Regular updates on what's happening in New Zealand prisons BrookingBlog.
Approximately 80% of crime in New Zealand occurs under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Roger Brooking has been working as an alcohol and drug counsellor in Wellington for the last 12 years - mainly with clients who end up in court or prison because of alcohol and drug abuse. His experience has been that it is very difficult to persuade the court to mandate offenders into rehabilitation programs and even harder for those in prison to access treatment for their addictions. Similarly, there is very little support for those coming out of prison.
All of this creates a vicious cycle of substance abuse and addiction that inevitably leads to reoffending and to high rates of recidivism. Over 50% of those released from prison are back inside within five years. For those under the age of 20, more than 70% go back.
Mr Brooking believes that New Zealand has become a very punitive society. He quotes Prof John Pratt who says the increase in the prison population has been driven by penal populism - a process whereby the two major political parties in New Zealand, National and Labour, compete with each other to impose longer prison sentences and be 'tough on crime'.
Underlying this process is excessive media coverage of crime which contributes to inaccurate perceptions about the prevalence of violence in society and distorts perceptions of public safety. Indeed, much of the drive for longer sentences stems from years of media attention given to Garth McVicar of the so-called Sensible Sentencing Trust.
The result has been that in the last 20 years, both Labour and National led Governments have poured billions of dollars into building new prisons. Another one is about to be built at Wiri - at a cost of $900 million. All of this has given New Zealand the second highest rate of imprisonment in the Western world - at just under 200 people per 100,000 of population. The United States has the highest rate at over 700 people per 100,000.
Flying BlindMr Brooking has written a book about these issues called Flying Blind - How the justice system perpetuates crime and the Corrections Department fails to correct. In the book, he talks about the financial black hole created by this short-sighted approach to penal policy and the need for a new approach.
It has been endorsed by: