While gangs get all of the headlines and policy on the fly, a more significant issue is getting more considered policy attention, and it's instructive and something we should be paying more attention to.
Ask any Kiwi right now what the most significant crime issue is in New Zealand and gang violence will likely be the answer. But there are many that top it; family violence, for example. On average once every five weeks a child is killed in the home; gang violence is more topical but not remotely close to as deadly.
Details of yet another toddler violently killed by a person who was meant to protect them were revealed last week. The 18-month-old was battered and then left to suffer without treatment for hours. When ambulance staff were finally called, they found the poor wee mite under dressed and so cold they couldn't get a temperature read. She eventually died from blunt force trauma, but marks on her body showed both fresh and old injuries and she was severely malnourished. Her short life knew only violence and neglect.
Furthermore, for each of those innocent children killed, there are scores who survive their wretched existences knowingly only abuse and no love. So often those kids grow up just to populate our prisons and, indeed, our gangs.
Family violence is without question the most significant and consequential problem in crime and justice. And unlike the kneejerk reactionism and simplistic "tough on crime" rhetoric often employed, family violence is being addressed in ways that have a longer-term outlook and a better chance of success.
Initiated by Green MP Jan Logie, the national strategy to eliminate family and sexual violence is interesting because it looks beyond law enforcement to tackle problems of crime. It's seeking to understand the drivers of the behaviour and address them. This doesn't mean shying away from police taking action when crimes are committed, but increasing a focus on primary prevention. Hitherto, only a pitiful part of this country's $1.5b annual spends on the family has been on that (around 1.5 per cent) with the lion's share spent after the fact on punishment. Yet all would agree that preventing crime is the most desirable outcome.
More than that, the police being the lone response sometimes inhibits desirable change.
Data shows that many victims of family violence don't seek help; only around a third of offences against adults are ever reported. One reason for this is that many victims don't want the offender locked up, they just desperately want the behaviour to change. Again, when a person has been badly beaten or abused – particularly a child – that punitive action is still required and done. But we must acknowledge that just getting "tougher" is often not smarter.
These issues are complex, and they require more sophisticated responses. The same is true of crime generally.
When we say that issues of crime are a police or Corrections problem alone, we are really saying that we only want to do is deal with the symptoms rather than the underlying causes.
Under that scenario, we will never succeed in tackling the issue. The police and Corrections have an important role, but if we abdicate community and family responsibility, we are missing a large and important part of the puzzle.
Equally critically to recognise is that the Ministries of Education and Health, for example, are just as important as crime-fighting tools as the police and Corrections.
This complexity is very hard to deliver on the hustings and, in part, that's why politicians reach for quick and easy slogans that appear instinctually good. It's easy in a 20-second sound bite on the telly to say we simply need more laws or a tougher approach that claims it will achieve immediate success. It's difficult to explain a sophisticated longer-term strategy and why that will be more effective.
When National's Bill English saw the current approach failing (prisons, he concluded, were a "moral and fiscal failure") he devised a social investment model that used measures to identify at-risk families and intervene. He went into the election not promoting that but instead calling for boot camps. Presumably, that polled better.
Politics ahead of policy and simplicity over sophistication is what will be delivered before the next election. For the sake of those kids who are right now being belted and abused, we ought to demand better.
• Dr Jarrod Gilbert is a sociologist at the University of Canterbury and the director of Independent Research Solutions.