Social Investment in the Criminal Justice System

  • Amy Adams

Good morning and thank you Andrew Bridgman for the introduction and for hosting us at the Justice Centre this morning.

It’s fair to say that New Zealand has one of the most trusted justice systems in the world and is internationally very highly regarded.  But that’s not something we should ever take for granted. 

Our justice system underpins our confidence to go about our lives in peace, and helps to promote New Zealand as a civilised society, a well-functioning economy and trusted international nation. Indeed, the safety and security of the population is one of the most critical deliverables for any Government

There is much we can be rightly proud of.

Crime is at its lowest levels in more than 35 years.

Fewer young people are in our courts and youth crime is down 38 per cent since 2011.

As a government we’ve taken significant steps to better protect the vulnerable in our society; from the introduction of the Victims’ Offender Levy, our ground breaking laws to protect victims of cyber-bullying, better supporting young people to give their evidence, reductions in the number of grants of permanent name suppression and the appointment of the first ever Chief Victims Advisor to Government.

We are also undergoing a comprehensive cross Government overhaul of our approach to family and sexual violence in an effort to reduce the appalling effect these crimes have on society.

But it’s my view that the best thing we can do to support victims is to stop them from ever becoming one.

And in this regard our system is certainly not perfect.

We continue to face long-standing challenges. 

For starters, the incidence and impact of crime is unevenly spread – research has found that three per cent of adults experience 53 per cent of all crime.

It will come as no surprise to anyone here that Māori are over-represented in the criminal justice system, both as perpetrators and victims. Māori are six times more like to end up in prison than non-Māori.

We are battling with a horrendously high rate of intergenerational family violence.

Despite falling crime rates, our imprisonment rate per capita is high by international standards.

In 2014/15 New Zealand imprisoned 194 people out of every 100,000 people. This placed us seventh-highest in the OECD just behind Mexico.  We’re 27 per cent higher than Australia and 40 per cent higher than the UK.  The current rate of imprisonment for Māori is much worse, standing at around 700 per 100,000 people. 

While having the right people behind bars to protect the public is a good thing, it comes at a tremendous cost and we need to work hard to keep bringing the number of people committing these offences down.

None of these problems are new. Indeed they have challenged successive governments.

The fact of the matter is that we need to be prepared to think about things differently if we are going to get markedly different results.

What is new is that we now have access to more information and data analytics capability than ever before, and the technology to bring it together to analyse and understand it with greater ease. 

Armed with the power of that information, we have the ability to better understand the likely predictors of future behaviours, the risk indicators and the likelihood of the success of various interventions and investment in each case. 

We now have the opportunity to use high quality data analytics to model how we can better reduce crime and victimisation, not just by what occurs once an offender comes into contact with the justice system, but long before that.  And based on that to work with social sector colleagues right across Government to consider and track all the investments we’re making and the anticipated justice sector outcomes of those investments. 

This is the theme I want to address this morning.

Social investment

I’m sure by now you’ve heard a lot about the Government’s Social Investment Approach being championed by the Deputy Prime Minister Bill English.

At its simplest Social Investment is about improving the lives of New Zealanders by applying rigorous and evidence-based investment practices to social services.

It means using information and technology to better understand the people who need public services, and what works, and then adjusting services accordingly. What is learnt through this process informs the next set of investment decisions.

More practically, we take this to mean targeting integrated services at those individuals, families and communities where dysfunction poses the highest long-term social and economic costs.

And it means understanding what services work. That is, evaluating which services, or which combinations of services, have been most-effective in reducing long-term social and economic costs, and for whom, and expanding or better-targeting those services.

It’s also about looking beyond the lens of any one agency and understanding the long term outcomes across a range of Government sectors and services from the investment in any part of the system.

Aim of applying the Investment Approach to Justice

This morning I want to outline for you how we’re planning to apply the Social Investment approach to the Justice system and how this might shape our future thinking.

The approach will enable us to focus on better understanding a wide range of risk factors, and combination of those factors, that tell us likely outcomes if effective interventions are not put in place, and which interventions are in each case most likely to reduce future harm to society. 

It’s about investing more effectively, and earlier, for the biggest achievable reduction in the burden of crime on society.

