Chester Borrows says New Zealand needs to shift its focus from simply locking up criminals to more meaningful sentencing.

The Whanganui MP told TVNZ last week that politicians were scare-mongering over crime.
"I can't understand why so many intelligent politicians can't think smart on crime rather than tough on crime," he told One News

However, his comments brought a blast from Sensible Sentencing Trust founder Garth McVicar who called Whanganui MP Mr Borrows "a total disgrace" and accused him of "crim cuddling".

"This is the man who epitomises the offender friendly 'justice' system, which puts the needs of the criminal above those of the victim," Mr McVicar said.

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But yesterday Mr Borrows, a former police officer, lawyer and Minister for Courts, stood by his views.

"I was talking about all politicians, not just my colleagues."

He said politicians were "just feeding people's fear ... that they have reason to be afraid of other people in their community.

"One of my long-held views is that victims are at the centre of the justice system and some of them are standing in the dock," he said.

Mr Borrows, who leaves Parliament in September after 12 years, said offenders were often victims in the way they were raised and in the environment in which they grew up.

"They're the victims of decisions by others," he said.

Mr Borrows said society could either write people off as "rubbish" and give up on them or believe everyone was available for redemption.

To achieve this the focus should be on education, restorative justice and employment while prison should be for those who pose a threat to society.

"There's a place for a range of sentences - shorter sentences rather than longer - but actually making them meaningful.

"The whole Western world believed in tough on crime at one stage, but it actually didn't get us anywhere. The best hope we've got is to actually make people better when they leave prison than when they went in."

Most people who ended up in jail quickly realised their mistake, he said.

"If someone goes to jail for four years and they hear the door slam for the first time they realise what a cock up they've made. So what are the next three years for? What are we trying to achieve with incarceration?"

Mr Borrows said the right approach to justice was not often popular but hoped public opinion was turning and people would understand the complexity of the issue.

"The majority of the the public who are educated on these sorts of things understand it.
But it's not popular. I'd like to think that we'd start to see a decrease in the prison population in years to come."