Prisons still necessary

by Amy Adams

As a former Justice Minister and the local MP for Selwyn, which is home to several prisons, I am familiar with some of the excellent programmes that are being run in our prisons to equip inmates with skills, such as trades training, to help them turn their lives around once they are released back into the community.

Everyone would agree, I am sure, that it would great if there were less people in prison.

In fact, the current Government has promised to reduce the prison population by 30 per cent.

The difficulty is how do you go about doing this without letting potentially dangerous criminals out of prison early or relaxing bail laws, both of which increase the risk to society?

The answer is that you have to be innovative in your approach and look at the root causes of crime.

The social investment approach of the previous Government was all about identifying vulnerable individuals early and intervening before they started down a track of offending and antisocial behaviour.

We know that by the time a person gets to prison, more often than not, they’ve lived a life of crime and in order to break the cycle we must try new things.

Worryingly the current Government has done away with the Justice Sector Fund, which resourced new initiatives such as community justice panels, alcohol and drug courts, family violence services and the

Gang Intelligence Centre — all of which have helped reduce crime and reoffending.
Instead the Corrections Minister, Kelvin Davis, recently confirmed that the government is looking at relaxing bail and sentencing laws for serious and violent criminals, and interfering with police prosecutions to reduce the prison population.

The reason we let the police decide who they should prosecute is that they are best placed to know who poses a real risk to society and safety. This is not something that ministers should be getting involved in.

It is very worrying that the new government appears to be prepared to gamble with the public’s safety to try to avoid building fewer prisons.