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Prison not the answer

All week we’ve heard the tough-on-crime rhetoric that the Government needs to be harsher, bring back boot camps, lock them up etc etc.

I couldn’t agree less. Boot camps and prisons quite simply don’t work, as has been proven time and time again.

Locking them up and throwing away the key, as is the ever-popular cry, applies to people such as the Christchurch terrorist for sure but does nothing to address ongoing societal problems. Rather, the root causes need to be addressed. And those root causes, more often than not, are inequality and poverty.

There’s also a lot of racist rhetoric when it comes to crime in New Zealand, which I don’t feel the need to repeat. When it comes to Maori and Pasifika offending, there are further complexities with long-stemming intergenerational distrust in the government. And understandably so, too.

In short, there’s no quick fix – you can’t plug a dam with a cork.

A crime-free utopia certainly isn’t sitting just one or two new policies away from us, and we shouldn’t pretend that it is. But threatening to throw people in jail for robbing a shop won’t remove the desperation or circumstance that makes them carry out the act in the first place.

More police and a stint in prison are like an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff.

Being taken away from the society and people you hurt means offenders can hide from what they did, and avoid the confrontation that allows for reflection and healing.

Prisons breed violence. Further, legalising all drugs and tackling addiction as a health problem is a must, and the criminalised approach amplifies harm, but I feel that’s a discussion for another time.

People who counter this by saying that removing prisons will just see rapists and murderers roming the streets are missing the point that this isn’t something that could, or should, happen tomorrow. Neither am I calling for complete prison abolition. Addressing root causes will take far longer to address than I’ll be alive, as will establishing effective rehabilitation programmes for offenders no doubt. This is all, of course, idealist thinking. But people will always hurt each other regardless of what punishments are in place, and we are all safer if we avoid putting people in a place where they are taught violence is the answer. Exactly how this is navigated is one for the criminology professors and social workers to work out, not me.

And of course, as mentioned before, there will forever be exceptions.

The Christchurch terrorist, for example, deserves to be sitting inside forever – no amount of rehabilitation can change that.

But being “tough” on those in desperate situations with harsh punishments isn’t the answer to crime woes.

Be tough, sure, but recognise the humanity and circumstances that puts people there. They probably wouldn’t be ram-raiding a dairy if money wasn’t a problem. As for a today solution though, I suppose a few extra fog cannons can’t hurt if it keeps workers safe.

But no number of fog cannons will ever address those underlying concerns.

George Shiers
George Shiers
George Shiers is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age interested in politics and social issues. He reports regularly on a range of topics including infrastructure, housing, and transport. George is also the Tararua reporter and helps cover police, fire and court stories.

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