Open Letter to Minister Collins

Tēnā koe Minister Collins,

Congratulations from all of us here at JustSpeak on your appointment as Minister for Corrections and Police, two of the most important government agencies which help keep communities safe. We are especially excited because of your commitment to improving outcomes for victims, and reducing victimisation. We think it is really important to promote initiatives which will reduce both offending and the trauma associated with victimisation. The majority of prisoners were victims of physical, sexual or emotional abuse as children and a large number of people who offend as adults have also been offended against. It is important to remember that often victims and offenders are the same people from the same communities.What will work to help offenders will also help victims.

We hope that you take this opportunity as Corrections and Police Minister to help create a justice system that focuses on community safety and wellbeing, and what we already know about what works to reduce offending and victimisation. We would like to take this opportunity to suggest some changes that we think will help you achieve your Better Public Services targets to reduce crime and reoffending.

1.Improve outcomes for Māori

It is widely known that Māori are hugely overrepresented in imprisonment statistics around 14% of the adult population is Māori, while around 50% of the men’s prison population and 64% of the women’s is Māori. We applaud the Police for their acknowledgement that they are unconsciously biased against Māori and we are excited to hear more about their strategies for improvement.

Conversely, we are very concerned that Corrections allowed their Māori Responsiveness Strategy to lapse in 2013 and have not put in place a new framework for improving outcomes for Māori. We are aware that several prisons have effective Māori focus units with lots of opportunities for prisoners to connect with their culture, but for meaningful change to occur there needs to be a strategic focus at all levels of the Department.

2.Invest in rehabilitation and reintegration

It is extremely important that prisoners and their families and communities are supported to overcome the barriers stopping prisoners from leading productive lives. Around half of prisoners are reimprisoned within four years following release. In our 2014 report, Unlocking Prisons: How we can improve New Zealand’s prison system, we made a number of recommendations on the need for greater investment and support in reintegration services. We found that while there is some level of support available to offenders in terms of housing and employment, far more needs to be done to extend the availability of these opportunities.

One change we want to see is for Specialist Treatment Units and training opportunities to be available to all prisoners who wish to participate. Corrections does run effective rehabilitative programmes for prisoners addicted to alcohol and drugs, serious violent offenders, and sexual offenders; however, the opportunity to participate in these programmes is not available in all prisons, and only available to limited numbers of the inmates in the selected prisons.

3.Improve human rights for prisoners

Once prisoners are back in their communities, it is important that they feel like they belong people with wide support networks who are engaging in public life are less likely to reoffend. One important way of doing that is to promote basic human rights.

In particular we would like to see improved treatment for young prisoners. Reports that young people aged 14-17 are being kept in their cells for 18-23 hours a day is completely unacceptable. 17 year olds need the opportunity to behave like 17 year olds in order to grow up normally. That means lots of physical exercise and socialising. We are aware that there are necessary rules preventing young prisoners from being around adult prisoners but allowing young prisoners out of their cells needs to be a priority and all prisons need the facilities and staff to manage it.

Another human rights priority is voting rights being returned to prisoners. The ability to participate in our democracy is a fundamental part of membership in society. By denying prisoners access to this fundamental right you encouraging a lack of engagement with society, which is vital to their reintegration upon release.

4.Commit to making evidence-informed decisions

If we want to know what works to reduce crime, we need accurate data of all aspects of the justice system. It is vital that Police and Corrections gather accurate data about all aspects of what they do, and that their data is publicly available, and accessible to researchers. This way we can be more confident about how well Police and Corrections are contributing to the safety and wellbeing of communities.

We’re excited about the next three years and the opportunity to work with you all in achieving less crime and better outcomes for all New Zealanders. We would love to have an opportunity to chat with you and share more of our ideas for shaping a more just Aotearoa.

Ngā mihi