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Church leaders call for review of criminal justice system

Church leaders call for review of criminal justice system

This move follows a remark by the Deputy Prime Minister, Bill English, that “prisons are a fiscal and moral failure.”

Archbishops David Moxon and Brown Turei – along with the Anglican Social Justice Commissioner, the Rev Dr Anthony Dancer – fully agree with Mr English’s view.

And they suggest politicians can build on Mr English’s remarks by:
• Setting up a criminal justice commission to provide independent advice to the government;
• Taking a non-political, bi-partisan approach to those issues;
• Systematically investigating alternatives to jail, such as restorative justice.

Mr English told the Families Commission ‘Critical Thinker’s Forum’ in Wellington on May 11 that when he arrived as Minister of Finance he was advised that the country had to build “several thousand new prison beds”.
But he told the forum that “prisons are a fiscal and moral failure, and building more of them on a large scale is something no New Zealander wants to see.”

They want safe communities, he said. They want protection from criminal behaviour “but they don’t want to be a prison colony…”

Mr English, who is also Minister of Finance, also noted that maintaining and expanding prisons “is the fastest rising cost in government in the last decade”.
He said the government was seeking to understand what happens from the time a 17-year-old “with a bit much to drink” first encounters the police – through to the time that same person, now an older, serious offender, gets spat out the other end of a law-and-order pipeline with a 15-year jail sentence.

“…that process is full of decisions made without understanding the implications, costs that could be reduced or avoided (and) inefficiencies that waste money but also invoke disrespect…”

In their call for a review of the criminal justice system, the Anglican leaders also draw attention to a paper released last year by mainstream churches, called Reducing Fiscal Pressures in the Justice System .
The introduction to this paper says:

“The New Zealand criminal justice system is currently facing a watershed moment in its history. The criminal justice policies of the past 10 years have produced a situation that is no longer socially or economically sustainable. The prospect of spending an additional $1b in the criminal justice system over the next four years is more than this nation can currently contemplate.

“Over the past 10 years, our prison population has increased by 53.5%. Penal policies over the past two decades have created a prison system that is too big to fail . To keep it safe and in good working order requires constant feeding – taking essential resources from other Government agencies – and interventions to more effectively prevent offending or reoffending. Yet our prison system is still unable to provide the focused interventions that are needed. It is therefore also a system that is too big to succeed .”

The Archbishops and Dr Dancer say that a criminal justice commission could look at innovative approaches to justice, including alternatives to imprisonment.
“For example, restorative justice, supported by the judiciary, has demonstrated positive outcomes for offenders and their families/whanau.

“We know that prisons do not work for all offenders and that incarceration does not deter. Longer sentences do not mean a reduction in reoffending; rather they increase the likelihood of reoffending.

“We need a criminal justice system that reduces criminal behaviour and offending from an early age.

“We want victims of crime to feel honoured, heard and respected and to see that justice is being done. We also want people and communities to feel safe and empowered to hold people accountable for their actions.”

The church leaders support a statement by the Director of the Rethinking Crime and Punishment project, Kim Workman, that the criminal justice system “should be principled, pragmatic, evidence-based, cost-effective, efficient and outcomes-based.”

Such a system will not be achieved without political courage, the leaders add.


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