New approach to criminal justice will make communities safer

The Public Service Association welcomes the announcement of a new strategic direction for the justice system, but says union members want to be properly included in designing the system they will eventually implement.

The union for prison and probation officers, Ministry of Justice staff, social workers and mental health professionals says a renewed emphasis on rehabilitation and treatment signals a long overdue departure from failed punitive policies.

"We need to deal with the realities and root causes of crime and the racism in our current system. This means confronting the shameful fact that New Zealand has one of the highest percentages of its population behind bars in the developed world, with Māori over represented in particular," says PSA National Secretary Glenn Barclay.

"Poverty, alienation, drug addiction and the mental health crisis all feed into these grim statistics, and we strongly support the government’s commitment to a fresh approach. People need more support before, during and after being incarcerated to help them stop re-offending and find work and housing."

The two reports released today by Justice Minister Andrew Little are based on extensive engagement with a range of New Zealand communities, and propose independent mechanisms to allow for Māori leadership in tackling the disproportionate number of Māori serving prison sentences.

Despite this engagement, however, there is little attention given in the reports to the needs and perspectives of workers employed in the criminal justice system. The PSA calls for this to change, and in particular for Māori workers to be included moving forward.

"Locking people up and throwing away the key simply does not work. It doesn’t deter criminals and it doesn’t reduce offending. It has massive impacts on families that flow through generations," says Mr Barclay.

"Instead our prisons are overcrowded and their resources are stretched thin, putting both corrections staff and inmates in danger. If the government wants these reforms to succeed, they need to listen to what workers have to say and give them an increased role in both design and delivery."