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Prison Policies a Recipe for Disaster

Prison Policies a Recipe for Disaster - Bring on a Royal Commission - Rethinking Crime and Punishment

"The current proposals to increase prison musters are a recipe for disaster" said Rethinking Crime and Punishment Director, Kim Workman. He has joined in the call for a Royal Commission of Inquiry to examine the philosophies and values of the criminal justice system.

"The Labour government increased the prison population by 50% over an eight year period. It resulted in a highly dysfunctional prison service. Prisoners were housed in shocking conditions, in Police Stations, courthouses, and in inhumane conditions. Prison staff were expected to warehouse prisoners in conditions which made rehabilitation and treatment impossible. The stress on staff was intolerable. Many excellent corrections officers resigned in disgust, and in some prisons, 40% of staff had less than two years experience. The public were treated to weekly media stories of prisoner abuse, corruption, and mismanagement.

"At one stage it looked as though the system would collapse, with the National opposition calling weekly for the Chief Executive's resignation. We were fortunate that the Chief Executive of Corrections was made of sterner stuff. The situation has stabilised, and the prison muster has remained at around 8000 for the last year. Drug treatment, work opportunity, education, rehabilitation and training has improved over that time."

"The only thing that remained stable over the last decade has been the crime rate. The one thing we know internationally is that efforts to increase the prison population have no discernable impact on the crime rate one way or the other, and no impact on the level of victimisation. It's simplistic and deceptive to claim otherwise."

"The introduction over the next 100 days of a range of punitive measures, in fulfilment of election promises, without adequate consultation or investigation and without any cost-benefit analysis, has not been well received by the public. They know that such measures are nothing more than an empty political gesture. They want to see a criminal justice strategy that is likely to bring a long term benefit to the nation, and that is integrated with policies to improve the social well being of all New Zealanders."

"Prisoner officers don't want it. They have had five years of working in a stressful, hostile environment and they don't need a repeat. The families of prisoners don't want it. They've witnessed family members coming out of prison more mentally disordered, more drug addicted, and more angry then when they went in. Victims don't want it. It is not in their interests to support a system that sends out offenders more likely to victimise once released. We can't believe that the government really want it. The measures proposed are most unlikely to reduce reoffending. "

"Where do we go from here? In his 2007 report, the Ombudsman Mel Smith, was so concerned about the nature of the criminal justice system that he recommended a Royal Commission should be set up not only to investigate the operational dysfunction, but to also to critically examine the philosophies and values that should guide its policies and practices into the future. That proposal was supported by the Sensible Sentencing Trust at the time, and more recently by the Maori Party. It certainly has our support. "

"Anything would be better than the scatter gun approach currently being advanced by the government."


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