The explosion in the prison population and the ignition it's given Government plans to boost jail space by over 15 per cent poses new issues about who really is occupying our prison beds and what they did to get there.

Given the apparent slashing of expenditure on the running of our state services in the recent years of the so-far three-term National government, the apportioning of $1 billion to this project is bizarre.

On one hand, with the number of inmates, sentenced and on remand, at September 30 being a record 9798 - 820 more than 12 months earlier and including 9125 males - it flies in the face of Government claims that the crime rate is coming down, even with tougher remand and bail provisions doing some of the extra bed-warming at the penitentiary.

They are also claims contested by many at the coalface.


On the other hand, it seems a showing of the white flag to all of the conditions and circumstances that lead people towards incarceration for their misdeeds, whatever they may be.

Has the system, like many of its subjects, simply given up, or do we actually have a nation where people who end up in jail are people who "want" to commit crime, as Justice Minister Judith Collins suggested when talking with Newstalk ZB morning host Mike Hosking during the week.

There are many people in prison who will argue they are not there because they committed a crime, at least not in the sense of the word as it is usually associated with a 4000-year history of imprisonment.

They didn't assault anyone, they didn't burgle anyone, they didn't steal a loaf of bread, and they didn't commit treason or some sort of political dissent of the type which might one day have had them thrown into the cooler whether or not they were guilty of anything.

Penal codes have gone through multiple phases from barbarism to the reformative, and one might have thought that in this day and age when we'd all love a climate where there is no longer any need for our prisons the $1 billion could be far better spent.