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Bill English Speech Extracts - A Fresh Start

Speech by Hon Bill English (Treasurer and Minister of Finance) Fresh Start / Canterbury Employers Chambers of Commerce breakfast The Limes Room, Christchurch Town Hall 13 October 1999

The following is the relevant extract from the speech

"On October 1 there were 5830 (included 5126 sentenced as opposed to those on remand) persons in our prisons One year ago there were 5586 prison inmates Two years ago there were 5459 inmates

So the number of sentenced inmates is increasing at a rate of more than 150 per annum

And, the Department of Corrections currently estimates that the number - that is the total - will reach 6500 by 2010

While we currently have almost 6000 in prison at any given time, a further 6470 persons passed though the system last year - that is they completed their prison sentences and were released.

Of the 5126 actually serving a sentence at October 1, 305 were serving life sentences and 117 were in preventive detention - effectively 422 persons serving life sentences compared to 398 a year ago.

The cost of incarceration - excluding bricks and mortar - ranges from about $33,000 pa in the case of minimum security inmates to some $75,000 pa in the case of maximum security

The average is about $53,000 per inmate per annum

In addition to the those in prison ... at any given time there are more than 22,000 persons serving community based sentences.

Notwithstanding all efforts to the contrary the rate of recidivism is unacceptably high - 80 per cent in the case of first offenders, particularly those in the younger age groups. Overall the average rate of recidivism in excess of 60 per cent

About one third of all New Zealanders of working age have criminal; convictions - ranging from the most serious to those that are gathered through youthful pranks or moderately serious driving offences.

Putting aside the actual cost of administering criminal offence sentences for a moment there are a number of significant social issues that are of concern to the Government and the community. These arise from the impact of offending on other sections of the community.

The Government has taken steps to meet this situation with a series of initiatives on law and order and to increase the rights and protection for victims.

In general, all of those initiatives are aimed at making people safer.

And the Government has moved through the Department of Corrections to put in place a number of initiatives to reduce re-offending:

The inmate work in prison scheme The anti-drug policies which are now proving effective Youth prisons - the first which is nearing completion in Hawkes Bay Steps to help reduce re-offending by Maori (who make up 50 per cent of those in prison or on periodic detention and 40 per cent of those on supervision orders) through Maori focus units Steps to reduce violence such as Straight Thinking and, among others The Integrated Offender Management system which is about to be implemented.

But we need to do more and that is where Fresh Start will play a valuable role.

International research supports the contention that a reduction in the rate of re-offending is best achieved by providing employment opportunities for ex-offenders. In Britain, for example, a study of ex-offenders assisted into employment showed that after five years re-offending amounted just 22 per cent a figure which rose to 25 per cent after 20 years. Research in Australia, Canada and the United States shows a similar result. They compare to 60 to 80 per cent, depending upon age.

So if we - which is to say those of us in Government, in the House of Representatives and in business - can join together to increase employment there will be significant financial and social benefits to Government, taxpayers - the whole community.

As you have heard, Fresh Start has been in this field since April 1996 and in that time has assisted, both directly and indirectly, more than 380 ex-offenders to find lawful employment.

The Government has backed Fresh Start since July 1995 when the Hon Wyatt Creech, as Minister of Employment, approved funding for a pilot project in the Southern North Island. Since then Fresh Start, assisted by funding through the Community Employment group, the department of Corrections, Work and Income NZ, the Lottery Grants Board, and various charitable trusts, has grown into a independent nation wide organisation.

The Government fully supports the work that Fresh Start is doing.

In this context Fresh Start has now put a case to the Government - a case which is currently under consideration by Ministers - for a substantial increase in funding.

The object of the increase sought would be to increase the level of Fresh Start activity and support in all areas, with consequential financial and social benefits for the Government and the whole community.

Fresh Start has made a case to the Government that It is a voluntary programme for offenders that want to adopt societal norms That is not a soft option - it requires ex-offenders to make a commitment and to exercise discipline It requires ex-offenders to forswear the use of drugs It complement's the theme of making people safer It will result in a substantial reduction in criminal recidivism It will reduce family and societal violence It will produce substantial net savings in Government expenditure

Fresh Start has set a target of assisting 1000 ex-offenders to gain lawful paid employment over the next three years.

If that target is achieved there could be a net saving to Government -even allowing for a rate of re-offending in line with other nations (25%) - of more than $80 million.

In addition there would a range of other financial and social benefits: PAYE tax paid GST paid The cost of spousal support would be reduced or not paid Other Social Welfare costs would be reduced The cost of criminal investigations would be reduced The cost of prosecutions (and legal aid for defendants!) There would be savings to the insurance industry

And.... Most importantly .... A significant reduction in the cost to victims.

One can see that the financial benefits will easily exceed $100 million

I am also pleased that Fresh Start has developed a new a programme which will be trailed in Canterbury. One of the major difficulties faced by the community is that many ex-offenders are sadly lacking in work skills, let alone work experience.

With the support of WINZ Community Employment, Fresh Start has decided to tackle that problem in addition to encouraging employers to apply a level playing field to ex-offenders seeking employment.

Smart Start is a New Zealand programme that is based upon the experience of Canadian and United States research which will give ex-offenders registering with Fresh Start greatly enhanced employment prospects.

This is an outstanding initiative and I want you to know that the Government fully supports the project.

I am sorry that time and other commitments prevent me today from joining you and some of your clients at Burnham Military Camp to participate in the confidence building aspect of Smart Start.

I am particularly pleased to add my support and endorsement for the work of Fresh Start - and the official launching of Fresh Start Southern.

The Government will be doing its bit to support the work of Fresh Start.

I urge all employers and all private financial institutions to join with us in supporting this outstanding community initiative."

The breakfast was attended by 164 persons.

The speech by Hon Bill English was delivered, on his behalf, by Junior Government Whip, Gerry Brownlee MP who advised that it had been faxed to him at 11 pm the previous evening when the Minister's wife was rushed to hospital where she gave birth to their sixth child - 10 days premature.

Among those who attended were MPs Leanne Dalzeil, Muriel Newman, Alec Neal, Ron Mark and Hon David Carter (Assoc Min of Education). ChCh Dist Councillor Carol Anderton represented the Alliance )


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