“Intensive psychological treatment and early release to parole is far more effective at reducing reoffending among high risk prisoners than serving out the full prison sentence.”
That’s reportedly the finding of Surviving the First Year, a recently-released study into Corrections’ STURP initiative conducted by Victoria University of Wellington psychology professor Devon Polaschek. This Stuff article goes into some detail about the study, and the details are encouraging, to say the least –
Offenders who completed the Correction Department’s intensive Special Treatment Unit Rehabilitation Programme (STURP) were 37 per cent less likely than similar but untreated prisoners to be reimprisoned within a year of release…
Polaschek’s research, which tracked 271 high risk offenders [with a 70 percent risk of reimprisonment within five years of release], also found that both treated and untreated prisoners released early to parole were 30 per cent more likely to avoid reconviction over a period of more than two years. The longer the parole period, the more reconvictions fell, even when taking into account the factors making early-release prisoners more likely to succeed.
These findings are heartening and, more importantly, useful. With these results, the Department of Corrections can develop more comprehensive, more effective ways of managing recidivism; they can more effectively utilise the tools available to them – parole, the various components of programmes like STURP – to tailor rehabilitation and monitoring programmes for offenders that ensure they know that Corrections and the world around them is invested in and supportive of their re-entry into the community. In the article, Kim Workman of Rethinking Crime and Punishment offers an excellent provocation: develop a programme like STURP for offenders serving community sentences, or deepening the programmes already in existence (such as Tai Aroha).
There’s some serendipity to the timing of this study’s release. Earlier this week, Minister of Justice Amy Adams announced that a register of offenders deported to New Zealand from other countries (particularly Australia) was now up and running; a “legislative supervision regime for offenders” and an “information sharing arrangement on trans-Tasman deportations” were both said to be in development.
These moves are a step in the right direction, and a good start on resolving a long-standing problem with deported offenders. For years, Australia and other countries have been deporting New Zealand citizens who’ve offended on their shores after those offenders have served their sentences, and for years they’ve been doing so without any mechanisms in place for post-sentence support, supervision or monitoring.
Earlier this year, the New Zealand media gave considerable airtime to the story of Rebecca Papalii. Papalii was convicted of the 1999 kidnap, torture and murder of 14 year old Cleon Jackman in Perth and was deported to New Zealand after she was released on parole. Papalii told media that she had no obligations to keep in touch with the Australian Prisoners Review Board or the New Zealand Police, while Australian Prisoners Review Board chairman Robert Cock admitted that there were ‘difficulties’ with monitoring Papalii in Kaikohe. Papalii told media that she felt supported in Kaikohe, but we can’t expect that to be the story for all deported offenders, and we can’t expect communities to pick up the slack left by Australian and New Zealand authorities.
The evidence shows that early parole, focused psychological treatment and strong support frameworks have a major effect on offender recidivism. Reoffending drops when these things are present and active in an offender’s prison life and post-prison life. This is as true for deported offenders as it is for offenders in New Zealand prisons. The Minister’s announcement on Wednesday indicates that steps are being taken to fix this, but there is an urgent need for greater support and monitoring of deported offenders. ‘In development’ is not ‘up and running’, and until the government’s long-term solutions are up and running, more needs to be done to help the groups and the communities that are picking up the slack.