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Lindsay Mitchell: NZ's rarely-reported plummeting prison population

Appalling crime story after appalling crime story gets reported.


But media rarely report on the big decline in New Zealand's prison population.





There are various possible explanations for the reduction including demographic change, policy changes in police and justice procedures, and/or less imprisonable crime being committed. Government politicians claim less crime is being committed, especially by youth, "according to the statistics". But the statistics they use - apprehension, prosecution and conviction - rely on those activities actually occurring. If the police are instructed not to pursue a fleeing vehicle, then the ensuing apprehension etc. is less likely to happen.


When Labour became government Kelvin Davis stated a goal of reducing the prison population and set about doing so. This is one policy goal they've actually achieved. But at what cost?


The prison population reduced by over twenty percent between September 2019 and 2022. It could be said that one in five people who should be in prison are not so it's hardly surprising the country is experiencing a "crime wave". But that proposition is barely provable.


What we can usefully look at is how New Zealand compares to two very similar countries - Australia and the United Kingdom.


The first chart shows the change in numbers:




The large difference in prison population numbers disguises the degree of change so I've plotted percentage-change separately:






The last grouping shows that between 2019 and 2022 Australia (-4.8%) and the UK (-3%) also saw prison population falls but they are much smaller than NZ's (-20.7%)


The deviation implies NZ's decline is very much a matter of policy and not the social and demographic factors that affect prison populations.


You will note from the first chart that the NZ prison population is starting to climb again. A campaign to attract more staff to Corrections has been high profile. The government may now be abandoning their experiment.


Tragically it is too late for some though.


Bill English may have been right when he described prisons as a fiscal and moral failure. They certainly don't rehabilitate every inmate. They don't even come close. Far more needs to be done within prisons in that regard.


But prisons serve another purpose. They protect the public from dangerous people. That aspect of their place in society seems to have been overlooked in recent years.



Lindsay Mitchell blogs here

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75 Comments


I sometimes wonder about the priorities of the people administering the justice system? It seems to me that there has ben more and more legislation and deployement of police resources to apprehending and fining people that are essentially law abiding and whose actions have not resulted in any material harm to themselves or anyone else. Are the objectives of the highly paid bureacrats and administrators in this Justice "industry" the protection of law abiding citizens and their property from being harmed by criminals or the generation of more revenue from criminalizing the ordinary people who inadvertantly violate some traffic or other regulations from time to time? It seems to me that the main priority in this justice "industry" has become the generation …

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Paul Johansen
Paul Johansen
Dec 19, 2022

The correct balance needs to be struck between rehabilitation and consequences that discourage distructive behaviuor. Why stop commiting crimes if there are no consequences? People who have nothing left to lose commit crimes and seldom consider the consequences. Just surviving from one day to the next is about all they care about. They see no open doors, only continual rejection. Its no wonder they have given up planing some kind of future. The calous Australians called it taking out the trash. Thats a sure way to inspire dispair. Anyone hearing that, loses any sense of self respect they might still be clinging to. These people truly believe society has given up on them and its that attitude that needs t…

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How come our fathers and grandfathers got it right when they didn't have to lock their doors when they went out? Prison wasn't the holiday camp it is now where the criminals have rights given by woke politicians. Pedophiles when released are still pedophiles, the criminally insane are still insane because Helen Clark shut down most of the asylums. Drug dealers still deal inside when supplied by visitors and every inmate knows that the system can be gamed. Nothing will change as long as National and Labor install dumb-arse politicians who make dumb laws and dumb-arse citizens who still expect things will get better if they vote them in again. The dumb leading the dumb!

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Yet another success from the Ardern regime.

Under Ardern’s “ leadership “ the utterly useless Kelvin Davies has been emptying our prisons on an industrial scale.

Cuddles Coster remains stoic in his “ policing by consent “ policy as it would be “ racist “ to actually enforce the law as 99% of us require.

And they collectively wonder why a massive rise in violent crime is occurring !

Port Moresby is a law abiding paradise compared to our lawless, divisive and fractured country.

Ardern, Davies and Coster are nothing but criminal enablers and traitorous to the people they are charged to protect.

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W deVries
W deVries
Dec 19, 2022
Replying to

Actually, while the points you make are important, the rise in crime is simply an inevitable lag on the social policy of the last few decades - as epitomised by the anti-smacking bill. (As a matter of interest, that was the precursor to the anit-conversion therapy bill... a solution looking for a problem).


Parents who don't respect themselves/each other, or police/govt authority, "raising" children who do the same but worse. No respect for teachers. No respect for business owners, or owners of anything.


Prisons are for punishment and rehabilitation, yes. But they're also there to keep the public safe. Setting a goal for prisoner numbers is plain ignorance of human nature. Wishful thinking.


What we need is politicians (and judges/police)…

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JW
JW
Dec 18, 2022

One factor Lindsay’s analysis didn’t take into account is Covid. The Justice department website explains that COVID-19 heavily affected several areas of the justice system, impacting trends in the data since the initial outbreak in 2019/2020. The Delta and Omicron outbreaks in 2021/2022 had the largest annual COVID-19 impact on justice statistics including reduced court inflow and reduced court events. This should be born in mind when drawing conclusions about the trends in recent years, especially in 2021/2022.


The end of covid restrictions would explain why the NZ prison population has started to climb again. The fact that NZ had longer lockdown periods than either Australia or England, may also explain their higher rates of prison convictions. Whatever the reason,…

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Administrator
Administrator
Dec 20, 2022
Replying to

The Justice sector also explains: "Since 2017, there has been increased use of non-custodial sentences such as intensive supervision. This is consistent with a greater focus on rehabilitation. Additionally, the proportion of imprisonment sentences served in prison before release on parole has decreased."


Fewer are imprisoned and they are let out sooner.


https://www.justice.govt.nz/assets/Documents/Publications/imGcg9-2020-Justice-sector-projection-report-v2.1.pdf

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