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No place in NZ for chain gangs and tent prisons

No place in New Zealand for chain gangs and tent prisons – Maori Party

Press statement: Dr Pita Sharples 31 March 2008

The Sensible Sentencing Trust prefers the sound of its own rhetoric to a search for sensible solutions, says Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples.

“The idea that Aotearoa should adopt American-style responses to youth offending is out of step with the reality of life in this land,” he said.

Dr Sharples was responding to the idea that New Zealand consider adopting American-style tent prisons and "mayor's chain gangs" to deter youth offending.

“Garth McVicar calls for NZ to follow the American system – but the facts are:

- America has the highest documented rate of imprisonment in the world – over 700 per 100,000 of population, over 1% of adults (compared with 179 in NZ)

- Imprisonment is rising while crime is falling – because of policies to ‘get tough on crime’

- Rates of increase are highest in locally-run jails

- Imprisonment rates show the obvious impact of institutionalised racism – black male rate is 3,000 per 100,000 of black population compared with 487 for white males.

“Why would we want to achieve the same results here?” asked Dr Sharples.

“American experts say these are the results of ‘an entrenched infrastructure of punishment … in the criminal justice system’. (Malcolm C. Young, Executive Director of The Sentencing Project, a non-profit organization which promotes greater use of alternatives to prison and more effective methods of reducing crime.)

"Human Rights Watch in the US believes the extraordinary rate of incarceration in the United States wreaks havoc on individuals, families and communities, and saps the strength of the nation as a whole," added Dr Sharples.

“This is not a model for New Zealand to follow.

“Late last year I attended the tenth year anniversary for Te Whare Tirohanga Maori (Hawkes Bay Regional Prison) – an occasion to celebrate how effective Maori Focus Units have been in reducing reoffending by Maori by drawing on a tikanga Maori perspective.

“The focus is on generating motivation and confidence in the offender’s ability to bring about positive change by becoming aware of their responsibility to others – a more lasting restorative justice approach instead of punishment and retribution”.

“All of us must invest time and effort in young people - don’t turn our backs and expect tent prisons and chain gangs to get good results," said Dr Sharples.

“The justice and corrections systems cannot do our jobs for us as parents and neighbours."


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