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Has your MP been in prison?

Has your MP been in prison?
Wellington Howard League, Wednesday 16 January 2019

In November 2018 the Wellington Howard League surveyed all Members of Parliament regarding whether or not they had visited a New Zealand prison.

"The idea behind the survey was that relevant and meaningful reform of the criminal justice system will depend on informed MPs, and part of this will include knowledge of what New Zealand prisons are like." said Christine McCarthy, President of the Wellington Howard League. "Visiting prisons and talking to prisoners is a good first step in an MP's understanding of what being in prison means" she continued.

The survey also asked whether MPs knew about their right to visit prisons and included the relevant section of the Corrections Act.

"We wanted to make sure that all MPs are aware that they are entitled to visit any of New Zealand's prisons. The results suggest that most MPs do know this, and taking part in the survey ensures that - for those others who didn't - they definitely know about their right to do so now." McCarthy said.

"Sadly not all MPs responded to the survey and if most of those we didn't hear from are yet to visit a prison, then the outlook for robust penal reform is particularly discouraging. Given this possibility, we strongly urge the Department of Corrections and the Minister to proactively encourage all MPs to exercise their right to visit our prisons. We especially encourage those MPs who didn't participate to visit at least one prison this coming year and talk to the prisoners there."

The Wellington Howard League thanks all the parliamentarians who took the time to answer the survey.

Survey Results Summary
The survey asked five questions regarding visiting prisons. The first was to find out whether or not MPs know that they are legally entitled to visit any of New Zealand's 19 prisons. Three-quarters of the MPs who responded knew of this right, and 86% of these MPs had visited a NZ prison. The number of times that MPs had visited a prison varied greatly, with Louise Upston topping the list answering that she had visited prisons an estimated 30 times. Most MPs (54%) had visited a prison under 5 times, and 72% had visited a prison in the last decade, with half of these MPs having visited a prison in the last five years. 84% had talked to prisoners when they visited prisons.

This sounds like MPs have a proactive interest in New Zealand prisons, but only a quarter of MPs returned completed surveys.
There was a poor response from party leadership. Marama Davidson and David Seymour were the only party leaders to respond.
There was a poor response from MPs with Corrections responsibilities. New Zealand First's Darroch Ball, and ACT's David Seymour were the only Party Spokespeople with a Corrections portfolio to reply, though many former Ministers of Correction (Judith Collins, Anne Tolley and Louise Upston) replied.
Only three of the eight members of the Justice Select Committee engaged with the survey (Mark Mitchell, Greg O'Connor and Duncan Webb).

There was a significantly better response of 50% from MPs who have prisons in their general electorates (namely: Amy Adams, Harete Hipango, Matt King, Greg O'Connor, Chris Penk, Louise Upston, and Louisa Wall). The size of the Māori electorates mean that they all include at least one prison. Penni Henare was the only MP for a Māori electorate who engaged with the survey.

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