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Tougher laws better policing push up jail numbers

Hon Phil Goff

Tougher laws, better policing push up jail numbers

Increased crime resolution rates and longer sentences will see the prison population increase by 1000, or 15 per cent, over the next five years, Justice Minister Phil Goff said today.

The Ministry of Justice's Annual Update of Forecasts of the Prison Population predicts the number of prisoners will increase from an average of 6865 in 2004/05 to an average of 7880 in 2009/10. The average number of prisoners in 2003/04 was 6313.

Mr Goff said the main drivers in the predicted increases were:

• Continued increase in the number of prosecutions due to more crimes being resolved by police and the recent appointment of additional judges enabling cases to be heard sooner;
• Expected increases in the proportion of the imposed sentence served by inmates as a result of the Parole Act 2002;
• Increase in the use of custodial remand (as opposed to bail) as a result of the Bail Act 2000;
• Increase in imprisonment rates and the average length of sentences being imposed as a result of the Sentencing Act 2002;
• Increased numbers of offenders being sentenced to preventive detention.

"The forecast confirms that the government is delivering on its promise to take a tougher approach to crime," Mr Goff said.

"On the positive side, lower unemployment, more and better resourced police and tougher laws keeping recidivist inmates in prison longer have all contributed to an 18 per cent decrease in the crime rate since its peak in 1997.

"But notwithstanding the drop in crime, the improvement in Police resolution rates, up from 36 per cent to 45 per cent over this period, has meant more cases coming to court and more criminals being imprisoned.

"Offenders are getting longer jail terms and serving more of that sentence behind bars, and the most serious offenders are getting sentences of record length. Reforms to preventive detention in the Sentencing Act 2002 have resulted in as many serious and recidivist offenders receiving the life-long sentence in the last two years as in the previous five years."

Corrections Minister Paul Swain said the forecast confirmed that the prison system would continue to be under pressure this year.

"The opening of the 350-bed Northland prison in March will ease some that pressure. It is the first of four new prisons that will add more than 1500 beds by 2007.

"The government has already moved to relieve the shortage of prison accommodation. Existing capacity was increased by 600 beds last year while an additional 453 beds will be added by 2006. A further 40 short-term beds will be added to Hawke's Bay prison by March," Mr Swain said.

Mr Goff said that in the short term, imprisonment was necessary to prevent serious and recidivist offenders from continuing to commit crime.

"Along with falling unemployment, imprisonment of recidivist offenders will help bring crime rates down further.

"However a growing prison population is not the long-term answer. That lies in the government's efforts to tackle the causes of crime; in particular by early intervention programmes to assist children in dysfunctional families, and preventive education and health programmes dealing with issues such as truancy and education failure, and drug and alcohol abuse.

"We will also continue to invest more in programmes proven to be effective in reducing re-offending by youth and other offenders."

Mr Goff said that in order to provide assurance as to the accuracy of the forecast, the methodology used had been reviewed by private sector forecasters and by Corrections and found to be reasonable and appropriate.

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