Here in Aotearoa New Zealand, we pride ourselves on being a nation grounded in values of equality, fairness and compassion. We believe that whānau (family) should come first. We believe in giving people a ‘fair go’.
But for the past 30 years, lawmakers have been spending more and more billions of taxpayer dollars on forcibly separating mothers from children, husbands from wives, and sisters from brothers to put them in cages we call prison.
“Instead of the Government spending over 90 grand to keep us in prison every year, why don’t they invest it on keeping us out?” - A person who used to be in prison 1
The majority of people our government and courts choose to put in prison are people who have problems with literacy and numeracy, drug or alcohol abuse, generational unemployment and poverty or mental health.
In other words, the majority of people we choose to lock away in isolation from their families, communities and support systems are people who have been failed by government under-investment in education, health, housing or jobs.2
There is another way.
In 2009, the Dutch government announced the closure of eight prisons in the Netherlands due to a declining crime rate which was expected to continue.
In 2013, a staggering 19 prisons were closed. In 2015, they closed a further five.
This was caused, in part, by a continued decline in crime rates because of a government focus on "deterring and mitigating crime" and "rehabilitation efforts."
The use of electronic tags (for non-violent offences) instead of prisons allowed more people to go back to work, stay connected with their family, and continue as productive members of society, while saving about $50 million per year for every 1000 people.3,4
The Labour-led government are close to making a decision about whether or not to go ahead with building a new billion-dollar prison in Waikeria.5
If built, the prison, which was originally planned by the previous National government, will have the ability to lock up 3000 people. This would make it the largest prison in the country.
We know Justice Minister Andrew Little doesn’t want to go ahead with this:
“We carry on doing what we’re doing and we’re going to be needing to build a new prison every two to three years. Now what the hell is the good of that?” – Andrew Little
But he and Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis need a strong show of public support to transform the way our justice system works.
Stoking people’s fear about crime has long been a tactic used by opportunistic politicians seeking to gain easy “tough on crime” votes. But together we can show that’s not the way forward.
Show your support now for a fairer and more compassionate justice system by sending an email to Kelvin Davis and Andrew Little.
“As Minister of Corrections I want to reduce [the number of people in prison]. To be successful we will need to tackle the causes of offending – from mental health, to drug and alcohol abuse, education, housing and poverty.”
– Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis, December 2017
- Beyond the Prison Gate, Salvation Army Report 2016
Locked Up Warriors: New Zealand's Prison Problem, Aljazeera, 12 April 2017
The Netherlands Keeps Closing Prisons Because It Doesn’t Have Enough Prisoners, Fast Company, 2 February 2017
Dutch Get Creative to Solve a Prison Problem: Too Many Empty Cells, New York Times, 9 February 2017
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