Treat Prisons as a Cause of Crime
Want to Reduce Reoffending? – Treat Prisons as a Cause of Crime!
Embargoed until 10.30am, 14/0313
“The Government’s target to reduce reoffending by 25% by 2017, will not be achieved without a major paradigm shift. Instead of regarding prison as a place of punishment and rehabilitation, we need to recognise that prison is a major cause of crime.”
In a speech to Avalon Probus, Kim Workman, spokesperson for Rethinking Crime and Punishment. said “We need another target – a 25% reduction in the imprisonment rate. That can best be achieved by changes in sentencing policy.
“That may sound extreme – but if achieved it would bring New Zealand down to the same level as the UK – at around 150 prisoners per 100,000 population. A 33% reduction would mean that we are imprisoning offenders at the same level as Australia.”
“The Government’s ‘Reducing Crime and Reoffending Plan’ is one of the most ambitious and innovative crime strategies I can recall. Combined efforts of the criminal justice sector are already bringing good results. As at June 2012, the crime rate was down by 6%, violent crime by 7%, youth crime by 4%”.
“However, rates of reoffending have remained static over recent years. According to the Ministry of Justice, the rate at which people leaving prison are re-imprisoned and their recidivism rate has remained virtually unchanged over recent years. Recent reductions are marginal. The reality is that the prison experience often turns offenders toward criminal activity, and in many cases, increases the likelihood of reoffending.”
“Many people fear that reducing the numbers sent to prison will increase crime and threaten public safety. The evidence shows otherwise. In the United States, 29 states reduced their imprisonment rates over the past five years, and the crime rate went down in all but three of them. For example in 2007, long before the economic crisis, Texas put a halt to its prison construction boom and invested $240 million in treatment and diversion programs. The results have been dramatic: State taxpayers have avoided nearly $2 billion in new prison spending, and the parole failure rate is down 39 percent since 2007. Meanwhile, the state-wide crime rate has fallen back to levels not seen since the 1960s.”
“In California, on Election Day, 69 percent of voters approving a ballot measure scaling back the state’s once-popular three-strikes law. Polls show that Americans are strongly in favour of such change, fed up with the prison revolving door and ready for it to stop. Large majorities support shifting more low-level offenders from prison to mandatory supervision, and they back specific measures, such as trimming the prison portion of sentences to ensure that offenders undergo a period of transitional community supervision.”
“In New Zealand, reductions in imprisonment levels could be achieved by alternative sentencing for low level repeat offenders, shifts in sentencing policy for drug possession, and the development of prisoner reintegration strategies which encourages the Parole Board to release prisoners earlier, on proof of enhanced community and social support.”
US, the recent downturn in the prison population and shift
to proven alternatives is not merely a function of tight
fiscal times, but rather a signal that evidence-based
policy change can continue even when budget pressures ease.
There is no reason why New Zealand could not follow that
example, and achieve even better