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More Prisons Not the Only Answer

Monday 5 July 2004

More Prisons Not the Only Answer

Dealing with crime and criminals without working with those most at risk of entering the prison system won't solve the problem says one Christchurch support agency.

Christchurch based the Family Help Trust works closely with "at risk" children in "high risk" families. They say there must be as much, if not more, emphasis placed on effective, intensive early intervention programmes.

"We operate very successfully as the barrier at the top of the cliff, we should not be focusing on more ambulances at the bottom without supporting the prevention part of the equation," says FHT Clinical Services Manager, Bill Pringle. "It is important to also stem the flow of criminals into the system; prevention is better than cure."

It's not a new idea - the Roper Report in 1987 and more recent research* has identified that early childhood intervention is one of the keys to lowering New Zealand's rates of crime and childhood abuse.

"The Roper Report found that 80% of all violence was family based or in the home and identified family violence as "the cradle for the perpetration of violence and crime in the community"," says Mr Pringle.

Early intervention and prevention is the key to the success of the Trust's work and the amazing outcomes they have seen over the years in the families.

"We work with a family in their own home for up to five years. The child is our "client" and we work with the families to break the cycle of violence, abuse and crime so that these children learn from their parents there is another way. They will then teach their children and so on," says Mr Pringle.

Respected American Criminologist, Dr Ronald Huff says, "Given that youth violence is often related to early aggression, prevention programmes should target the family context to prevent the development of early childhood aggression."

This is what Family Help Trust does. The families are referred by the prison and corrections service as well as other appropriate community agencies, for example, pregnant women are referred by GP's and Midwives.

Mr Pringle says Dr Don Brash's suggestions should not be completely discounted but solving the escalating problem with crime, abuse and violence needs to be balanced by dealing with criminals in the system and helping to stem the flow of young people into the system.

"Not enough is being done in the area of early intervention. It's not only a matter of commonsense but research and outcomes also support the importance of prevention and working with families to break the cycle," he says.


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