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SMC Bulletin - Can we fix our prisons?

Can we fix our prisons?
Building new prisons won't fix the problem with New Zealand's justice system, instead, we need to focus on prevention and early intervention, according to a new report from the Office of the Prime Minister's Chief Science Advisor.

The report comes while the government decides whether or not it will build a new 3000-bed prison in Waikeria, despite promising to reduce the prison population by 30 per cent within the next 15 years.
Over the past 30 years, prison costs in New Zealand have risen steadily, with the Government now spending $100,000 on each prisoner per year. This is in part due to high imprisonment numbers: our prison population is one of the highest in the OECD, but our crime rates are actually dropping.
The Prime Minister's Chief Science Advisor Sir Peter Gluckman blames successive governments focus on "dogma not data" for our bulging prisons, when they should have been focusing on evidence to drive prison policy.
The report's lead author, Justice Sector Science Advisor Associate Professor Ian Lambie explained on TVNZ's Breakfast: "the 'tough on crime' rhetoric really doesn't work and I think what we need to do is get 'smart on crime' and more intelligent". Dr Lambie promotes an evidence-based approach to rehabilitation — using science to understand the best way to help people in the system.
"Generally, prisons don't work," he told Radio NZ. Instead, he advocates money set aside for prisons is reallocated to early intervention strategies tackling education and mental needs in communities. Evidence from countries around the world shows that focusing resources on mental health needs and crime prevention not only makes communities safer, but also reduces incarceration rates in a more cost-effective way than waiting to rehabilitate people once they are in prison.
On Stuff, Justice Minister Andrew Little said the Government "would look at - right from young offending - early interventions, and then what we do with people who do wind up in prison so that they're spending less time there".

The report is available on the PMCSA website.

Quoted: Newsroom
"It’s not the customer's responsibility. They should be able to trust the advice they get in a pharmacy."

Society for Science-based Healthcare chair Mark Hanna
on changes to the Pharmacy Council's code of ethics, which now requires pharmacists to inform customers if a product has no evidence of efficacy.

Farewell to Peter Griffin
The SMC's Founding Director says goodbye after nearly a decade at the helm.

Former and current staff of the Science Media Centre gathered to farewell outgoing Director Peter Griffin at Royal Society Te Apārangi this week.

Nearly a decade ago, against a backdrop of relentless newsrooms cutbacks and unprecedented change in the media, Peter laid out his vision to make the Science Media Centre the “pre-eminent, independent source of news leads, resources and information" for journalists covering science and technology in New Zealand.

It would not only respond to media demand, but take a proactive role in setting the agenda for discussion of science-related issues. It would offer a “single portal for journalists to access the right, quotable people quickly”.

Under Peter’s leadership, the SMC has done all these things and more. It has secured a solid reputation for relevance, responsiveness, quality content and accessibility. It has broadened the network of media savvy researchers who are ready and able to engage with journalists on an impressive range of topics.

We have been overwhelmed by expressions of support and appreciation from scientists, journalists and communications professionals in the run up to Peter’s departure. They've called his tenure "transformational", reflected on his role as "champion for science and evidence" and heralded a "new era of science journalism" in New Zealand characterised by a "productive ecosystem of mutual respect and information sharing".

I’m thrilled and honoured to have the opportunity to carry on that legacy. Thanks, Peter, for your vision and your incredible energy in seeing it through.
- Dacia Herbulock, Director, SMC

Possible tool for superbug battle
A new family of antibiotics could help knock down drug-resistant bacteria, according to a study done in mice.

The new group of antibiotic compounds were able to kill particular cells of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) that are usually unaffected by common forms of antibiotics. The study was published today in Nature.

University of Auckland microbiologist Associate Professor Siouxsie Wiles said the study described "what could one day turn into a new class of antibiotics, which is exciting news given the catastrophic future we face due to antibiotic-resistant 'superbugs'".

"But let’s not get too excited just yet. While the press release leads with the claim that the new compounds can kill MRSA in infected mice, a closer look at the actual data shows that this claim might not quite mean what people think it means. The antibiotics reduced the number of MRSA in the mice from about 1 billion to 50 million, which is still plenty of bacteria!"

University of Otago infectious disease specialist Professor Kurt Krause said while vancomycin remained the main antibiotic to tackle MRSA, "with the continual risk of the development of more vancomycin-insensitive S. aureus ... new drugs against staph and other Gram-positive pathogens are badly needed".

Massey University's Dr Heather Hendrickson said while the new molecules weren't "ready for the big time yet", it was promising the degree to which the bacteria had remained susceptible, but without developing resistance to the retinoids, which mimic Vitamin A and work through membrane disruption.

"Membranes are an interesting target for antibacterial compounds because they act as both the battery, or power source, and the boundary of these cells are hard for bacteria to fix through mutation," she said.

The SMC gathered expert reaction to the study.

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