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Prison Reform Debate

Prison Reform Debate a “Symphony of Sound Bytes and Spin”.

Prison Fellowship National Director, Kim Workman believes that the public debate on prison reform has degenerated into a “symphony of sound bytes and spin”.

In a report released today on his recent visit to Europe with the Minister of Corrections, and Garth McVicar, of the Sensible Sentencing Trust, he comments on the debate following their return from overseas.

“It confirmed my earlier view that prison reform is too important an issue to be left to politicians. The debate has quickly degenerated into a symphony of sound bytes and spin. Comments were plucked out of context to create division.

We cannot rely on the political will to take this debate where it needs to go. The only way we can succeed, is to engage the whole community in structured debate and discussion. We need solutions and alternatives developed by New Zealanders for New Zealanders. Fifty-one per cent of the prison population is Maori, yet Maori have been notably absent from the wider public discussion. We need not only to have a rational discussion, but a national discussion.

Prison Fellowship supports the Salvation Army in its call for a multi-party accord. Part of that accord, should be government support for public discussion and debate. In summary, Prison Fellowship makes the following key points:

It is widely agreed that the penal system is not working as it should.

We have a record prison population but do not feel protected from crime. Prison has an apparently uncritical support from some sections of the media and public, yet large numbers of prisoners re-offend. Politicians view it as a popular policy response, despite its enormous financial and social cost.

Whatever your view of prison, we think there is a need for fresh thinking, new ideas and a much wider public debate. We believe that the government should fund and facilitate this debate.

2. Improving public understanding

The government should resource a structured process, to inform the public of the basic facts and debate with them about the nature of crime and punishment.

3. Fresh thinking about alternatives

One of our aims is to increase awareness of the alternatives to prison, and examine the most effective use of prison. We support projects which investigate and promote alternatives to prison such as restorative justice and other community penalties through campaigns, conferences and seminars, as well as through detailed research and reports.

4. Active involvement

Prison Fellowship supports approaches which actively involve members of the public in the criminal justice and penal system. The government needs to involve such groups as business leaders, magistrates, the families of offenders and community groups. We should also publicise the ways in which volunteers can get involved in the criminal justice system.

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