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Prison Population Increase: Spin Or Substance?

Prison Population Increase: Spin Or Substance?

We need much more information before the Government can be believed in its claim that tougher sentencing and parole laws are pushing up New Zealand's prison population, ACT New Zealand Justice Spokesman Stephen Franks said today.

"It's odd for Justice Minister Phil Goff to have his Ministry claim the population increase is `a reflection of legislative changes and a series of initiatives undertaken by [the Government]' - when the predicted increase is actually less than that predicted when the government changed in 1999," Mr Franks said.

"The Corrections Department briefing for incoming Ministers, given to Mr Goff in 1999, said `Inmate numbers are expected to increase from an average daily muster of 5,464 (1997 census) to 6,922 by 2008 (Ministry of Justice, May 1998). Predictions are that on current trends by 2010 the prison population will have increased by a further 19 percent'.

"That further 19 percent would have had the prison population at 8,237 by 2010. How, then, can Mr Goff claim that his 2002 law changes are responsible for the population increase? When he took office, the Justice Ministry expected that - on unchanged policy - the prison population would be 11 percent higher than he now thinks it would be in 2010.

"Mr Goff claims the new forecast results from an increase in average sentences across the board, and abolition of `the nonsense of serious violent offenders being automatically released at two-thirds of their sentence'. What he fails to mention is the nonsense of his new law, which releases violent offenders at one-third of their sentence, when previously they could not be released until they'd served two-thirds.

"To know the truth about the effect of his Sentencing and Parole Act we need answers to some simple questions, which have never been released:

• How much of their sentences are prisoners actually serving after parole is taken into account

• How many are re-offending on parole and being re-imprisoned on fresh charges when they should have been in prison so the new offences would not have occurred

• Whether the numbers now being held past the automatic release date at two-thirds outweigh the numbers now being released at one-third of their sentence.

"These prison population claims have been rushed out now as a smokescreen, to cover the police report of increased violent crime," Mr Franks said.

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