Cur­rently, we think of of­fend­ers as be­ing ac­count­able to the state, a con­cept they of­ten can­not com­pre­hend.

North & South - - Cover Story Part Two - LIFE AF­TER PRISON

Once a pris­oner is freed, care­ful plan­ning can make a big dif­fer­ence as to how suc­cess­fully he or she will fit back into the com­mu­nity. But such plan­ning should start on the first day of the sen­tence.

In some coun­tries, says Work­man, “on the first day of en­ter­ing prison [the au­thor­i­ties] are work­ing on your re-in­te­gra­tion plan. In New Zealand, if some­one goes to prison for two-and-ahalf years, they’re likely to get two vis­its from a case man­age­ment of­fi­cer in the first 10 months, and all they’re do­ing is mak­ing a list of things they might have to do at the end of the sen­tence.”

Po­laschek reels off a list of what pris­on­ers need and all too of­ten don’t have by the time they are re­leased:

“Some­where to live. Ide­ally, some work. Some pos­i­tive, pro-so­cial peo­ple to sup­port them. How to get hooked up to a ben­e­fit. What to do if you have no trans­port and need to get to an ap­point­ment. What to do if you’re hav­ing a prob­lem with a guy and want to hit him but know that’s not right. What to do if you bump into your anti-so­cial mate who in­vites you to get into crime...”

She says we also need a boost in the num­ber of half­way houses or su­per­vised hos­tels to bridge the gap be­tween be­ing con­fined in prison and be­ing out in the com­mu­nity.

The es­tab­lish­ment of the Christchurch­based Path­way Trust is a hope­ful sign. It takes an in­te­grated ap­proach to help­ing newly re­leased pris­on­ers find ac­com­mo­da­tion, work and the sort of sup­port that’s es­sen­tial for some­one just out of jail. The trust’s 2017 an­nual re­port states men it’s worked with are 43% less likely to be re- im­pris­oned within 12 months than those who haven’t been on the pro­gramme.

There is no short­age of im­ped­i­ments to prison re­form. Con­spic­u­ously, there’s the moral panic to hose down. Scare­mon­ger­ing in de­fi­ance of the facts has driven pub­lic de­bate on crime and pun­ish­ment for the past few decades. “If it’s the only thing you’ve been told, that’s what the pub­lic will be­lieve,” says Jar­rod Gilbert.

How­ever, sta­tis­tics for the 12 months to May 2018 show a 3.9% de­crease in crim­i­nal acts against prop­erty and peo­ple, while a re­port re­leased in August found the num­ber of crimes com­mited by those aged 19 or younger has fallen 30% in the past four years.

The con­se­quence of this gap be­tween per­cep­tion and re­al­ity means pris­ons are an easyto-press po­lit­i­cal but­ton. Kim Work­man says both Na­tional and Labour have found there are votes to be had in tak­ing a firm line on pris­ons and pro­mot­ing their use. In the past six years, he adds, “there have been some­thing like 15 pieces of leg­is­la­tion in­tro­duced – 11 re­lat­ing di­rectly to pris­on­ers and of­fend­ers – that have breached the Bill of Rights.”

When con­sid­er­ing those suf­fer­ing from the ex­ploita­tion of crime and crim­i­nals for po­lit­i­cal gain, we should also spare some thought for the De­part­ment of Cor­rec­tions, faced with the im­pos­si­ble task of keep­ing up with the in­creas­ing de­mands of their po­lit­i­cal mas­ters. Their ef­forts to pro­vide vo­ca­tional train­ing and other as­sis­tance to pris­on­ers, for in­stance, must be made in the face of po­lit­i­cal and pub­lic in­dif­fer­ence, if not down­right hos­til­ity.

It’s not as if they don’t know what works. Just ask Stephen Cun­ning­ham, the de­part­ment’s di­rec­tor, of­fender em­ploy­ment and rein­te­gra­tion: “How does Cor­rec­tions stop peo­ple com­ing to Cor­rec­tions? The best thing is, while they’re en­gaged with us, to work on their re­hab, ed­u­ca­tion, al­co­hol and drug depen­dency. And more sup­port to rein­te­grate later.”

The end may be in sight. Jus­tice Min­ster An­drew Lit­tle is clearly re­form-minded and knows he has to bring the pub­lic with him if he is go­ing to change any­thing. To that end, he has con­vened a Safe and Ef­fec­tive Jus­tice Pro­gramme Ad­vi­sory Group, fea­tur­ing a wide range of au­thor­i­ties and ad­vo­cates, and is hold­ing a Crim­i­nal Jus­tice Sum­mit start­ing on August 20. “As well as vic­tims’ voices, there will be those who’ve served sen­tences, psy­chol­o­gists and other spe­cial­ists,” says Lit­tle. “I don’t want to do too much in the way of re­forms and new laws un­til we’ve had the de­bate.”

His plan to re­peal the three strikes law was shot down due to op­po­si­tion from New Zealand First – which would have made the throw-away-the-key brigade happy. Lit­tle un­der­stands how peo­ple feel. “There are le­git­i­mate con­cerns,” he says. “Peo­ple want to know they will be safe. The dis­course of the last 30 years has played to that. It tends to fo­cus on iso­lated and dra­matic cases. But most of­fend­ers in prison aren’t at that end. We also have to ac­knowl­edge the voice of vic­tims and the fact that the sys­tem hasn’t ac­com­mo­dated them very well. I’m con­fi­dent there’s a lot more we can do. There will be a lot about vic­tims.”

In a re­ac­tive po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment, Lit­tle will have to fight for vi­tal cross-party sup­port, but he’s sure there are many Na­tional MPS who can put the pub­lic good first. The ap­point­ment of for­mer Na­tional MP Ch­ester Bor­rows to chair the ad­vi­sory group may serve to en­cour­age the oth­ers. “I’ll cer­tainly be reach­ing out and in­volv­ing them in the dis­cus­sion,” says Lit­tle. “Ide­ally, we’ll get to a point where we get as much cross-par­lia­men­tary agree­ment as we can.”

And then, per­haps, with good­will, smart think­ing and hard work, there’ll be fewer places in prison for peo­ple who shouldn’t be there.

Fam­i­lies and friends of crime vic­tims gather out­side Mt Eden Prison in June 2008 as part of a demon­stra­tion or­gan­ised by the Sen­si­ble Sen­tenc­ing Trust.

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