The Justice Sector has for some time been working hard to understand the impact of its various interventions to reduce crime and victimisation. From Police, to Courts to Corrections a tremendous effort has gone in to understanding and improving all our services on a daily basis and it’s incredibly encouraging to see the progress that has been, and continues to be made. We have a dedicated workforce across the justice sector that is committed to improving the lives of all New Zealanders.

This piece of work is about ensuring we give them further information based on the incredible data picture we now have, to better plan, predict and invest. Perhaps even more importantly, it’s about enabling them to better co-ordinate with colleagues across areas like Health, Education, and Child Youth and Family, to try and prevent today’s vulnerable young people ever becoming offenders of the future.

The Investment Approach allows us to understand not only the positive impact interventions have on the outcomes in the sector investing, but right across Government.

So education successes aren’t just thought of, and assessed by, the value of the education wins they deliver, but through a lens of understanding the likely reduction in future offending produced as a result. 

So the effectiveness of drug and alcohol treatment can also be measured with reference to the reduction in the total harm burden to society of offending that may otherwise have occurred, and so on.

As well as the holistic impacts across the public sector, this approach is about ensuring organisations involved in crime prevention have access to high quality research, helping them to make better informed decisions about where to invest to make the biggest difference.

How the Investment Approach works

The Investment Approach to Justice is based on four streams of work.

The first is about how we measure the burden that crime places on society, and how we will understand if our investments are reducing it.

In the welfare system they use a fiscal liability measure.

We are exploring a number of alternatives that may be more appropriate to crime.  For example whether a harm based measure or an index based on a severity weighting of the offending could give a more meaningful picture.

The second stream of work is about building the statistical, actuarial models that will help us understand who in New Zealand is most at risk of future offending and victimisation.  Again, while we know the high level picture, this is about giving us a much more granular analysis than ever before, allowing much greater targeting of interventions.

So for example, we know that in family violence one per cent of NZ adults suffer 62 per cent of family violence, meaning it has one of the highest re-victimisation rates across offence types. 

We also know that delinquency problems and substance abuse at age 15, and leaving secondary school early, can be strong risk predictors of future family violence offending.  We also know that a partner’s pregnancy or having a young child in the home, or a recent separation, or threat of it, can all be potential triggers for family violence.

We know those who offend at a young age can be significant contributors to future crime but we want to know which types of offending in particular are the greatest predictors of future recurrent offending.

The third stream of work is about understanding what works to reduce crime. Not just in the justice sector, but right across government and at all stages of the life-course as I’ve mentioned.

For example do particular sentence types lead to statistically significant differences in re-offending when matched with comparable groups of offenders?

Crime has been extensively studied over many years, but the research findings are not always easy for busy decision-makers to find and interpret.

An important part of the Investment Approach is gathering this evidence and making it accessible to policy makers and researchers.

The final stream of work is about connecting these insights with decision-makers across the system and taking different decisions as a result.

The modelling that supports the Investment Approach is made possible thanks to the assembly of information on the Integrated Data Infrastructure, or IDI.

It is anonymised data brought together from various government agencies throughout the public sector that can be analysed to gain meaningful insights into people’s lives and better understand the relationship between crime and other social issues.

By applying smarter data analytics we’re able to point to real results that are reducing the burden of crime and reducing the number of victims.

The data also tells us how much crime would be prevented if we increased the level of investment in any particular area to ensure best use of the resource available.

Early insights from the Investment Approach

What the Investment Approach does is bring hard numbers to the long-held “truths” people working in the Justice sector have intuitively known.  

We’ve known, for example, that many people who come into contact with the Justice System have drug and alcohol issues – and that those drawn to a life of crime, usually start young.

And we also know that those who end up in prison have typically been known to government agencies for many years. 

For example, three out of every four young prisoners was notified to Child, Youth and Family for a care and protection concern before they turned 15 years old.

Some of our early analysis found that for a cohort of people born in New Zealand in 1978, 80 per cent of convictions went to those who were first convicted before the age of 20.

This analysis also found that one in four of those born in 1978 has a criminal conviction. One in three men born in 1978 has a criminal conviction and one in two Māori and Pacific men has a conviction.

We’ve always known that many people who interact with the Justice Systems have mental health issues but it’s been difficult for us to quantify the full extent or nature of this.

Our analysis using the IDI is the first step of changing this.

