Key Points:

The Government's determination to get tough on criminals is being questioned by a criminal justice researcher.

Police and Corrections Minister Judith Collins said yesterday the Government was determined to overhaul home detention and parole laws.

New Zealanders had lost faith in sentencing and parole laws, so major changes were on the way, Ms Collins said.

But Kim Workman, director of the Rethinking Crime and Punishment project, said today that criminal justice professionals were becoming increasingly concerned that justice policy was being pushed through the legislative process in the absence of evidence-based research, good information, and adequate consultation.

Ms Collins said home detention was designed as an option for non-violent offenders, but under the Labour-led government it was given to too many violent, sex and drug offenders who posed a serious threat to the community.

"The public is rightly concerned about the number of serious offences committed by people who have been released on parole, and that sentences of home detention are given to violent criminals.

"Restoring the public's faith in sentencing and parole will be a priority over the next 12 months. The community needs to be assured that people who are a threat are kept behind bars," Ms Collins said.

Mr Workman said it was understandable that the new Government wanted to make good on its law and order promises in the first 90 days of office.

But the growing view among public servants, the judiciary, and criminal justice advisers and providers, was that it was now time to "get smart" rather than "get tough".

"The current proposal to exclude violent offenders, drug addicts and sex offenders from home detention is a good example, of a proposal based on inadequate research," he said.

"It is based on a claim that the public is concerned that the proportion of offenders from this group being sentenced to home detention has increased by 10 per cent over a five-year period.

"Our own discussions with members of the public show that the increase hasn't even registered with the public, and there is no great concern. Nor is there any evidence that the increase has resulted in an increased risk to public safety."

Mr Workman said researchers had found concerns that women with dependent children were increasingly being sentenced to home detention, in circumstances which made it extremely difficult for them to provide adequate care and support for their children.

"The view is that in the past, these women would have been dealt with by less restrictive means, and that this hardening up is adding stress to already dysfunctional families," he said.

"The problem is that no one really knows, because no one has bothered to carry out adequate research.

"What we do know is that sending them to prison rather than home detention will increase the likelihood of reoffending."

Mr Workman said at present, 31 per cent of people on home detention were reconvicted within two years of completing their sentence, compared with 57 per cent of people released from prison. It was also less expensive - costing $21,000 a year to administer a home detention sentence, as against $76,000 for someone in prison.

He suggested the Government should invest in the establishment of community-based rehabilitative programmes for drug offenders and sex offenders, rather than send them to prison.

"The latest research indicates that residential alcohol and drug treatment in the community reduces reoffending by up to 43 per cent, while treatment in prison reduces reoffending by between 13 per cent and 30 per cent," he said.

"There is a severe shortage of community-based drug treatment at present."

- NZPA