Open letter to Gerry Brownlee – and his little piece of Finland

Dear Gerry,

Thank you for comparing New Zealand to Finland and bringing these remarkable differences between our two countries into the open.  Professor John Pratt, a criminologist at Victoria University has been making similar comparisons for years – but no one seems to listen. That’s a shame because Prof Pratt is recognised by those in his field as a world authority on the subject.

What’s more, Prof Pratt actually knows what he’s talking about.  He’s been to Finland, undertaken extensive research and written numerous articles and books on the subject – so if you want to make another speech about Finland, perhaps he could help you out.

Here’s something Prof Pratt could tell you.

In 1950, the Finns had an imprisonment rate of 187 inmates per 100,000 of population. New Zealand’s rate in 1950 was less than a third of that – at 56 inmates per 100,000.  In the latter half of the 20th century, the Finns became concerned that they were out of line with their more civilised Scandinavian neighbours, which had low rates of imprisonment. This led to dramatic changes in penal policy, as a result of which the number of people in prison slowly began to drop.  By 2001, the rate was down to only 40 people per 100,000 – an extraordinary reduction of 78% in the prison population.

During the same 50 years, New Zealandwent in the opposite direction. In 2001, instead of being three times less, our rate of imprisonment was three times higher than Finland’s – at 150 inmates per 100,000.  Since then, the New Zealand rate has continued to grow and in November 2011, the figure was at an all-time high of 199 per 100,000.  During this time we’ve had to build five new prisons – and even put prisoners into shipping containers.

How did the Finns manage to reduce their prison population?  Commenting on the Finns’ success, Prof Pratt wrote:

“Key people in that society – people who actually knew something about penal policy and the consequences of imprisonment: academics, judges and senior civil servants – felt that the high prison population was shameful”.

In New Zealand, the media (and the politicians) mostly seem to consult Garth McVicar – a self-proclaimed cow cocky from Napier with no qualifications in psychology, sociology, criminology or anything else remotely connected with penal policy.  No wonder our prisons are overflowing and your government is going to build another one at Wiri – with $900 million of our money.

Ironically, your Government has also announced a reduction in reoffending as one of its ten key goals. If you’re serious about that – go to Finland and see for yourself.  Anne Tolley went – and now she’s the Minister of Corrections.  The two of you could compare notes.  And another thing – Finland has the most comprehensive victim compensation system in the world.  You could take Garth McVicar with you. He might learn something about helping victims instead of spouting off about locking up more and more people.

So my advice, Gerry, is give Prof Pratt a call on your Nokia – on your little bit of Finland. You might learn something about how to reduce reoffending, help victims and save the country billions in prison costs.

14 thoughts on “Open letter to Gerry Brownlee – and his little piece of Finland

    1. very true, except if you do go to Finland Mr Brownlee, and you do take Garth Mcvicar with you, maybe you could leave him there. would certainly be better for this country.

      The scare tactics Mr McVicar uses, only fuel the fire of those uninformed. The Fins have a solution and we could so easily adopt and improve on the idea. How about when we put someone away, they actually get paid to work, on the outside, they go out each day and work at a meaningful job, their wages are taken and to support their families, pay reparation to victims, and towards their board, this would cut down on a lot of cost on the Government.

      they would not have freedom, as they are still a prisoner and would still be subject to the same rights they have now, which is almost none.
      Some may even learn new skills and if possible gain qualifications or qualify for an apprenticeship, so upon their release they can find employment, something that some can not do at present. This would allow them to support the family and give them something worthwhile to do, instead of being reliant on the system of this country. Thus becoming dependent, depressed, oppressed and institutionalized. maybe they would not re offend because they have a meaning for life.


  1. Pratt says, “How did the Finns manage to reduce their prison population?” and then carries on and does not tell us. Perhaps he’s all bluster and doesn’t have any facts to support his spurious arguement.
    Maybe Pratt hasn’t worked out that a high imprisonment rate is actually caused by people breaking the law. Prison in NZ is voluntary, 95% of us will never be locked up, 5% unfortunately need to be stopped from harming the 95%. Sad but true.


    1. Mr Pratt’s evidence speaks for itself. What it says is that we don’t have to accept our increasing rates of crime or imprisonment. There’s other ways besides $900m prisons and Finland might be able to help.


    2. Why don’t you click on some of the links in the article and do a little bit of research for yourself…then you can make an honest and informed decision.


  2. Jock, You could try reading this. Pratt, John and Clark, Marie, ‘Penal populism in New Zealand’, Punishment and Society, 7, 3, (2005), pp. 303-322. There wasn’t room to fit the details in the letter. The rate at which society locks people up imprisonment is driven by penal populism not crime.

