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Offender Rehabilitation Should Occur Outside Prison

Offender Rehabilitation Should Occur Outside Prison

27th June 2014

Rethinking Crime and Punishment’s Kim Workman, and Sensible Sentencing Trust’s Garth McVicar, have finally found common ground – both agree that prison is not an ideal place to rehabilitate offenders.

Kim Workman says, “I can only recall a couple of occasions in the last eight years when Garth and I haveagreed on an issue – and when that happens it usually suggests there is wide public support for the view. Sure enough, a recent Ministry of Justice survey showed that the public were twice as likely to favour community based rehabilitation over rehabilitation programmes in prison. In the same survey only 5% agreed that prisons acted as a deterrent.”

McVicar and Workman have both responded favourably to Justspeak’s report ‘Unlocking Prisons’,which devotes a chapter on whether rehabilitation should be community –based or in prisons. The report acknowledges the efforts of Corrections to provide prison-based rehabilitation but comes to an evidence-based conclusion that there needs to be a greater investment in community based rehabilitation, with offenders being referred for meaningful rehabilitation earlier in their offending career. Community rehabilitation is a fraction of the cost and more effective, especially if provided when the offender is more likely to respond to treatment.”

Kim Workman comments, “Politicians and policy advisers need to visit their local District Courts, and talk to those offenders who engage in a constant cycle of low-level offending. About 80% of them have significant drug and alcohol dependency, and half that number have diagnosable mental health issues. Many of them at that stage, are motivated to undergo rehabilitation, but cannot access community based treatment. The judiciary know that prison is not in their best interests, but are hampered by the lack of community based treatment facilities. These offenders go without treatment and re-offend, until they reach a point where prison is the only response available to the Judge.”

“The Hon Anne Tolley, on the same day of the ‘Unlocking Prisons’ report, issued a media release, pointing out that there has been a 1500 per cent increase in places on drug and alcohol treatment programmes for prisoners since 2008. That is true, but the availability of residential drug treatment places in the community has remained static over that period. We now have a situation where the judiciary are more likely to sentence an offender to prison, because it is the only place where they can receive adequate drug and alcohol treatment.”

“I recall being chastised by the Hon Damien O’Connor in 2008, then Minister of Corrections for urging greater cooperation between Corrections and the Health Sector over the lack of community treatment services. It was Damien who started the push to develop drug treatment programmes in prison, and even then there was a stark imbalance between prison and community based treatment.

“We have now reached a tipping point. It is a classic ‘Field of Dreams’ scenario – “create the treatment units, and the Judges will refer”. In the same period we have created only two Drug Courts – probably because there are so few community treatment places to which offenders can receive help.”

The outcome of all this is that we are criminalising medical conditions. As criminologist Loic Waquant puts it, “for people who cannot afford rehabilitative treatment, the prison operates as a judicial garbage disposal into which the human refuse of the market society are thrown”.

Justspeak “Unlocking Prisons – How we can Improve New Zealand’s Prison System’ www.justspeak.org.nz
Anne Tolley: Media Release: Re-imprisonment rate shows significant decline. 24 June 2014


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