It's criminal - New Zealand has the second-highest imprisonment rate in the Western world, just behind the United States with its gangs, rampant gun culture and where the death penalty is cause for rejoicing in some parts.

Here are a few chilling statistics - 66 per cent of prisoners have alcohol and drug problems; 60 per cent have personality disorders; 30.1 per cent will be re-convicted within a year of release from prison.

Something is going wrong and we need to take a good, hard look at how we can reduce the number of inmates.

One obvious way is to help those who end up inside to get on the right path when released, so they do not end up back behind bars.

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Yet it can seem the odds are stacked against rehabilitation.

Ex-prisoners hardly have enough money to get by; they struggle to get decent accommodation, they struggle to get jobs, they struggle to get the right help for their drug and alcohol problems.

Some might say: "Well, tough luck - you get what you deserve for being a crim."

But that attitude only makes it more likely they will re-offend and go back inside. Is that the direction we want to be heading?

Steve Treloar, manager of Whanganui Prisoners' Aid and Rehabilitation Society, has been helping ex-cons get back on their feet for 26 years, and should be in line for some kind of medal.

He feels he is not just fighting the destructive baggage that former prisoners bring with them, but also society's "eye for an eye" sense of justice.

Groups like the publicity-conscious Sensible Sentencing Trust, with its "get-tougher-on-crime" grandstanding, are not helping his cause.

As he says: "The community needs to take responsibility for the crime that's within it."

It also needs to take responsibility for those who have paid their debt to society and are trying to start over.