A quick year-end pop-quiz – which government department has had a 220% increase in its budget over the last decade, but has still managed to end this year mired in mismanagement, under-performance, violence and mayhem; requiring a multi-million dollar emergency cash injection to keep the whole catastrophe afloat?
Corrections, take a bow.
Of all the portfolios for which I am responsible, Corrections has been the ‘stand-out’ for me in 2015, for all the wrong reasons.
Years of tribal warfare between Labour and National, each determined to prove itself ‘tougher on crime’ than the other, has delivered us a legislative and judicial framework such that, while crime and offending is trending down, our imprisonment rates are reaching historic highs. Yes, there is something seriously wrong with that picture.
The National government’s ‘solution’ has been to introduce profit-seeking private management into the mix. This, we were told, would bring to the sector “… new ideas and international best practice… high standards of professionalism, safety, rehabilitation and security”. Oops.
I have entered the prisons and met with inmates who have had their basic rights to humane treatment denied them; whose well-being and indeed lives have been put at risk due to a lack of proper medical care; who have been assaulted and bullied; who have missed their chance at parole because the system could not deliver the programmes that the parole board required them to do as a pre-condition for release.
There are some dedicated, highly skilled and compassionate people employed within our prisons and related services, doing difficult and often dangerous work. But the system is badly broken, and the prevailing culture within it is an impediment to achieving better outcomes.
On a more positive note (in deference to the season), we are by no means bereft of ideas about how to do much better. The community sector with which I engage contains a wealth of experience and skills that could make a huge difference if they were given the opportunity to more actively participate and influence practice. Advocating for change in penal policy is not always the ‘sexiest’ or most popular political work, but change is needed urgently, and that motivates me to keep coming back for more!