United Future’s Peter Dunne has just thrashed out an agreement with Prime Minister John Key whereby Mr Dunne retains his role as associate Minister of Health and National will implement a number of United Future’s policies. Among those policies is one I have been advocating for some time – that the Parole Board should be given an alcohol and drug assessment on all prisoners appearing before the Board.
Currently this doesn’t happen which means the Parole Board is ‘flying blind’. This was a comment on the problem by the Head of the Parole Board, Judge David Carruthers. It became the title of my new book: Flying Blind – How the justice system perpetuates crime and the Corrections Department fails to correct.
Flying Blind points out that section 43 of the Parole Act requires the Department to provide “copies of all relevant information relating to the offender’s current and previous convictions” but that the Corrections Department has been ignoring this requirement for years. The book identifies the lack of alcohol and drug assessments on parolees as one the systemic failures of the Corrections Department which contributes to New Zealand’s high rate of recidivism. On page 141, it says:
“The failure to comply with section 43 is a serious omission which compromises the Board’s ability to keep the community safe. It means that prisoners are frequently released without attending substance abuse treatment in prison or on release, because the Board was not told that alcohol or drugs were involved in their offending.”
Flying Blind documents a number of other systemic failures by the Corrections Department to assist prisoners reintegrate back into the community. One of these is the lack of addiction treatment agencies in the community who will take offenders from prison. One has to ask: What is the point of assessing prisoners coming up for release when there are so few treatment programmes available in the community that will take them?
This is all part of the appalling lack of accommodation and support which is available when prisoners are released. Most of those who end up in prison have been the victims of dysfunctional families and all kinds of adversity in their childhood. There’s not much point in putting offenders through rehabilitation in prison but then not providing them with extensive support on release. In a press release, Mr Brooking said:
“That’s like expecting a man with two broken legs to start walking if you put a plaster cast on just one leg. It’s totally unrealistic – because both legs need fixing. If prisoners go back to the same alcohol and drug filled environment they came from, no amount of rehabilitation in prison is going to make any difference. The real problem is a lack of accommodation, halfway houses, treatment facilities and professional support in the community.”