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Community groups support Inquiry

Community groups support Royal Commission of Inquiry into Criminal Justice Sector

Influential community leaders support the Ombudsmans call for a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Criminal Justice Sector.

The Ombudsmans report is comprehensive, and the conclusion he comes to is supported by a thorough analysis of the current criminal justice sector and its shortcomings, said Rev Dr Anthony Dancer, Social Justice Commissioner for the Anglican Church. Given Mr Mel Smiths many years experience in the criminal justice sector, I am sure he did not come to that view lightly. I am particularly hopeful such a review might acknopwledge the relational nature of domestic violence, and develop more appropriate legal mechanisms for dealing with it.

That view was echoed by Major Campbell Roberts, of the Salvation Army. The criminal justice sector is in a state of near crisis. The forecast budget of $2.7 billion for 2007-8 is not a cost the country can sustain without a critical examination of the systems shortcomings, and the development of a long term strategic approach that will reduce the economic cost, and produce a better result.

Mr Mike Smith, of Caritas, (the Catholic Agency for Justice, Peace and Development) described the criminal justice sector as a system under seige. We understand it is characterised by poor morale, staff recruitment and retention problems, all of which impacts adversely on the effectiveness and efficiency of the justice sector. This adds to its huge financial cost. It is clear that a new approach is required.

Greg Fleming, of the Maxim Institute, agrees with the difficulty of having a rational public debate on issues of crime and justice. Unless we can move out of the tough, conservative vs soft, liberal paradigm, we will never be able to develop an
approach to crime and justice which effectively addresses a balance between crime prevention, public safety and offender rehabilitation. We need the independent forum of a Royal Commission, so all New Zealanders, regardless of their views, can contribute to the development of an effective criminal justice strategy.

Kim Workman, of Prison Fellowship New Zealand, believes unless New Zealanders start addressing the underlying issues which contribute to the creation of crime and youth offending, and set in place an overall strategy which addresses those issues, we are doomed to continue with a justice system characterised by a dangerous underclass and a group of people who are disproportionately victimised.

He goes on to note that there have been some promising recent developments in such areas as child abuse, family violence and youth offending. We need to re-invest the criminal justice dollar so that it produces more bang for the buck. We cannot sustain the capital injection necessary to build more prisons for a rapidly declining return on our investment.

A Royal Commission of Inquiry will provide this nation with an opportunity to take a breather and rethink our approach. Mr Workman was also pleased to note Marc Alexander of the Sensible Sentencing Trust supports the proposal for a Royal Commission.

All those commenting are members of the Rethinking Crime and Punishment project.


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