Here’s a commentary Napier Councillor Maxine Boag presented on Bay FM last week. Food for thought … and I expect expect … some debate.
From Maxine Boag:
Good morning, I’m Napier City Councillor Maxine Boag.
Comments by Police Commissioner Howard Broad to the Parliament’s Law and Order committee last week came as a breath of fresh air to me, but at the same time caused Sensible Sentencing’s Garth McVicar to angrily demand the Commissioner’s resignation. So what was the comment?
Howard Broad told the committee that there was a growing number of people wondering if sending more people to prison was the correct way to go.
He told the committee that the “traditional model of policing” had “delivered a wave of criminals in to the system”. He told reporters prison was for “serious offenders”. “It’s tempting to use prison as a minor, intermediate sort of sanction. But the evidence seems to be that the `university of the prison’ is a fact and it exists and that we should do everything we can to avoid people going down that track.”
He continued: “One of the worst things that you can do for an emerging young offender is to group them together with other emerging young offenders. The whole idea is actually preventing crime in the first place.”
Sensibile Sentencing’s Garth McVicar said the comments were ”an utter disgrace”. He called them “an insult to victims of crime” and said Broad would inflict ”irreversible damage” to the morale and good name of the police.
Kim Workman, Director of Rethinking Crime and Punishment, said McVicar’s criticism of Broad was “both outrageous and unjustified”.
Workman went on to suggest that “Garth McVicar would do well to sit down with the Commissioner and his staff, and listen carefully to why the Commissioner believes that prison is being overused, and that it turns minor offenders into career criminals. If Garth truly has the interests of victims at heart, he would learn that the preventive strategies advocated by the Commissioner will do more to reduce the number of victims in our community, than anything the Sensible Sentencing Trust has done, with its constant call for vengeance and retribution. We need to honour and support the Police, not publicly abuse the Commissioner for having the guts to tell it like it is.”
The fact is that Howard Broad is right. Around 40% of prisoners are serving sentences of less than six months, and get no rehabilitation or programmes. Instead they network with others who are a bad influence, hone their criminal techniques, develop bad habits, and return to the community worse for the experience. That is no way to guarantee public safety, or cater for the interests of victims.
Kim Workman called Howard Broad “the finest Commissioner we have had since Sam Barnett”, who was Controller General of Police from 1955 until 1958. “Howard Broad is not only an outstanding long term strategist and thinker, but also understands the operational reality. More than that, he is a man of quiet courage, who has never been tempted to succumb to populist rhetoric, or the punitive inclinations of successive governments. Under his watch, we have seen the emergence of the Policing Excellence Strategy, a world class Police Education Service, and a commitment to community engagement and movement toward the alternative disposition of offenders in order to reduce offending.”
Law and order is an emotional issue, and one which is bound to rear its ugly head at the first whiff of an election. Politicians pander to people’s fears by advocating tough measures to “stamp out crime” when in fact the evidence shows clearly that recorded offences have declined in the last decade, the murder rate is going down, and the police is getting better at resolving serious violence.
But as the crime rate is going down, imprisonings are going up. Between 1981 and 2002, the number of prisoners has quadrupled. And they keep building more prisons, while pulling money out of education, childcare and welfare pleading fiscal restraint.
If the mission of our prisons is to reduce crime, then the recidivism rate proves that this is a failed and flawed system. Figures from the Ministry of Corrections show that for first time offenders, 49% will be reimprisoned within 4 years: of those re imprisoned inmates, 54% will be re imprisoned within a year.
Imagine if a school receiving $90,000 a year for every student (the cost of keeping a person in jail) had a failure rate of 50 per cent, would we allow it to continue? Of course not.
Imprisoning large numbers of people does not make our community safer. It is just a quick knee jerk reaction to social problems such as mental health issues, socio economic deprivation and inadequate education. And at $90,000 per inmate per year, are we getting value for money? If we were to spend that money on tackling the drivers of crime we might see a drop in prisoners and people permanently alienated and sent to the fringes of society by their incarceration.
It’s time that our politicians on both sides of the house sat up and listened to people like Howard Broad, stopped spending taxpayers money on building more prisons and based their criminal justice budget decisions on real evidence of what does work to reduce crime.
I’m Maxine Boag and that’s my thoughts for today.