    According to wikipedia, penal populism is a process whereby the major political parties compete with each other to be ‘tough on crime’. It is generally associated with a public perception that crime is out of control and tends to manifest at general elections when politicians put forward hard-line policies which would remand more offenders into prison prior to sentencing and impose longer sentences. Penal populism generally reflects the disenchantment felt by a distinct segment of society – crime victims and their representatives – who believe they have been left out, or simply forgotten, by justice processes which focus on the offender. It leads to the pursuit of penal policies designed to win votes rather than reduce crime or promote justice.


  3. “What’s more, Prof Pratt actually knows what he’s talking about.”

    It’s a pity he doesn’t know how to rehabilitate anyone.

    “Another one bites the dust: New Zealand’s latest experiment in criminal rehabilitation”. Associate Professor Greg Newbold, School of Sociology and Anthropology
    Since 1910, New Zealand has been engaged in a constant search to find a method of rehabilitating criminals that really works.
    This paper is taken from his most recent book, ‘The Problem of Prisons’, which is a comprehensive review of the New Zealand prison system and its litany of failed attempts to rehabilitate criminals.


    1. So Kevin, I’m guessing you would rather we should be listening to L Ron Hubbard rather than a Sociologist when it comes to criminal rehabilitation?

      After all you are the same Kevin Owen who spams scientology rubbish around the NZ internetsphere?


  4. Kevin Owen: Newbold’s book is a criticism of the futility of correctional reform and in particular, the ineffectiveness of prisons to reduce or halt offending. It’s not about rehabilitation. He describes some of those reforms as attempts to rehabilitate but from the standpoint of criminal justice psychology, his book is not an evaluation rehabilitative treatments. Rather, he is evaluating correctional modifications that have taken place over the years such as ‘corrective training’, ‘periodic detention’,’ short sentences’, long sentences’ ,‘borstal training’, and various ‘employment-related programmes’ and so on. Newbold gives very little (if any) attention to the rehabilitation treatement which are have been delivered over the last 30 years or so and which I might add, have been very effective at reducing recidivism. Newbold is a Sociologist not a criminal justice Psychologist and hence, he simply does not have sufficient knowledge of correctional rehabilitation and “what works” literature. Having said all that, Newbold’s book: “The Problem of Prison” is a good overview of the failure of prisons to reduce crime and offending. However, it should not be misconstued as a critique of rehabilitation as you appear to have done.


  5. Jock, if you or one of your nearest and dearest were arrested, charged and convicted for an offence you didn’t commit then sentenced to a term in prison, or one of your family committed a crime due to impaired judgement perhaps from a mental illness, or another factor that involved drug or alcohol addiction would you think they had gone to prison voluntarily?
    Life is not black and white and whilst crime needs to be accounted for, prison is not and never will be the answer for the majority of those that are incarcerated.
    What is sad is that people such as yourself seem to think everyone needs protecting from a large number of criminals who are no different than you, your family and anyone else you know.
    Nobody is impervious to being convicted and sent to prison, just like nobody is immune to any disease, illness or fact of life. None of us is invincible.This includes Judge’s, lawyers, doctors, all sorts of people from all walks of life have been locked up and will continue to be locked up as an ineffective punishment. The number of seriously dangerous psychopathic people that commit evil crime is minimal.
    The Finns have dealt with their penal system in a positive, encouraging way that should be used as a positive and effective example by New Zealand and other Countries. NZ needs to reverse the oppressive, archaic and destructive system it currently has. If the number of criminals sentenced to prison were reduced by a quarter or half it would be a huge saving to the tax payer, reduce the need for new prisons and would educate wayward, sick or abused individuals that need help not to be locked up and left to deal with their problems without help or address.
    Often people do not have choices in life and often they have little or no hope or cannot rationalise. There are so many different scenarios and social issues to factor, if people are helped and educated to enable them to change or alter their ways it has to be a better system than just saying they made the choice and prison is voluntary.


  6. I would like to see more people, helping those that are released back into society, such as an advocate with the parole officers, as most of the Parole officers I have met don’t seem to give a toss about what a newly released person can do, but rather what they can not do.

    They seem to love ramming home the idea that it is so easy to send them back to prison for 6 months, how is this negativity helping. The negative comments above by some would be those in favour of Mr McVicars approach to the problem, well soon when everybody has left NZ for Aussie who is going to stay behind to pay taxes to support the pensioners and those on welfare………..not the ex cons because they can not get work or insurance, so they are not going to help are they,m wake up and think people.


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