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Prisons boss puts focus on changing inmates' lives

By Derek Cheng

Corrections chief executive Ray Smith wants to cut the rate of reoffending. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Corrections chief executive Ray Smith wants to cut the rate of reoffending. Photo / Mark Mitchell

The new Corrections boss is taking the department into new territory with a renewed focus on turning around prisoners' lives, including a greater emphasis on jobs for prisoners and drug and alcohol treatment.

Chief executive Ray Smith, who is six months into a five-year term, said he wants his legacy to be a significant reduction in the reoffending rates.

The direction is a significant shift from the approach under his predecessor Barry Matthews, which was described as too focused on punishment

"The bottom line is public safety ... [but] the ultimate goal is about turning lives around and creating change for the long run," Mr Smith said.

Recidivism rates have been static or have worsened in recent years. Of those leaving prison, 62 per cent are re-convicted within two years, and 38 per cent are re-imprisoned, the department's annual report shows.

Mr Smith is preparing to shuffle the department's $1.1 billion annual budget to focus more on rehabilitation.

"I will do everything I can with my team to ensure resources go towards turning lives around," Mr Smith said.

"The vast majority of prisoners will leave, one day, and they will live in communities in streets just like you and I do. When they're there, we want them not to commit crimes.

"If we can get another 10 per cent reduction in reoffending, that might be 400 or 500 less people in prison each year."

Rebuilding work in Canterbury recovery would create job opportunities for prisoners, he said.

Mr Smith applauded the Government's plan to double the number of drug and alcohol programmes to 1000 by the end of the year, but said more were needed. Two-thirds of prisoners - the current muster is about 8500 - have drug or alcohol problems.

THE SMITH PLAN

* Doubling drug and alcohol treatment programmes from 1000 to 2000 within three years, with access to programmes at every prison (currently only eight of 20 prisons).

* Doubling to 300 the number on Release to Work, which gives prisoners guaranteed employment when they leave, and increasing skills training and education programmes.

* Using the Canterbury recovery to find work for prisoners.

* A 10 per cent reduction in recidivism.

- NZ Herald

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