For a number of years Bill English has quietly championed a prison reform approach that should appeal to fiscal conservatives and social liberals alike. As prime minister, he now needs to sell it.
At stake is a billion dollar spend on a new prison caused by a prison population that recently hit 10,000. With an election year on the doorstep, that’s money English would rather employ elsewhere.
In 2012, the government and the Department of Corrections set a bold target of reducing reoffending by 25per cent by 2017.
They are going to fall well short. Undoubtedly, many people will make a big deal of that failure, and perhaps that’s reasonable, but it ought be applauded for its bold intent.
It was the ambition of the target that challenged corrections staff – from policy analysts to prison guards – to fundamentally rethink what they were doing. Instead of simply containing prisoners until their release, they were instructed to think about creating an environment and initiatives that rehabilitate them.