For example, we’ve found that while 11 per cent of the general public have used mental health services, this is dwarfed by the level of use of mental health issues of those in the criminal justice sector where mental health issues affect:

·       35 per cent of those proceeded against by the Police

·       40 per cent of those charged in court

·       51 per cent of those starting a community sentence.

Under our Investment Approach to Justice, we will continue to analyse mental health and explore both the severity of mental illness among people in the justice system and the prevalence of mental illness among particular types of offenders.

Another early piece of analysis has indicated that comparing a matched grouped of offenders across assault, drink driving and shoplifting offences, the imposition of a sentence of fines as opposed to community work led to lower amounts of re-offending and decreased likelihood of future benefit reliance.

Applying the Investment Approach to family violence

A key area where we are actively applying the Investment Approach is the area of family violence.

The Ministerial Group on Family and Sexual Violence, which I co-chair with Social Development Minister Anne Tolley, is taking an investment approach to family violence to target support where it will make the biggest difference.

Each year we spend $1.4 billion on family violence.

We’ve done a stocktake and our analysis shows that less than 10 per cent of that spend is focused on prevention. We are instead predominantly addressing the impacts of family violence, like prison costs and victim recovery.

It’s another example of how the system focuses on reacting to the worst criminal offending, rather than doing more to address it early on.

By taking a long-term view, the Investment Approach also offers the potential to disrupt inter-generational patterns of crime.

For example, we know that 7 per cent of children born in 1993 have been referred to CYFs because of exposure to family violence.

The outcomes for these children have been poor, and many have begun offending themselves, continuing the vicious circle of offending.

Other sobering statistics about this specific group of children include:

·       44 per cent left school before the age of 17 & 57 per cent didn’t get NCEA level 2

·       Before the age of 19, 52 per cent had received a main benefit

·       By aged 21 it’s estimated that 15 per cent will have had a Corrections sentence and 5 per cent will have been in prison.

This information clearly shows that inter-generational patterns of offending are real, can be predicted using information on the IDI, and that exposure to family violence is a particularly important risk factor.

The Investment Approach is about taking the next step.

Having identified groups of people at risk of offending and victimisation in the future, we are now focusing on what we can do to disrupt the vicious circle of inter-generational offending today.

Doing more of what works

The Investment Approach is not only about predicting risk, it is about understanding what services work and for whom.

The Government spends billions of dollars every year on supporting our most-vulnerable households and individuals.

But for much for that spending, we simply don’t know what is making a difference.

The problem is that where we are supporting interventions that don’t work, what we are doing is taking the time and energy and reducing the resilience of the people we are trying to help.

Through the Investment Approach, we are building the capability to understand how the interventions we fund are changing outcomes for the people we are trying to help.

As information about services effectiveness becomes available, we’ll be increasingly using that knowledge to inform where to invest next.

It’s this system of feedback that means the Investment Approach can deliver sustained pressure for improvement in public services.

Funding commitment

The Government has so far invested $2 million of additional funding from the Justice Sector Fund to fund the Investment Approach to Justice alongside the core work of officials from across the sector.

PwC has also been brought on board to assist the Ministry of Justice on work stream two and the development of the underpinning actuarial models.

The funding will be focused on building the statistical models on the Integrated Data Infrastructure that will predict life-course patterns of offending and victimisation. In turn, these models will allow us to understand concentrations of risk in the population, simulate the effect of changes in sentencing policy on crime, and forecast future crime.


It’s an incredible privilege being the Justice Minister. But success for me will ultimately be about how we can better target our resources to reduce the incidence of crime in our society.

The criminal justice sector is about holding people to account but also working to prevent people ever being victimised.

The Investment Approach is about addressing the core issues to stop crime happening, reduce harm and prevent victims from being victimised in the first place.

The point here is that when CYFs are involved in a neglect case – that is an opportunity for future crime to be prevented.

When a primary teacher is dealing with a kid who is truanting – that is an opportunity for future crime to be prevented.

When a doctor deals with an abused kid – that is an opportunity for future crime to be prevented.

Under the Investment Approach, data and better use of it is helping identify the areas of greatest need where the Government can best target our efforts, and do more of what works.

Ultimately, this will make a significant difference in helping to reduce the burden of crime on New Zealanders – both as taxpayers and as victims.