Jess Berentson-Shaw – The Morgan Foundation
It was nicely done really; Judith Collins neatly deflected the question posed by a delegate at a Police Association’s Conference about when the government was going to start addressing the causes of the crimes, notably child poverty. She repelled that pretty brave question by simply saying child poverty was not the Government’s problem to fix.
The following week the Government announced it will be spending $1 billion to provide 1800 additional prison beds. While that is a one off cost, it also costs $92,000 to house each prisoner per year, so the on-going cost will be over $150m. Labour also announced it would be funding 1000 more frontline police at a cost of $180m per year.
This is all ambulance at the bottom of the cliff stuff. No-one has attended to what that member of the Police force was saying; deal with low incomes and low opportunities in childhood and you don’t need to spend billions on new prisons, or constantly have to fund more frontline police.
It is unlikely that merely lacking money directly leads to a child committing crime. Rather, a child who grows up poor is more likely to be a low achiever in their education with more behavioural and or mental health issues, and it is these factors that influence their likelihood of running up against the criminal justice system.
While the absolute numbers of appearances for all ethnicities have gone down, both apprehensions and appearances in court show a serious overrepresentation of Māori young people. Low income is noted to be a key factor in the criminal offending of young people.
Of course we need to keep the public safe from dangerous offenders, but how many of our 9798 prison population really pose a risk to the community?
And how many are in prison because there is nowhere else for them to go? Prisons are for the bad, not the mad. And they also shouldn’t be used as ad hoc detox centres. If drug and alcohol addictions were treated as a health issue, not a criminal issue, surely the appalling rate of recidivism would reduce. NZ Herald
Studies and trials done overseas show clearly that crime rates are inextricably linked to poverty and inequality.