Downsizing Prisons

Kim Workman has written a discussion paper for the Hon Kelvin Davis, Minister of Corrections.  It addresses the Minister’s intention to reduce the prison population by 30% over the next 15 years.

This paper is intended to feed into future discussion about a downsizing strategy for New Zealand.  It describes and analyses the experience of four states (California, New Jersey, New York and Alaska) that have successfully downsized their prison population by more than 25% over ten years, and also describes the historical experience of downsizing in Canada, Finland and Germany.  It considers:  (a) the current New Zealand situation, (b) the strategies implemented by selected nations and states that have successfully downsized, (c) the outcomes of downsizing; and (d) the evidence-based principles which support a downsizing strategy.

The key findings support the Minister’s intention.

  1. The Reduction of the prison population by 30% over the next 15 years, is readily achievable, and probably  conservative.
  2. Surveys show there is a public  willingness for change.
  3. Confirms that reducing the remand population is an essential and urgent step to reducing reoffending.
  4. There is no evidence that shortening sentences increases reoffending.
  5. There is no evidence one way or the other, that releasing prisoners early is a threat to public safety.
  6. There is no real difference, in terms of reoffending, between prison sentences and community based sentences.
  7. Prison based rehabilitation programmes are ethically wise, but make no  significant impact on reducing the prison population.
  8. If downsizing is the goal, rehabilitation and reintegration resources are better directed toward community-based desistance programmes.
  9. Surveillance on its own is ineffective, and should be accompanied by treatment.

 You can read the full paper here

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