The Government is being urged to increase the amount of money it gives prisoners when they are released - if it wants them to stay out of jail.

The head of an advisory group on justice reforms said a payment of just $350 was setting prisoners up to fail, and many of them couldn't even access it.

Chester Borrows, a former National Party Minister and chair of the Safe and Effective Justice Programme Advisory Group, wants the payment to double.

He said poor support was a major factor contributing to a high rate of reoffending - 60 per cent of prisoners are re-convicted within two years of release.


The group will make recommendations to the Government to improve the criminal justice system - described by Justice Minister Andrew Little as "broken" - in an interim report in March, and a final report in August.

Little told the Herald he looked forward to the reports, but agreed that released prisoners needed more support.

Released prisoners can only get the $350, called the Steps to Freedom grant, if they have photo ID to set up a bank account. Many ex-prisoners did not have this, Borrows said.

"That's supposed to give them accommodation and keep them fed for two weeks until their first benefit or pay packet," Borrows told the Herald.

"If you've got to rent a room, you've got to pay a bond and usually a couple of week's rent in advance - how are you going to do that? And you're coming out with nothing in your cupboards. How much are two weeks' groceries?

"And if they keep you in Christchurch because there's no room in the Auckland Prison, and then release you in Christchurch and don't pay for you to get home, how does that person get back to their family support? You would have to say that these people are set up to fail."

Chester Borrows chairs the Safe and Effective Justice Programme Advisory Group, which will make recommendations to the Government later this year. Photo / Supplied
Chester Borrows chairs the Safe and Effective Justice Programme Advisory Group, which will make recommendations to the Government later this year. Photo / Supplied

It would be easy for the Government to provide released prisoners with photo ID, he said.

"Why not give everyone leaving prison a photo ID so they can get a bank account? Why hasn't anyone done that? No one's got an answer to that.


"You would think the Government would be able to give an ID card, because most of these people haven't got driver licences."

He said the group had not reached a consensus on how much a released prisoner should get, but he personally thought the fund - which had not changed since 1991, when it was lowered from $360 - should be doubled "if it is truly about setting up a released prisoner with essentials for two weeks".

Little said he would consider any advice that would help reduce the "ridiculously high" reoffending rate.

"It's been a familiar piece of feedback that post-release support is inadequate for a lot of prisoners.

"We've got to do a lot better. It's not just about putting money in someone's hands. It's about making sure they know where to go and how they access it. Another critical element is housing, and we know there has been an inadequacy of supply of housing for post-release prisoners."

Little said giving photo ID to every released prisoner seemed to be "a simple and easy idea, and something we could do that helps them get their lives sorted out".

Borrows said the system group was looking at a number of ways to improve the system, which shouldn't lock up people who posed no threat to public safety.

"Are they a threat to the public? Breaching the administrative side of the law because you've driven a car when you were told not to, or you went to a place when you were curfewed - those sorts of things.

"Or if you're in jail because you didn't pay your fines or do your community work, and you're double-bunked with a gang member when you have no previous gang affiliations and six weeks later you've got a facial tattoo and you're a member of the Mongrel Mob. Is that a really good idea?"

Asked if those things had actually happened, he said they had.

The Safe and Effective Justice Programme Advisory Group held a justice summit last year, and is currently holding public meetings nationwide to hear ideas about improving the system.