Alex Sweny - you might remember the name. He headed the Heart of the City group in Auckland, got in trouble with money and the law and got sent to jail.

He did some good work in there, used his time well, was let out early and appeared on the telly last weekend to tell us jails are hopeless, they're run by gangs and we need to fix them.

I've met Alex I think twice. Once when he ran for mayor of Auckland and he brought me coffee and outlined his plan. And also at a charity event at the house of a doctor who had his own helicopter and helicopter garage on the property, and this was a property in the middle of town, thus leading me to think there is money in medicine.

Anyway, Alex is affable, effervescent and sadly of course the sort of person who should never have ended up in jail. Is he right about jail? Well he'd know.


A lot of us have a lot of views on jail, but most of us haven't been there. So should we be listening to him? Probably. But it's one thing to speak from experience, it's another to have the solution.

My sneaking suspicion is Alex has come out with the sort of overwhelming feeling most people of his ilk would have, should they encounter the same scenario. In other words, yes he was shocked because why wouldn't he be. He's a successful, well to do, middle-aged businessman, who rides a Vespa, lives in a cool house and is about a million miles away from a jail. The contrast would shock anyone.

I suspect Alex would go along with Sir Peter Gluckman's prison report last month: we spend too much on jails, there are too many people in them, we need more intervention. And that is brilliant, but how real is it?

The success stories of rehab we hear, are "stories" because of their rarity. If they happened all the time it would be the norm, but it's not. And you have to ask yourself why they aren't?

And the answer is because kids are born into deprivation, into homes of crime and drugs and no hope. And those kids are allowed to grow up in these homes and not go to school or not care about education or be exposed to criminal activity, and they're allowed to hit the street and tap into welfare, because they know nothing else, are taught nothing else, are shown nothing else.

They're not articulate, they're not aware, they have no aspiration, no role models. This is a generalisation of course, but you know what - we create these people, and can not be remotely surprised at how they end up in jail.

And once there, we delude ourselves into thinking a government department can reform them - take all those years of destruction and just erase it, and send them on their way. It's not real. Laudable, but not real.

Factor in also that jails are political, they're the result of governments enacting the law enforcement wanted by the voter, and the voter wants lots of jails and lots of crooks in them, and preferably a key or two tossed away.


So not only do the Alex Swneys of this world want a social miracle, they need a political one as well. I'll tell you this, it's not happening in my lifetime.