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Courageous politicians needed to reform prisons

Thursday 23rd February 2006

Ethically courageous politicians needed to reform prisons

Politicians across the political spectrum are being called on to show ethical courage and sign up to a multi-party accord that would stop the issue of crime and punishment being a political football.

In a report on prison and re-offending released today, The Salvation Army made a number of recommendations including the development of a multi-party agreement to deal with issues of crime and punishment in a non-partisan way.

"New Zealand has the second highest rate of imprisonment in the developed world. As fast as we build prisons the beds are full. Yet reports world-wide show that prison does not deter crime or re-offending," said Major Campbell Roberts, Director of The Salvation Army's Social Policy and Parliamentary Unit.

The Salvation Army report, Beyond the Holding Tank: pathways to rehabilitative and restorative prison policy, shows that the majority of inmates in New Zealand prisons are young, male, of European or Maori ethnicity, have low levels of education, and are likely to be suffering from drug and alcohol addiction and/or a mental health problem. Yet, the report says, our prison system offers very little by way of rehabilitation, with drug and alcohol, specialist psychological and vocational programmes available only to a very small minority.

"Our prison system is doomed to failure because it does not deal with the underlying causes of offending," said Major Roberts.

The Salvation Army's report cites evidence that shows that less than one third of inmates are in employment and most of these are involved in low skilled activity for only a few hours per day. In terms of drug and alcohol addiction although the Department of Corrections estimates that this is a factor in the offending of 73% of inmates, only 4% of inmates who are addicted are offered formal drug and alcohol rehabilitation each year.

"If we want inmates to stop offending and not be a further risk to society upon release, then we need to do more than contain them while in prison. Getting tough on crime, longer and longer sentences might sound good but in fact they are 'do nothing' choices," commented Major Roberts.

"Emotions will always play a part in any discussion of crime and punishment, but our politicians should be leading us beyond rhetoric, not encouraging it. Let us have reasoned, researched debate about positive ideas. If we don't then as a society we are doomed to spending more and more money on failed holding tanks. Prisons don't make us safer, they just makes us poorer ? in every way. It is time for some principled, courageous leadership to turn prisons around," concluded Major Roberts.


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