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High imprisonment rates increase cost without reducing crime

High imprisonment rates increase cost without reducing crime

The UK National Audit office’s comparative study of International Justice Systems ranks New Zealand badly in comparison to all similar countries except the United States. Kim Workman, Director of Rethinking Crime and Punishment, says the result sends an important message to government.

“One of the Prime Minister’s ten key results is the reduction of crime, and reducing the long term cost drivers generated by our law and order system. What the UK report is telling us is that we won’t get any significant crime reduction unless at the same time, we have a strategy in place to reduce imprisonment levels.

“We need to understand that imprisonment is the most punitive, the most expensive, and the most ineffective of all sentencing options. There is a small group that should be in prison for reasons of public safety. However, if the government wants to reduce crime in a cost effective way, sending more people to prison is a poor choice, because:

1. There is no evidence that imprisonment acts as a deterrent)

2. There is evidence that imprisonment is criminogenic, i.e. causes crime,)

3. For young people, prior incarceration (including remand) is a more accurate predictor of recidivism than gang membership or poor parental control;

4. There is no evidence that on average prison is more cost-effective at preventing re-offending than community sentences
The 1999 imprisonment level of 150 per 100,000 is achievable. It is just below the current imprisonment level in England and Wales (152) , but above that of Australia (134) It represents a 25% decrease in our present prison population, and a potential annual saving of $200m in operating costs alone. Key areas of focus should be:

1. Reducing the number of persons sentenced to prison for short sentences;

2. Reducing the number of minor offenders remanded in custody;

3. Conducting a systems review into the level of Maori over-representation in the criminal justice system

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