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.

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  1. Garth McVicar is only looking at the whole criminal issue from the point of public safety. These people who break the law must know right from wrong like all citizens. No one asks them to break the law, to choose wrong over right. Perhaps there are too many young offenders in prison,but remember these prisons are called ‘Corrections Facilities’. These young people like others in prison are supposed to be rehabilitated while in prison, but quite obviously they are not. Corrections is a misnomer when it comes to imprisonment. I disagree with Maxine about murder rate decline, there is no decline.
    On the contrary, viscious crimes are on the increase in NZ.

  2. Howard Broad’s comments may well have been unwelcome news to the Sensible Sentencing Trust but Garth McVicar’s reaction is 180-degrees out – Howard Broad should be commended not sacked for stating the obvious.

    Maxine’s substitution of the $90k p.a./per student for education instead of prisoners also applies to health and crossing into both those areas is the absolute need for more rehabilitation and education on PREVENTIONS of ‘the prison problem’. Celia Lashley’s latest book “The Power of Mothers – Releasing our Children” is another fine example of how to start that journey – don’t let the heading put men off this book either as it’s intended for fathers and mothers and others who care about children and their futures!

    Please let our MPs and especially the Minister of Police, Judith Collins, know your simple view on what Howard Broad said – you either agree with Howard or you agree with Garth McVicar & the Sensible Sentencing Trust.

  3. If Garth McVicar was looking at the big picture concerning community saftey, as suggested by Gil Elliott, he would focus his wealthy funding base, and support earlier intervention, ensure the trailblazers in our schools, the womens refuges DOVE,are able to network mmore effectively, Diverse people, are encouraged, and understood. Boot Camps, Chain Gangs, retributive justice as per Arizona never reduces crime, but furter encourages more victims ( but would have to agree, looked smashing on T.V 1 and TV 3 especially the tent villages and outside benches to incarcerate women)
    Nor does the “them and us” policy as promoted by The Sensible Sentencing Trust address what are the main causes of crime, and how can our community more humanly support its own failures, other than to isolate them in a prison.
    In Norway, by mutual agreement, the two main political parties do not “slag each other for votes on law and order issues”. nor in Norway would the likes of Garth McVicar get the press coverage he thrives on in “Gods Own” with his ongoing strategic plan, that prison heals our social ills.

  4. I agree with what Howard Broad has to say – prisons are out of sight, out of mind and mostly deal with outcomes [crime]. The comments don't go into the heady matter of how we as a community would prefer to deal with minor criminals, or of how to 'honour' injustices experienced by victims, but to my mind the simple truth is there: “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.”

    We know that the answer is preventing crime and that the root causes are social, economic and cultural factors. What we don't have a clear handle on, and I certainly don't, is how to bridge the gap.

  5. "Imagine if a school receiving $90,000 a year for every student (the cost of keeping a person in jail)…"

    Maxine, I think this point can be expanded. If a school had that level of funding per student per year we would not only have a better educated population, but a population with the freedom and ability to make real life choices. We both know that one of the factors in a young individual turning to crime is a feeling of no hope and no choices…

    A well funded, student centered primary and secondary education system will do far more to prevent crime and reduce the number of victims of crime, than any of the retributive measures advocated by Mr McVicar.

  6. Prison is a bad solution but what is the alternative punishment for crime? There needs to be consequences for crime and a meaningful deterrent. Some of these guys will just laugh in your face if you're soft on them. On that count, I'd love 3 months home detention – I'd catch up on some reading, watch endless cricket, dial out for pizza and get value from my broadband. How do you get some of that good home detention? It sounds like paradise to me.

  7. I note that Gil Eliot contends that there hasn't been a decline in the murder rate – a view that is shared by most New Zealanders.

    Dr Gabrielle Maxwell has written an excellent short article on this very issue which can be found in Newslwetter #81 on the Rethinking Crime and Punishment website or by linking with:

    Gabrielle shows that the highest number of murders was not last year as stated by Minister Collins, but in 1991. She also demonstrates that the murder rate is trending downwards.

    There has always been a political interest in promoting the public fear of crime – it ensures that people will vote for gtet tough measurues. We need to ensure the public are properly informed so they can make policy decisions on facts, rather than rhetoric.


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