The Labour-NZ First Government has made it quite clear that it intends to reduce New Zealand's prison population by 30 per cent over the next 15 years.
But they have been quite vague about how they will achieve this and many of their actions don't provide much hope.
Labour's approach appears to be reducing the prison population by making crime harder to punish and leaving more criminals in the community. Hence the embarrassing announcements and retractions regarding the three strikes legislation, when Justice Minister Andrew Little announced the law would be repealed and then Winston Peters told him no it wouldn't.
On Wednesday, the Government announced it would add only 600 new beds at Waikeria even though conservative estimates predict New Zealand will have 2000 more prisoners between now and 2026. As 98 per cent of the prison population has committed the most serious offences, exactly how they will pick and choose which ones to leave in the community is both baffling and concerning.
Surely the ultimate way to reduce the prison population is by reducing the rate of crime and in particular, re-offending.
The re-offending rate in New Zealand is very high. In fact, 70 per cent of prisoners re-offend within two years of being released.
If we don't want criminals running free in the community or re-offending on release, then the key is working out what can be done during prison time to increase prisoners' ability to re-integrate into society, find legitimate employment, and avoid returning to crime.
Fortunately, many in-prison programmes have had real success at helping prisoners learn the skills and habits needed to succeed outside prison.
In Budget 2017, National increased total funding to rehab interventions and reintegration services by 13.5 per cent, compared to Budget 2018 where the increase is only 6.7 per cent despite there being more prisoners now than last year.
Unfortunately, many of our in-prison programmes were cut in the process.
For example: driver licenses are a major barrier for many former prisoners. Many jobs in New Zealand require a license either to do the job or as a means to get to the job on time, so not having one reduces employment options immensely.
Sadly, the $1.5 million for the programmes Addressing Barriers to the Graduated Driver License System and This Way for Work were both cut in Budget 2018.
Issues around mental health and crime have been featured regularly in news and social media.
The rate of mental illness in prison is over three times that of the general population. Yet funding in the budget acts as if mental health issues vanished overnight, with $6.7 million for advanced mental health support services in 2017 wiped for 2018.
Methamphetamine Targeting Screening and Rehabilitation for Prisoners also received $1.07 million in 2017 and nothing in 2018.
P addicts often resort to crime to fund their habits and makes them far more likely to return to prison.
Without addressing these issues, the Government is setting these people up to fail and making communities more dangerous.
The Government's attempts to reduce the prison population at all costs are unfair on communities and they're unfair on prisoners.
It is hard to understand how it can find billions for free tertiary education and diplomats but cuts important funding to help reduce re-offending and make us safer.