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National's decision to launch - for the third time - its crime reduction targets is nothing more than another reminder that there are likely to be delays in achieving those targets following last month’s budget cuts, says Labour’s Justice spokesperson Charles Chauvel.
"Offending and imprisonment rates have been trending down for the past 17 years. That's a good thing, but rather than attempting to take credit for that, National should be thinking about ways to make those trends irreversible.”
Examples of areas in the sector where National's poor budgeting priorities will mean that the achievement of its targets will be delayed were:
The burglary clearance rate in New Zealand remains below 25%, and has done for a number of years. In other words, 3 out of 4 offenders who break into a person's home or business and steal property have grown accustomed to never being caught. National has frozen the Police budget at last year's levels, is signalling a nil wage rise, and has ruled out calling on the Justice Sector Fund to supplement Vote: Police. Even if resources are reprioritised into property crimes in order to lift the woeful burglary clearance rate, those resources will have to be taken away from other areas of crime fighting - hardly a desirable outcome.
The number of inmates who leave prison and re-offend after a short period of time has remained stubbornly high - and virtually unchanged under National. An expanded drug and alcohol treatment programme across the prison service is a good thing, but in itself will prove insufficient in reducing many of the barriers that inmates face when reintegrating. Punitive benefit rules and a lack of adequate and sufficient habilitation/reintegration/halfway-house facilities are significant issues. Resource needs to go into these if recidivism is to fall, yet Corrections is being made to contribute to the Justice Sector Fund in its first year of operation, rather than being a beneficiary of it.
Making victims wait longer for trials
Crown Law and the Crown Solicitors who prosecute crimes have had a funding cut of $15m over the next two years. This was to meet a forecast drop in demand that never materialised, and so $4m has had to be found from the Justice Sector Fund to try to make up for some of the shortfall. But cuts to legal aid, making judges take longer dealing with unrepresented accused; and poor courtroom utilisation; mean that it mostly takes over a year to get a case to trial. This is poor service to witnesses, the victims of crime, and others caught up in the system.
"Talking tough on law and order is easy. Making courageous decisions that cement in place the long-term drops in offending and imprisonment is harder. We see too much of the former and not enough of the latter from National,” said Charles Chauvel.