Two reminders today that this (and previous) governments’ punitive approach to crime and punishment is failing dismally, at enormous economic and social cost, and it needs to change.
The Herald highlights the massive cost of building new prisons, with the proposed Wiri project having cost us over $20 million before construction even begins. The prison is a public private partnership (PPP), a model which is inevitably going to cost more given that the private provider will reasonable demand a profit, and I agree with the Corrections Association assessment that the difference will be made up by cutting staff numbers and wages for those staff, a sure recipe for making an already difficult environment even more dangerous.
The reason for continuing to build prisons despite the Minister for Finance correctly labelling them moral and fiscal failures? Simply because we have one of highest rates of incarceration and recidivism in the developed world, and are doing almost nothing to turn those figures around.
Drug and alcohol counsellor Roger Brooking has documented the long term and systemic failure of our prison system in his book ‘Flying Blind’, reviewed recently in the Listener. Mr Brooking will today be offering copies of his book to MPs on Parliament steps at 1pm, in the hope that more will realise the futility of spending vast sums on containing people in concrete boxes, while doing little or nothing to deal with root causes, especially drug and alcohol dependency or addiction, illiteracy, mental health problems and the paucity of reintegration support for inmates post-release.
As a guide, compare the total amount of the Corrections budget – around $1.1 billion and growing – with the amount spent on alcohol and drug treatment in prison – about $3.4 million. This despite the evidence that drugs and alcohol are factors in over 80% of all offending. The problem is not that we are spending too little on corrections. The problem is that we are spending it foolishly, in ways that we know from decades of experience do not and cannot affect positive results.
Unfortunately National MPs will not be on hand to receive a copy of Brooking’s book, having apparently been offended by the subtitle of the book “How the justice system perpetuates crime and the Corrections Department fails to correct”.
Truth hurts I guess.