If getting tough on crime was an Olympic sport, New Zealand would be a shoo-in for a medal.
Our nation now has one of the highest incarceration rates in the developed world - 188 prisoners per 100,000 people; higher than Australia at 160; the UK at 114; Canada, 107; and double the rate of most Western European nations.
The trouble is, every election brings further promises of crackdowns, arrests, prosecutions, longer sentences, and fewer second chances. Our prison population is proof we are enforcing law but, somehow, we are not getting order.
This week, Herald senior journalist Derek Cheng explored this in an unstinting series called "And Justice For All?" In it, Chief District Court Judge Heemi Taumaunu outlined a compelling case for a way out of the punitive entrenchment.
Te Ao Mārama, meaning "the enlightened world", has been laying the groundwork for changes in Hamilton and Gisborne. Taumaunu wants to bring best practices from specialist courts into the mainstream, including, when appropriate, community- and iwi-led approaches to address why a person has offended.
"People should be able to be confident that they can come to our court and seek justice … [where] we tried to assess what was going on, what led to you behaving in this way, and put a plan in place - where appropriate - to try and address that to reduce the risk of coming back in the future."
We also now have specialist courts including Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Courts, Rangatahi and Pasifika Youth Courts, Family Violence Courts, the Young Adult List Court in Porirua, the Sexual Violence Pilot Court, and courts for helping the homeless in Auckland and Wellington.
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There's movement in agencies talking to each other in a victim leadership group of senior managers across Justice, Police, Courts, Corrections, Oranga Tamariki. Specialist advocates for victims of sexual violence are being trialled in five areas.
There's more that can be done. A Victim's Commission could look into the so-called revolving door of crime and victims, with just 2 per cent of adults experiencing a third of all crime incidents. If we can get alongside victims, we may be able to prevent them being offended against again.
Despite our rate of incarceration, we are not a lawless nation. Our voluntary compliance with Covid restrictions proved that. Yet we have too long been focused on a grab/lock-up/release approach; rinse and repeat, with very little rinsing of the causes of offending. A percentage of our people are welded in a justice cycle like rats in a wheel.
Justice Minister Kris Faafoi has been light on public statements about where our system should be headed, but it appears he has been meeting with those offering answers. It's to be hoped some clarity emerges when he speaks at a justice sector conference on Saturday.
There are as many solutions as there are problems. The courts appear to be doing well to run so many initiatives and the Government should support whichever are proven to work.
Surely, it's time to address crime as something we want to stop rather than something we want to punish.