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Bill Before Select Committee Will Increase Crime

[06:00am 23/09/2016] - For Immediate Use
No Pride in Prisons

Prison Sociologist: Bill Before Select Committee Will Increase Crime, Imprisonment and Child Poverty

No Pride in Prisons says that a current bill before the Social Services Select Committee will lead to higher rates of crime, victimisation, imprisonment and child poverty.

“The Social Security (Stopping Benefit Payments for Offenders who Repeatedly Fail to Comply with Community Sentences) Amendment Bill, a member’s bill introduced by Mark Mitchell, utterly fails to fulfil its purpose,” says No Pride in Prisons spokesperson and University of Auckland Prison Sociologist Ti Lamusse.

“The supposed reason for introducing this bill was to reduce the number of people who end up before the court because of a breach in their community-based sentence obligations. However, in effect it will lead to more crime and more people being imprisoned.”

As the bill currently stands, it would give the Department of Corrections the power to instruct Work and Income to reduce or entirely suspend a person’s benefit, if they are on a community-based sentence and they have not followed the instructions of their probation officer.

“As we’ve seen with the current set of sanctions Work and Income imposes on beneficiaries, Work and Income often, through bureaucratic incompetence, unfairly or without warning sanctions people,” says Lamusse.

“Sometimes people have had their benefit cut by WINZ by accident or because they have not been provided with meaningful notice that they may be sanctioned. This suggests that the implementation of the bill will be similarly adhoc and unjust.”

No Pride in Prisons is concerned that, if the new sanctions are introduced, they will have serious impacts on the lives of those affected.

“A similar measure in the US, where people convicted of drug offences were prevented from accessing welfare, had disastrous effects. As a result of these reforms, people often went for days at a time without food, were more likely to be homeless and develop drug and alcohol addictions. If people have their entire benefit cut in New Zealand, as was done in the US, we can expect a similar explosion in the rate of severe poverty.”

The group argues that the bill will also worsen child poverty. “We estimate that there are tens of thousands of children whose guardians are currently serving a community-based sentence and are receiving a benefit. Given that the current level of financial support for beneficiaries leaves more than half of children of beneficiaries in severe or substantial poverty, cutting a child’s caregiver’s primary income will only make that child more vulnerable.”

“This bill will lead to an increase in the number of children living in poverty.”

No Pride in Prisons’ analysis of the US-equivalent of this bill suggests that the bill will also lead to an increase rate of crime.

“US data suggests that preventing someone from being able to access welfare increases the likelihood that they will commit more crime.”

“When you have limited opportunities to find employment, because you have a criminal conviction history, and the government won’t give you any money, you have to find some other way to support yourself or your family. For many people that may involve theft, fraud or engagement in illegal employment.”

“This bill will effectively force more people to commit crime in order to survive.”

“Contrary to the aim of the bill, it will end up with more people before the courts, acting out of desperation just to feed and house themselves and their kids.”

No Pride in Prisons unreservedly opposes this bill and has written a Select Committee submission, outlining its concerns. That submission can be viewed here. No Pride in Prisons encourages members of the public to also write a submission against the bill.

No Pride in Prisons has written a template submission which can be found here.

Submissions close September 28.


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