference to the crime rate.

A few years ago Finland slashed the number of crimes that were punishable by imprisonment.

The crime rate stayed the same.

Some states in the US have introduced massive sentences, and prison numbers are swelling, but it isn’t having much effect on the crime rate.

The programmes we are putting into prisons do have an effect.

But we can do things to reduce offending and make the public safer that are even more successful than rehabilitating inmates.

The About Time report identified a second strategy targeting high risk teenagers.

These are kids who we know, with a high degree of certainty, are headed for jail when they land in the adult justice system for the first time.

We can teach them some basic life skills, and help them to get a job.

Turn them away from the path that leads too often and too easily into prison.

The third strategy identified by About Time recognised the need to intervene at the very early stage.

We can reduce the number of births into high-risk families, and provide better support for children in high-risk homes.

As a community it requires a commitment to no more Lillibing’s; no more James Whakaruru’s.

If those tragic young children had survived their family situations, what chance would they have had in their lives?

We need to do much more as a community and as a government.

The earliest possible intervention costs less and works best.

These ideas are the hallmarks of the new approach I’m taking to offending and to corrections.

It recognises the values that underlie the art in this publication.

Those values recognise that there is much we can do to bring people in from the margins and to foster their talents.

There is much that can be done by inmates to contribute to their communities and much we can do to turn them away from offending.

It’s almost ironic to say, in welcoming this publication, that I hope to see fewer like it in future – because I would like to see less offending, less victims, and therefore fewer inmates.

Of course, that is not going to happen quickly.

Art provides a positive outlet for prison inmates.

It is a voice from inside that carries over the walls.

It provides inmates with an opportunity to succeed at something.

It provides the community with an opportunity to know a little more about those who have offended against it.

I welcome this publication and the efforts that are being made by Arts Access Aotearoa to improve access to artistic creativity for inmates.

It’s a courageous, valuable and positive initiative.

It remains for me to make particular mention of Mark Byers, the chief executive of the Department of Corrections.

He has strongly supported this project and I know he has a strong commitment to rehabilitating and re-integrating offenders into society.

He sees art, and a sense of identity and culture as essential to that process.

I pay tribute for the work he has done, and to Arts Access Aotearoa for the work you have done in making this publication a reality.

To the authors, Penny Eames and Rebecca Lineham I offer congratulations on the quality of the book.

In merely being published, it is already a success.


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