Workman and McVicar welcome prison policy – but who honestly believes the Beehive numbers?

Dunno what to make of the first sentence of a media release yesterday from Corrections Minister Anne Tolley and Associate Corrections Minister Dr Pita Sharples.

The statement was headed Budget 2012: Reducing reoffending, victims of crime

Alf is all in favour of reducing reoffending so was keen to find out what’s doing.

The statement kicks off –

Budget 2012 will contribute to a 25 per cent reduction in reoffending by 2017, and 18,500 fewer victims of crime every year from 2017, Corrections Minister Anne Tolley and Associate Corrections Minister Dr Pita Sharples say.

The moves are part of the Prime Minister’s expectations for a more efficient and results-driven public service.

This looks awfully like a promise of the sort we Nats can’t keep and accordingly it should have been couched in the bullshit language that our highly paid spin doctors are good at employing on these occasions, to give us an “out”.

But no. We have said re-offending will have been reduced by 25 per cent by 2017.

For good measure, there’s this –

From 2017, there will also be 600 fewer prisoners in jail than in 2011, and 4,000 fewer community offenders.

These targets have much the same pong as our proud boast to restore the budget balance to surplus by 2014/15.

Actually, Alf has taken a few bets with back-bench colleagues that the surplus won’t show up quite so soon, no matter what numbers are thrown up in the Treasury’s projections in the Budget on Thursday. But he is not publicly airing his scepticism, lest he be regarded as disloyal, and is happy to bray about a budget surplus along with the best of the Beehive bunch.

But how will we knock the reoffending rate back by 25 per cent?

Sad to say, it looks like we have gone namby-pamby and will be doing things quite contrary to the way Alf would do things.

He’s for bringing back the rack and shackling prisoners to the walls of their dank and dingy cells.

But not Anne.

A boost in alcohol and drug treatment, alongside increased education, skills training and employment programmes for prisoners, including remand prisoners, will lead to safer communities and better value for money for taxpayers.

But Alf is sure Tolley’s heart is in the right place.

“It’s time to get serious about breaking this vicious cycle of prison and reoffending,” Mrs Tolley says.

“Offenders need to be made accountable for their crimes. But while they are in prison and upon their release, we must do more to rehabilitate, and then reintegrate, if they are to avoid a return to crime.”

This rehabilitative carry-on is apt to cost big bucks, of course.

And we will be unveiling a zero budget.

So where will the dosh come from?

From “reprioratising”, which means some other bugger’s programme will miss out.

Reprioritised funding of $65.0 million in operating expenditure over the next four years will contribute to:

• 33,100 additional offenders receiving new and expanded drug and alcohol treatment in prisons and in the community (an increase of almost 500 per cent).

• 7,855 additional prisoners and community offenders receiving new and expanded rehabilitation services (a 230 per cent increase).

• 2,950 additional prisoners in education and employment training (a 30 per cent increase).

• 7,500 prisoners and community offenders to be supported to find real jobs, in new partnerships with employers and industry.

• 41,100 community offenders receiving new rehabilitation support provided directly by probation officers

• 4,120 prisoners and community offenders in new rehabilitation services delivered in partnership with iwi and community groups.

• 6,000 prisoners and community based offenders accessing new reintegration support programmes from iwi and community groups.

Tolley says Corrections has looked thoroughly at the way it operates as part of an expenditure review, and has identified the best investments to reduce reoffending.

Dunno why it never bothered to do this before.

But that’s bureaucracy for you.

Tolley goes on –

“We know that two thirds of prisoners have addiction problems, and that up to 90 per cent can’t read or write well.

“By seriously addressing these major contributors to crime, alongside increased employment opportunities, we can reduce the likelihood of reoffending.

“A 25 per cent reduction in reoffending is bold but achievable, and Budget 2012 delivers on our promise to make communities safer.”

Alf always knew Sharples was inclined to molly-coddling.

So he was by no means surprised to hear him say the funding was “humane” and represented a significant shift towards rehabilitation and restoration of prisoners to their whānau and communities –

“This is a more humane response to offending, and it is cheaper and more effective. Simply sentencing more and more people to longer terms of imprisonment is not sustainable.

“Addressing the drivers of crime, and involving whānau and communities in rehabilitating offenders, is the way forward for us.”

Actually, it’s not the way forward for Alf, who quite liked the idea of banging bad buggers up in shipping containers.

But he notes that the Sensible Sentencing Trust has congratulated the Minister of Corrections on the announcement on reducing crime by 25% by 2017.

Trust Spokesman, Garth McVicar said the so-called Corrections Department to date had done anything but ‘correct’ – “it was a complete misnomer and the Dept seemed to have become an assembly line for mass producing criminals.”

“But this announcement from Minister Anne Tolley outlines a comprehensive program to break the cycle of offending and actually sets a target of reducing reoffending by 25% with 18,500 fewer victims by 2017.”

“That’s a pretty bold statement in anybody’s language and we wish the Minister luck.”

Alf does too. He hopes he is still with us in 2017 when the numbers are done to check promise against outcome.

The big thing that bothers Alf is that Kim Workman and the Rethinking Crime And Punishment Project welcome the announcement too.

“While the Budget 2012 proposal to reinvest $65m of the Corrections Vote in order to reduce reoffending and victims will have its critics, it looks to us like a genuine effort on the part of the Corrections Minister to distant herself from the ‘tough on crime’ rhetoric of the last decade, toward a smarter use of the taxpayer’s money says Kim Workman, Director of Rethinking Crime and Punishment.

“The proposal is highly ambitious, and represents a major shift in the way Corrections has conducted its business over the last two decades. It is going to require a major culture change in both Prisons and Community Probation. Efforts to Increase community and prison drug treatment by 500%, other rehabilitation programmes by 230%, and increase education and employment training by 30%, will require a fundamental change in the way staff relate to prisoners and offenders, and a realignment of their roles.”

When you are on side with Workman on this prison stuff, you have gone too soft.

On the other hand, when Workman and McVicar are welcoming the same policy initiative, something quite remarkable has happened in the law and order domain.

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