Policy report

Bailing out the justice system: reopening the window of opportunity

27 Apr 2017
Description

In 2013 Treasury talked of declining expenditure on Criminal Justice in a world where other fiscal costs such as Health and Superannuation spending were expected to increase. In 2016, the New Zealand Government announced the building of an additional prison.

What happened? This report joins the dots.

From public information JustSpeak found that the low tolerance for risk or ‘get tough on crime’ environment has resulted in:

  • higher than expected use of remand for less serious crimes and nonviolent crimes, such as fraud;
  • a wide range of accommodation unsuitable for electronic bail at a time when emergency and social housing is under extreme pressure;
  • an increase in people being denied access to parole;
  • a decrease in the percentage of people imprisoned for violent offences last year.

All of which means that in 2016 we were locking up 1500 more New Zealanders than was projected in 2014. The number of people on remand has doubled. This is an increase of 1500; the same number as the capacity of the planned new prison.

This increase in the use of imprisonment, and the planned expansion of the prison estate, will cause further fiscal and economic costs, as “prison increases the risk of poor, social, health, education and justice outcomes for prisoners and their families”.1 This disproportionately affects Māori who are significantly overrepresented in all stages of the criminal justice system, and Māori children, over 10,000 of whom have a parent currently in prison.

To reduce these moral and fiscal pressures and avoid the need for prison expansion, JustSpeak recommends that:

A. The recent changes to bail be:

  • applied as was originally intended i.e. only for serious and violent crime;
  • implemented to cater for insecure housing such as hostels or campgrounds;
  • reviewed with a view to repeal, as given the violent and criminogenic nature of prisons it is inappropriate to be imprisoning increasing numbers of people, particularly when not convicted of a crime.

B. The money freed up be reinvested and used to strengthen communities through improved housing, health care and education. #abillionbetterthings

C. A cross-party strategy to decarcerate and reduce prison numbers be pursued.

The alternative is that New Zealand needs to build a new prison every 5 to 10 years. The choice is ours.

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2017
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