Effective Interventions in Criminal Justice

  • Damien O'Connor

Speech notes for address to Justice sector stakeholders on proposed changes to the criminal justice system. Prime Minister Helen Clark and Justice Minister Mark Burton also delivered speeches to the same gathering. Banquet Hall, Parliament

Thank you Prime Minister and Minister Burton, and welcome to you all.

As Minister of Corrections my focus will be on initiatives that affect the way we run our prisons and community-based sentences.

Prisons have an essential place in any society. They reassure law-abiding citizens that serious repeat offenders and hard-core criminals will be taken out of circulation. We will continue to do that.

Already the Labour-led Government has spent close to $1 billion to add 2100 new beds and to make our prisons secure.

But we also need other approaches. What this package does is fund a number of initiatives aimed at reducing re-offending rates by expanding rehabilitation and reintegration services.

Rehabilitation addresses the underlying causes of offenders’ criminal behaviour. Re-integration helps prisoners settle back into the community after their release.

These services work hand-in-hand to make the community safer.

Effective treatment and rehabilitation are critical when one considers the kinds of sobering facts driving crime, such as up to 60 per cent of offenders being affected by alcohol or other drugs at the time of their offending.

The rehabilitation of prisoners who are committed to turning their lives around will be improved through a number of proposals.

Today, we have announced that we will add two more drug and alcohol units over the next 18 months, bringing the total number operating in our prisons to six.

Corrections will also be establishing two new high-intensity special treatment units, which will challenge and treat offenders exhibiting multiple criminal behaviours including violence.

The kinds of programmes running in these units have been shown to reduce re-offending rates by up to a quarter compared to those that do not undertake the courses.

As I said at the beginning, when it comes to reducing re-offending, rehabilitation is only half of the equation.

Successfully re-integrating prisoners back into society at the end of their sentence is the other component.

Well-targeted re-integration services help prisoners prepare for their release and provide essential support during the crucial period when they are starting to find their feet.

Corrections is to improve the services it already runs by:
·Significantly increasing employment and training opportunities in prison; and
·Expanding the quantity and range of services for prisoners when released back into the community.

In particular, a huge amount of effort is being put into boosting employment and training opportunities.

New money has been budgeted for this initiative.

There are solid reasons for taking this approach. Research shows us that the majority of sentenced prisoners have never been in paid employment before entering prison.

We also know that meaningful and sustainable work after release has a significant impact on re-offending rates.

The Prisoner Employment Strategy 2006 – 2009, which the government launched in May, clearly lays out how we are going to carry out this important task.

The types of industries that are expected to have close involvement include: plant nurseries, construction, forestry, farming, light engineering, textiles and timber processing.

The target is to increase participation in employment activities of all eligible prisoners over the next three years from the current 40 per cent of prisoners to 60 per cent.

Likewise the number of prisoners gaining NZQA qualifications is expected to significantly increase.

Once released from prison, wrap-around services, delivered by Corrections and other government and non government agencies, will help prisoners find accommodation, find work and manage relationships and personal finances.

These initiatives will deliver results.

Corrections estimates that these measures will reduce the need for 100 prison beds by 2012.

In addition, new money has been budgeted for Corrections to boost treatment programmes for offenders serving community-based sentences.

These will include more domestic violence programmes to combat a jump in offending in this area, and an expansion of Tikanga Maori programmes.

Targeted interventions at this stage go a long way towards reducing the likelihood of offending escalating to a point where prison becomes the only option.

Finally, providing prisoners greater access to mental health services and gambling treatment programmes are other areas the government is actively working on.

These areas involve the Ministry of Health, district health boards and Corrections strengthening partnerships and service delivery.

In summary, the initiatives I have just outlined describe how Corrections will help deliver a more effective criminal justice system. It will also have a key role in implementing the wider range of community sentences announced earlier by my colleague Mark Burton.

The department has already made a good start, but there is plenty still to do. I am absolutely sure it will achieve the goal of reducing re-offending, and help make the community safer.

I’d now like to hand you to Law Commission President Sir Geoffrey Palmer.

Thank you.

The Effective Interventions website has background information, including reference documents and factsheets: