Unsolved burglaries and a spate of aggravated robberies of dairies have put the spotlight on law and order ahead of the election.

Much policy has focused on a direct response - National is boosting police numbers and setting up boot camps for young offenders; Labour and New Zealand First calling for greater police resourcing, particularly in the regions.

However, another side to the debate is what deeper reforms are needed to address a prison muster that has hit record levels thanks to tougher bail laws and sentencing.

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The Government's books will be hit by an extra $2.5 billion over about five years as it builds new prisons and keeps more New Zealanders locked up.

Labour's Corrections spokesman and new deputy leader Kelvin Davis has been a strong advocate for more spending on rehabilitation, and has floated the idea of running a prison according to tikanga Maori values (not official party policy yet).

Concern about the 10,000-plus prison muster and the associated cost is such that the Act Party, the party of the hardline three-strikes policy (which it wants to expand to burglary), used its annual conference to launch a rehabilitation-focused policy.

That would reduce jail time if certain prisoners complete literacy, numeracy and driver licensing courses - an idea National and Labour have said is worth looking at.

Labour, the Green Party and NZ First all oppose National's private prison model.

Police are struggling with an increase in "traditional" areas of policing, including family violence, but also emerging areas including cyber-crime and online offending.

In February the Government announced a $503m package to boost police officer numbers by 880 over four years, with an extra 245 non-sworn staff. New performance targets were set including improving response times for emergency call outs and having police attend 98 per cent of all home burglaries.

It has also set up new services to try to cut rising burglary rates, including providing financial support for repeat victims and business owners to install extra security - the Government has taken significant heat over burglary resolution rates that dropped below 10 per cent.

And this month, Justice Minister Amy Adams announced policy to let judges send serious youth offenders to boot camp at Waiouru for up to a year, and police will be able to issue instant $200 fines to parents of children wandering the streets from midnight to 5am.

NZ First wants to introduce a demerit points system for youth offenders, and give young offenders Army-run trade training. The party has called for police numbers to be boosted further, by 1800, and has highlighted the number of officers working in the regions and small towns, promising to end the use of sole-charge police stations.

Winston Peters doesn't want new prisons built, and wants certain offenders to do hard labour. Other hardline policies include letting Kiwis defend themselves and homes with all necessary force, and cumulative sentencing for offenders convicted of more than one crime.

Labour wants to fund 1000 more police officers in its first term, and a particular focus on assaults, sexual assaults, burglaries and methamphetamine supply, with community policing a priority. Leader Jacinda Ardern was a vocal advocate as justice spokeswoman for the Government to issue an apology for historic abuse in state care, and for an urgent review of Family Court reforms.

The Greens want a moratorium on new prison construction except for the purposes of replacement, more funding for restorative justice, and an increase in the sentencing options available to judges - saying prison should be an absolute last resort as it is often an expensive way of creating more crime.

Gareth Morgan's the Opportunities Party (Top) has likened the prison muster to a "political crime", and has vowed to reduce it with policies including scrapping tougher bail laws and raising the Youth Court age to 20.

'They are not learning'

Brigid Searle says her family is on edge after having a car stolen while they slept. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Brigid Searle says her family is on edge after having a car stolen while they slept. Photo / Brett Phibbs

Just before Christmas Brigid Searle's family wagon was stolen from her Mt Wellington driveway, metres from where she and her husband slept.

Her husband took the train to West Auckland to pick it up after police found it, covered in graffiti, ignition wrecked and their two young children's car seats and bikes, which had been in the boot, gone.

There had been a number of break-in attempts before then, and Searle's husband called the police once when two men looked in the window. They were too busy to attend but offered victim support.

One of the car thieves, who lives in the same street, came back to their house to apologise and try to convince them to get the charges dropped.

Searle said she and her family are still affected by the crime, and will sell their home of almost seven years when they can afford to move.

"My husband just said to me last night, 'Have you got the car lock on, we can't afford another car'. He still gets up and looks out the window in the middle of the night if he hears a noise.

"My son still talks about his blue bike that they threw away, and why can't he have his blue bike?"

She would like to see tougher sentences for such offenders, saying it was very disappointing to learn the woman who stole the car got 80 hours community work, despite prior convictions.

"I just think, they are not learning. I'm not saying put her in prison for 10 years, but there needs to be some kind of consequences."

Law and order policies

NATIONAL

• $503m to boost police numbers by 880 over four years, with an extra 245 non-sworn staff. New performance targets including improving response times and having police attend 98 per cent of all home burglaries.

• Send serious youth offenders to boot camp for up to a year, and let police fine parents of young people out on the streets from midnight to 5am.

• Cut burglary and robbery rates with new services including helping repeat victims and business owners pay for extra security measures.

LABOUR

• Fund 1000 more police officers with a focus on assaults, sexual assaults, burglaries and methamphetamine, and making community policing a priority.

• Issue an apology for historic abuse in state care, and urgently review Family Court reforms.

• Oppose private prisons.

GREENS

• Provide more money for restorative justice.

• Increase the sentencing options available to judges so prison is truly a last resort.

• Stop new prison construction except for the purposes of replacement.

NZ FIRST

• Boost police numbers by 1800, and end the use of sole-charge police stations.

• Introduce a demerit points system for youth offenders, and give young offenders Army-run trade training.

• Let Kiwis defend themselves and homes with all necessary force.

MAORI PARTY

• Reduce the rate of Maori imprisonment by 30 per cent by 2027.

• Stop building new prisons and expand the provision of Whare Oranga Ake and Maori Focus Units in existing prisons.

• Provide "racial bias training" for everyone working in the criminal justice system.

ACT

• Let certain prisoners earn a jail time reduction if they complete literacy, numeracy and driver licensing courses.

• Extend the three-strikes policy to burglary.

• Make it easier to volunteer in prison education and rehabilitation programmes.

TOP

• Reduce prison muster with policy including scrapping tougher bail laws and raising the Youth Court age to 20.