Salvation Army Court and Prison Conference
Hon Matt Robson
28 September 2001 Speech Notes
Speech to the Salvation Army Court and Prison
I am honoured to speak to your conference today.
I have here a paper from my Department telling me that the Salvation Army was the community provider delivering the Conservation Corp programme which used to be funded by the Ministry of Youth Affairs.
No funding could be provided this year. Now I am told you have offered to deliver the same programme for free to Rimutaka Prison.
This is a great gesture on your behalf, and we are grateful.
The work that the Salvation Army does is invaluable in our society.
Particularly as Minister of Corrections I want to acknowledge the work done by your National Court and Prison Service.
Those of you who go into our prisons and our courts voluntarily, to work with inmates, with staff and families – I thank you.
Those of you who work with police and lawyers to run diversion programmes for less serious offenders who don't need to be in our prisons – I thank you too.
I notice that in your new strategic plan you have noted the need to develop an understanding of 'what works'.
I couldn't agree more.
When the hot air has disappeared around the law and order debate, what remains – for all of us – is simply 'what works'.
As Minister of Corrections I have worked alongside experts in the field of prisons and crime prevention.
I have come across many initiatives which really do work. That is, they work towards lowering the crime rate, and reducing the number of future victims.
I have introduced four Restorative Justice Court pilot projects across New Zealand, which I have great hopes for.
Restorative justice responds to the failure of the present system to meet the needs of victims and make our communities feel safe.
In a restorative justice court, victims’ needs are paramount, and offenders face the full consequences of their crime and its effect on a victim.
In establishing these pilots New Zealand is set to become a leader in the world wide movement towards the adoption of restorative justice principles within the court system.
I notice also in your new strategic plan that you want to look further at restorative justice. I hope we can work together in the future.
Restorative justice is not a soft option. Quite the opposite.
Putting an offender face to face with their victim in a controlled environment so they see and hear the hurt they've caused, is a more effective wake up call than just putting an offender in the dock to glare across a court room.
Recently I released a report, About Time, which advocates early intervention.
I'm travelling around New Zealand with this message: that early intervention works best, costs less.
When I talk to people at public meetings I compare these two statistics.
The average cost of imprisonment for each inmate per year is $52,738.
NZ Superannuation (net) for a married couple per year is $18,763
Does that make any sense to you? It seems like a tragic waste of money to me.
Worse still, this expense has done little to lower the crime rate and make people feel safe in their homes.
Crime statistics speak for themselves. Over 90% of prison inmates under 20 are re-convicted within four years of release.
By the year 2013 the prison muster is predicted to grow by 46%.
This is what will happen if we do nothing. I have no intention of doing nothing.
And I know that those of you here today have no intention of doing nothing.
In the long term, if we want to make the public safe, far more attention has to go into preventing offending before it happens.
My report – About Time found that the most effective way to keep the public safe is to intervene before people start out on a life of crime and to stop them from re-offending.
Young people who are likely to become tomorrow’s hard core offenders can now be identified with increasing certainty – as newborns, as school entrants, as young offenders and as early adult offenders.
So the first recommendation in About Time is to reduce the number of highest risk births.
It recommends working with young women and young men who fit the profile of youth at risk and who are in the social welfare and justice systems.
Teaching them about contraception and avoiding exploitation, and teaching them about the advantages of delaying child bearing until they are settled, mature and suitable support is available.
We need to back that up with more support for high-risk new mothers, in what I call the ‘James Whakaruru’ situation.
A child born into that tragic situation who had survived would have been at very high risk of teenage and adult offending.
Programmes such as Family Start can help, and I want to look at working with other Ministers to extend programmes like this.
The earlier you intervene, the more effective the result.
And then we can move to children as they enter school.
I have been travelling round New Zealand talking to school principals, and they more than anyone understand the problem.
Teachers have long been able to identify many of the school entrants that they believe will end up as adult offenders, such as the hypothetical five-year-old with the angelic face that Ces Lashlie spoke about recently.
An intervention for a five year old who is aggressive and defiant is estimated to cost about $5000 per case with a success rate of seventy per cent.
The same behaviour at the age of twenty-five years costs $20,000 and has a success rate of only twenty per cent.
Again, earliest possible intervention works best and costs less.
Children who are at risk of progressing to serious adult offending get easier to identify between the ages of ten and fifteen.
Then, if we do nothing they become teenagers and the offending becomes more serious.
More than half of the teenagers who enter the adult justice system are re-convicted within one year of ending their sentence.
About eighty or ninety per cent are re-convicted within five years.
We have to do better than that.
Dangerous teenage offenders who commit violent and sexual offences will still need to go to prison.
But for others About Time suggests intensive rehabilitation in Day Reporting Centres designed to teach some life skills and place the teens in jobs;
Attendance would be compulsory five days a week for six months, and might be accompanied by night curfews and electronic monitoring.
The units are significantly cheaper to run than prisons, and likely to be far more effective in preventing re-offending.
Some non-violent young offenders are better treated and cured outside of the toxic mix that is inside our prisons.
If we just write teenagers off when they first enter the adult justice system, then in most cases we are accepting that a lifetime of crime will result.
That also means accepting that they will spend a lifetime creating victims of their offending.
Politicians are always tempted to pretend they can offer quick fixes to serious problems.
The preventive measures I have outlined here are not quick fixes, but they are effective.
I'm not dewy-eyed about the potential results.
If we do everything I have recommended, we will reduce imprisonable offending by around seventeen per cent a year, eventually.
Some criminals cannot and will not change.
We will keep the public safe from their offending through the tough new Sentencing and Parole Acts.
That approach also needs to be complemented by doing what we can to stop offenders from being created in the first place.
The approach I want to see boils down to keeping the public safe by turning people away from a life of crime and reducing re-offending.
Early intervention – costs less, works best. It just makes sense. It works.
So I thank you for inviting me here today and for the invaluable work that you do, and I look forward to more contact with you in the future.