Earlier this week I posed some questions to Finance Minister Bill English about his support for the government’s plan to spend a billion dollars on a new prison. I was pretty disappointed in his answers, all of which flew in the face of his own comments in the past acknowledging that prisons were a moral and fiscal failure.
I would love to know who is calling the shots in the National government’s cabinet when it comes to deciding how best to spend taxpayers’ money. On the evidence of the last few weeks, it definitely isn’t Finance Minister Bill English making the calls.
Our increase in prison numbers – ‘average’ numbers of incarcerated offenders have more than doubled over the last twenty years – is not because New Zealanders are becoming more lawless or because the crime rate is increasing (they aren’t, and it isn’t).
A week ago I visited Lillestrøm, a short train journey to the north-east of Oslo and the site of the KRUS Correctional Service Training Academy the Norwegian training school for prison officers.
Our legal and political systems owe a lot to the Westminster model. When you get up close and personal, though, it’s apparent that there are subtle and not so subtle differences in structure as well as scale.
As Parliament goes into recess for two weeks, I’m heading away first to UK, then to Northern Europe. The purpose of my trip, somewhat unusually, is to visit and learn more about prisons and prison systems.