More than 20,000 people spend time in New Zealand prisons every year and most are excluded from rehabilitation programmes. Being illiterate is one of the excluding criteria. Those on short sentences are also excluded. However, the largest cohort of prisoners prevented from attending are those on remand awaiting trial or sentencing. 14,000 New Zealanders end up in this situation every year – some for just a few weeks, others for years.
British research on remand prisoners: There are very good reasons to start rehabilitation while offenders are on remand. British research has found that remand prisoners tend to experience very high levels of social deprivation. They are five times more likely than sentenced prisoners to have lived in a hostel prior to imprisonment and are less likely to have had a job. They also have higher levels of drug dependency.
In 2005, Britain’s Home Affairs Committee produced a report on rehabilitation issues and recommended that:
“Remand prisoners should undergo a needs assessment on reception to prison, including mandatory drug testing, and the Prison Service should develop a separate prison regime tailored to meet their specific needs. This regime should include a short induction programme, education and work opportunities and drug and alcohol treatment programmes, with arrangements in place for continuation of treatment and programmes in the community…
“Time in prison can offer a window of opportunity to start to change. These measures are especially relevant to remand and short-term prisoners, because they are more likely to be in prison for drug-motivated crimes, and treatment is more urgent because they will be released sooner”.
New Zealand research: There is little research in New Zealand on the level of drug abuse and social exclusion experienced by prisoners on remand. But the thrust of the argument made by the British Home Affairs Committee applies equally well in New Zealand. Since 80% of crime is committed under the influence of alcohol or drugs, the average remand prisoner is highly likely to have problems with substance abuse. They often have unstable accommodation and are sometimes remanded in prison simply because they have nowhere to live.
We even build prisons especially for them. Earlier this year, the Corrections Department spent $218 million on a brand new prison in Mt Eden with nearly 1,000 beds – just to accommodate remand prisoners in Auckland. Although it houses up to 1,000 prisoners at a time, many more will spend time there in the course of a year. Not one of them will be allowed to attend a rehabilitation programme.