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Today's Corrections pre-budget announcements by Anne Tolley and Pita Sharples demonstrate an astounding lack of ambition to tackle re-offending, Labour’s Justice spokesperson Charles Chauvel says.
“The ministerial announcements fail the vision test in so many ways.
“Firstly, reducing prisoner numbers by 100 per year over the next 6 years is hardly something to boast about. The target would have been more than that if National had retained Labour's Sentencing Council and allowed it to issue consistent nationwide sentencing guidelines.
"Second, any reduction in inmate numbers is likely to occur in spite of, not because of, Government policy.
“The crime rate has been trending downwards since the 1990s; the prison population is declining thanks in part to better use of police diversion and there are already hundreds of empty prison beds across the corrections network.
“On the other hand reconviction rates have gone up over the last four years, while initiatives like the 'three strikes' law are yet to flow through into the system.
“Having fewer prisoners is a good thing. But the same prisoners committing crimes over and over again - the likely scenario in two years' time at the end of this Government's term - is a major public policy failure,” Charles Chauvel said.
"Increasing drug and alcohol treatment for inmates is always a good way to help break the re-offending cycle, but none of this is new money - it is 'reprioritised' spending. So it remains to be seen what part of the Corrections budget these funds have been taken from, and what existing services will not be provided as a result.
"Good inmate employment initiatives are worthwhile as well, but if university graduates are finding it tough to get jobs right now, 'supporting' thousands of ex-inmates into employment isn't going to be a simple exercise, and questions arise about how effective it is likely to be.
"Finally, the suggestion from Pita Sharples that rehabilitation will increasingly be the responsibilty of communities, not Corrections, is impractical. By this time next year, over 25 per cent of prison capacity will sit in South Auckland, and many of these inmates will be preparing to re-enter society far from their families and communities, especially as much regional prison capacity is being closed in order to pay Fletchers, Serco and Spotless to build and operate Wiri.
"We were all starting to get used to the idea of a budget containing zero new expenditure. Today's announcements show we need to start preparing for a budget that also contains zero vision and zero ambition for the brighter future John Key once promised us all,” Charles Chauvel said.