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Rearranging the deck chairs on the ship of Corrections.

Sunday 21 August 2011, 4:11AM

Judith Collins is captain of the ship called Corrections. Since she took over, the rehabilitation and reintegration services have been combined into one team; and two weeks ago, Ms Collins announced that Corrections is to employ 227 case managers to work directly with prisoners to reduce their risk of re-offending. Collins declared: “This is a major advance in the management of prisoners in New Zealand.”

There’s is a fatal flaw in this strategy. These case managers will only assist inmates into rehabilitation programmes in prison. But reintegration is a process that takes place when offenders are released – and very little is done by Corrections to assist ex-prisoners in the community.

1) Accommodation: Finding suitable accommodation is the biggest reintegration need faced by ex-prisoners. In Canada, where re-offending rates are much lower than in New Zealand, 60% of federal prisoners are released into half-way houses – funded by Canadian Corrections. But here, Corrections provides funding for only two half-way houses in the entire country - with a total of 28 beds. This means that less than 1% of sentenced inmates are released into supervised accommodation each year.

2) Alcohol, drugs and literacy: 90% of prisoners have alcohol and drug problems and 90% also have problems with literacy. The Department makes some attempt to address these in prison but the vast majority of the 20,000 people in prison each year receive no assistance whatsoever. These problems then become reintegration issues. But once inmates are released, the Department is more interested in monitoring compliance than helping ex-prisoners learn new skills. Responsibility for that is passed to agencies like PARS or the Prison Fellowship.

3) Use of volunteers: The Department provides so little funding to PARS or the Prison Fellowship that both have to rely on the extensive use of volunteers. As a result, New Zealand now has the highest ratio of volunteers to prisoners of any country in the world - a ploy which enables the Department to avoid paying for professional services. Corrections seems to have so little interest in what happens to inmates after they leave prison, it does not even bother to evaluate the effectiveness of reintegration services offered by these agencies. Dr David Wales, Assistant General Manager for the newly combined Rehabilitation and Reintegration team reinforces this attitude by referring to reintegration as 'ancillary services'.

4) The Parole Act:
Making matters worse, the Department undermines the Parole Board’s efforts to reintegrate high risk offenders by ignoring Section 43 (1a) of the Parole Act. This section requires the Department to provide the Board with all information relevant to the inmate’s offending - which obviously includes their history of substance abuse. Parole Board chairman Judge David Carruthers says that without this information, the Parole Board is ‘Flying Blind’ - which became the title of the critically acclaimed expose of the Corrections Department by Roger Brooking.

Conclusion: Corrections claims to have combined rehabilitation and reintegration services into one team. This is just an illusion - because the Department doesn’t really have a reintegration service. For the most part, it leaves reintegration up to other agencies and ignores the results. The result is that 52% of prisoners return to prison within five years. For those under the age of 20, the figure is 70%. The ship of Corrections is sinking on the rocks of recidivism - while the captain is busy rearranging the deck chairs.