The saying, "We reap what we sow", highlights the farming experience that if you don't work in partnership with nature, you get a dud crop. It comes to mind when I think about the latest twist in the crime and punishment debate; the number of people in prisons.

The focus on the product of crime, prisoners and victims, gives little attention to the root causes of the problem. That is to say, we are worried by what we're reaping and not enough by what we're sowing.

Minister of Justice Andrew Little wants to find ways to reduce the prison population. Essentially, this will be achieved by softening bail legislation and making parole easier to get.


The result will be more offenders on the streets. The streets will become more dangerous and public safety will suffer as a consequence.

The inconvenient truth about high prison rates is that crime has fallen. New Zealand's homicides peaked at 176 a year but have now declined to around 80 per year and are still falling.

As New Zealand locked up its criminals for longer, the terrible crimes that resulted in the formation of the Sensible Sentencing Trust, such as those against Teresa Cormack, Kylie Smith and Karla Cardno, have declined. But locking people up is a response to criminals, not the complete answer to preventing the creation of criminals.

I was born in 1951, a time when New Zealand's crime and prison numbers were incredibly low — in fact, the country was averaging one or two homicides a year until the early 1960s.

So what went wrong? How did one of the safest countries in the western world end up spiralling to a totally unacceptable level of crime? Why is it that even locking people up doesn't stop new criminals emerging? What is different about our country now that is creating this new breed of criminal?

The one common denominator that Little and his colleagues won't dare talk about is the traditional family. I'm talking about a stable family unit — two parents and the children they bring into a loving, cherished relationship ... where the child grows up being taught right from wrong to become a law-abiding, contributing citizen.

The figures speak for themselves. In 1961, 95 per cent of children were born into a traditional family with married parents. By 2015 only 53 per cent of children were brought into the world by parents who were married.

A child that grows up without a father is five times more likely to commit crime.
The evidence shows more children are abused in de-facto-type households and a child who has been abused is 20 times more likely to end up in prison when an adult.

For Māori the figures are worse. In 1968, 72 per cent of Māori children were born to married parents. They had both a mother and a father as role models, just as the vast majority of Pacific Island children do today.

By 2015 only 21 per cent of Māori children were born into a traditional mother and father married-to-each-other family. The stark, staring fact is that the mantra "all forms of family or whānau are equal" is clearly absolute nonsense, and the statistics clearly prove that to be so.

The evidence is clear that a child needs a father who wants and loves them. This is the best way to raise a child to become a law-abiding, contributing member of society.

Little's justice summit won't dare say anything like that. They fear they might offend the left-wing liberals who have been at the forefront of breaking down the family unit.

These liberals would rather focus on the problem of prison numbers than face the reality of what their social ideology has created.

Garth McVicar is founder of the Sensible Sentencing Trust.