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Goff: Corrections achievements, future direction

Hon Phil Goff
Minister of Corrections

28 May 2008

Speech Notes

Corrections achievements and future direction

Speech to the Corrections Managers Forum

Thank you for the opportunity to address you today at this forum which brings together people with the most critical roles within the Corrections system.

It gives me first of all a chance to say thank you for the work you do and the commitment you show.

Your work environment is one of the most difficult of any in the country.
You deal with people who are often amongst the most volatile, manipulative and sometimes dangerous in our society.

And you have responsibility in your day to day work of maintaining the security of those individuals and thus the safety of society.

On top of that we are also asking Corrections to take what actions it can to try to turn around the lives of those you have responsibility for, knowing that the behaviours they have are in part the product of factors in society over which the Corrections system has limited influence.

The very nature of prisons, at the end of the justice pipeline, mean that incidents can and do occur.

And the media and many in the community will not hesitate to attach blame, whether deserved or not, to those who work in and run the Corrections system when something goes wrong.

The physical infrastructure of the prison system is important for its functioning. It’s easy enough to see that maintaining security at a prison like Mt Eden is much harder than at the more modern facilities at the ACRP.
I am therefore delighted to have secured within the budget $216 million to replace the old prison.

But even more critical to the effectiveness of the system are the personnel who work within it.

Overall, I believe we are well served by the professionalism and commitment of staff at all levels within the system.
Thank you for the judgement and skills you apply and the efforts you make.

My tenure as Minister of Corrections has to date been relatively short, but my interest in the area goes back to my role as Opposition Spokesperson on Justice and Corrections in the 1990s, and my six years as Minister of Justice up to 2005.

In that capacity, I was responsible for the Sentencing and Parole Acts of 2002, which took a tougher line against those who offended seriously and posed a risk to the safety of the community and now serve much longer prison sentences.

I am unapologetic about that.

But I also acknowledge that there is a limit on the extent to which ongoing sharp increases in the prison population can solve the problem of criminal offending in New Zealand.

To those such as the Sensible Sentencing Trust who allege New Zealand’s sentencing laws are soft, I would point out that the rate of imprisonment in New Zealand has doubled over the last 20 years from 91 per 100,000 population in 1987 to 188 per 100,000 in 2007.

That is much higher than Canada at 108, Australia at 130, England and Wales at 151 and most European countries at well under 100.

Since 2004, we have added an additional 2372 beds to the prison system, a rate of increase unprecedented in our history.
Those convicted of aggravated murder now have a minimum term starting at 17 years in prison up from 10, preventive detention has been applied to a wider group, and offenders sentenced to over 2 years are now serving an average of 72% of their sentence, up from 52% 7 years ago.

Under the Effective Interventions policy, however, we are trying to counterbalance this by reducing the numbers serving short term sentences in prison.

Non-custodial sentences such as home and community detention, enforced by electronic monitoring, are now being used more frequently by judges when the offender is deemed by them not to constitute a significant risk to the safety of society.

Non-custodial sentences have many advantages. Absconding rates remain low and the rates of serious re-offending after non-custodial sentences are a little over a third of those of offenders doing a short prison sentence. Offenders on non-custodial sentences are less exposed to the negative peer pressure and gang recruitment that can occur in the prison environment.

An offender can stay in their job, supporting their family, thus reducing the costs imposed by imprisonment on the tax payer. The costs of home detention at $22,000 are less than a third of the $73,000 it costs to keep an inmate in minimum security.

The result of Effective Interventions is that we have been able to stabilise the soaring prison population.
The growth rate of prison numbers has in recent months almost precisely tracked the 2006 Justice Ministry forecast, and there are around 400 fewer inmates today than at the same time last year.

Conversely, numbers on home detention, community detention and intensive supervision have risen sharply.
I was successful in this year’s budget in gaining funding to recruit a further 89 probation officers to ensure that Corrections is properly staffed to meet that demand.
Training and remuneration also need to reflect the requirement for a stable, skilled and more experienced workforce.

It is in the nature of things that problems rather than achievements tend to be highlighted in the media.

In fact there is much to celebrate in terms of what Corrections has achieved over the last decade.
Over this period the reduction in escapes has been dramatic, vastly improving the safety of the community.
Escapes have fallen by around 79 per cent in the past 10 years, to one sixth of the rate a decade ago. That is an enormous achievement which will come as a surprise to the public given that it is rarely deemed newsworthy.

Serious prisoner on staff assaults are down 90 per cent over the same period a decade ago and serious prisoner on prisoner assaults are down 69 per cent.

Drug use in prison, based on random drug tests returned positive are down from 34 per cent in 1998 to 13.8 per cent last year.

There is increased access to rehabilitation programmes with a doubling of drug and alcohol treatment units.
Re-imprisonment rates of treated offenders after 24 months is 13 per cent lower than for untreated offenders.

We have opened new special treatment units, specialised reintegration units, Maori focus units and faith-based units have increased treatment programmes for offenders serving community based sentences.

We have also significantly increased employment and training opportunities in prisons. By next year 60 per cent of prisoners will be in employment, up from 40 per cent in 2006.

The current roll-out of cell phone jamming across all prisons and phone tapping of prisoners calls has helped reduce crime being committed from within prisons. Drug dogs, improved perimeter fencing and the move to single point of prison entry have helped improve security.

There is therefore much to be proud of in terms of achievements.
Equally, however, there is no room for complacency.

It is the role of the Strategic Business Plan for the next five years to set out strategies for further improving public safety. The plan focuses on ensuring sentence compliance and reducing re-offending.

Creating a safe and just society goes well beyond the role of the Corrections Department to also involve other government agencies and the community as a whole.

But outcomes sought from Corrections are a vital component in the wider effort. The work of both the prison system and community probation are critical to this. There has to be confidence in the integrity of sentence orders and compliance.

We need to work on an ongoing basis to evaluate and improve the effectiveness of rehabilitative programmes and services, aiming to achieve best practice internationally in each area. We have already achieved that in areas like Kia Marama and Te Piriti which are world leading sex offender programmes that have succeeded in reducing re-offending from around 20% down to 5% for programme graduates.

We have to be an effective part of the wider justice sector responsibility to be responsive to the needs of the victims.

We need to work as part of a whole of government effort to reduce the level of Maori offending and the hugely disproportionate number of Maori inmates.

To achieve these goals it is necessary to enhance the capability of staff within the corrections system and strengthen partnerships with all relevant groups – communities, Maori, volunteer groups, unions, employers, Victim Support and other government agencies.

In Corrections as in other organisations, people are the key.
We need to develop the skills and knowledge of Corrections staff, motivate them and work to retain experienced staff.

Corrections has already undertaken extensive structural reorganisation. It is now seeking to develop the right culture – a positive culture focussed on leadership, belief in the ability to make a difference and high ethical standards.

The Strategic Business Plan will help provide a platform to do this. But on its own, it is simply a document.

For it to come to life depends on your dedication, your willingness to move forward collectively as an organisation and the continued application of your knowledge and skills.

Good luck and best wishes with the task ahead.


ENDS

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