5 comments on “Bill English admits his Government is a moral & fiscal failure

  1. A very interesting article and I am sure that most of it is true. A factor and an important factor missing is that 70% of our prison population has been under CYF “care”. In my experience CYF social workers often make dreadful errors in dealing with “difficult” families. A more truly helpful approach to families who have problems would save the country from inter generational production of people destined to be the prisoners of next year or next 10 years .

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  2. An additional $1bn of spending on improving education underachievement and addressing mental health issues could have a significant effect on both the prevention of first-time crime and recidivism.

    Also, more investment into effective rehab programs, including more widespread availability of yoga in prisons would clearly make a big difference [Participation in a 10-week course of yoga improves behavioural control and decreases psychological distress in a prison population, Oxford Press: http://www.theppt.org.uk/documents/Bilderbeck_Farias_2013_J_Psych_Res.pdf%5D.

    If only that were possible.

    But do you really need to fire arrows at a vocal minority who have suffered tremendous trauma, primarily as a result of violent crime? Victims don’t tend to go to the media or SST unless they feel that something is wrong, be it the nature of the crime they were affected by (which might imply systemic societal issues), or the “failure” of the justice system. Nobody enjoys grieving in the public spotlight. Those who make it into national media may have experienced the sudden (and usually unwarranted) loss of a beloved family member, or extreme physical and psychological trauma that can often last a lifetime, and are confronted with the prospects (and often reality) of egregious leniency upon the offender.

    It might make sense for the justice system to experiment with leniency Finnish-style with regards to first-time drunk driving and minor theft, but it simply doesn’t make sense for that leniency to extend towards the most serious crimes, like homicide and unlawful assault, yet that is exactly what has happened. It doesn’t make sense for the deterrence of serious crimes to be reduced to virtually zero through excessively lenient sentencing. Nor does it make sense for innocent victims not to experience justice, or not be be heard when they don’t. Victims and survivors of serious crimes recover faster when they know that a reasonable amount of “punishment” is doled out for the offense they’ve suffered [Family Survivors of Homicide Victims: Theoretical Perspectives and an Exploratory Study: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/BF00975764%5D.

    But “punishment” doesn’t need to extend beyond the prospect of a simple lack of freedom; offenders can be treated not only humanely but compassionately so as to assure their likelihood of not reoffending. We can clearly learn some things from the approach of a number of northern European countries who are successful in reducing recidivism, particularly at the “low harm” end of the offending spectrum. But that will inevitably cost; prisoners not only need space and comfortable living conditions, they need effective rehabilitation.

    This is a complex issue with multiple moving parts, including both the rights of the offender, and the rights of the victim(s), the need for deterrence of crime and the need for decreasing recidivism and first time offense.

    Hopefully we can figure it out without having to throw the baby out with the bath water.

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    • @Cherie. You have made some very good points. And I agree that victims need help. But I would argue that spending another billion dollars on a new prison is throwing out the baby with the bath water. We don’t need another prison. We have enough already. What we need is better education, better health services, and more support for at risk families and offenders in the community.

      And I am not throwing arrows at a vocal minority. I am throwing them at the government for pandering to that minority, and ignoring the needs of the rest of society.

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  3. @Roger. This is a valuable discussion. Perhaps it might even lead to some viable solutions in what would otherwise seem like a irreconcilable impasse.

    People only get imprisoned in New Zealand when they offend very seriously or have become a recidivist offender unwilling or unable to change. Given the extent of the population growth in recent years I’m not surprised there might be some need for expansion of capacity for the incarcerated. Is that not logical? Crime doesn’t simply magically disappear as a population expands and sentences are reduced, and certainly not without the relevant and supportive education and mental health programmes outside of prisons that are required for such “miracles.”

    The real tragedy is why do we have to choose? (Between better care and rehab for psychologically damaged and potentially dangerous criminals, and better education and mental health support for communities outside of prisons?). Who says one is more important than the other? Why can’t we have both? It’s a “simple” matter of funding isn’t it? But does anyone want to take on higher taxes to accommodate such programmes? My guess is it would only be a smidgeon of golden-hearted Kiwis who would dig into their own pockets to fund these things.

    More realistically the government needs to start thinking outside the box in terms of fundraising for our country’s entirety of needs, which can’t necessarily be parsed out. Perhaps the possibilities exist of looking more seriously at (either or both); a tourist tax and an increased “entry” tax on immigrants who buy their way into the country.

    New Zealand is undoubtedly amongst the top three “must visit” places in the world (on a par with Iceland). Most tourists who visit NZ have plenty of disposable income and would likely not flinch at an entry tax in the vicinity of $50. Costa Rica does it. And immigrants who buy their way into the country also tend to have large disposable incomes. Why shouldn’t their “price” to enter such a coveted place-on-the-planet-to-reside include some kind of contribution to the development of our education, health and corrections systems, as well as towards helping overcome our environmental challenges? Plenty of sought-after islands in the Caribbean do it.

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  4. @Cherie. I am going to disagree with you on a couple of points.

    1) I am not sure where you got the idea that prison sentences have been reduced. In fact they have been getting longer. The increase in the number of long-term prisoners is one of the factors contributing to the growth in prison population. See Fig 3.7 on this link. http://www.corrections.govt.nz/resources/research_and_statistics/offender-volumes-report/offender_volumes_report_2011/3_prison_sentenced_snapshots.html

    2) Also, there is no relationship between the level of crime in society and the level of imprisonment. Over the last 20 years, crime statistics have been dropping while the number people in prison has gone up. The rate of imprisonment is driven by politicians responding to the media – not by the level of crime.
    See: http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/crime/72777492/Crime-statistics-show-30-per-cent-drop-since-2008

    3) Yes there are ways that the government could take in more tax. But we still don’t need another prison. Prisons have largely become warehouses for the drug addicted, the mentally ill, the unemployed and disenfrachised Maori. They are also universities for more crime.

    As Bill English described them, prisons are a ‘moral and fiscal failure’. What he meant by that is that they are very expensive to build and operate, the money could be better spent elsewhere, and so New Zealand should find alternative solutions for dealing with those on the margins of society

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