Chief Justice Dame Sian Elias has kicked off a debate on whether our justice policy is working [PDF link]. Her view is that the frequent failure of punitive sanctions demands a rethink.
Her analysis is supported by over 40 years experience in the criminal justice system and in the TV3 clip (below), her views seem to be supported by prison staff who say she’s the only one “brave enough” to raise the issue in New Zealand.
Strange then that Justice Minister Simon Power is scathingly dismissive of the Chief Justice’s ideas. He’s a member of a party whose solutions to the problem of prison overcrowding amount to double bunking and container cells. You could be forgiven for thinking that they might welcome some expert input on more effective, longer term solutions to a burgeoning prison population.
But no. Instead, Power’s defensive response demonstrates short-term thinking and a fear of genuine engagement on a difficult issue. The Chief Justice’s statements are an opportunity for the government to talk meaningfully with New Zealanders about this tricky issue. But instead of joining the conversation, the government has clearly decided it’s easier just to shut down the debate.
For a government that sold itself as one that would be tolerant of different views and eager to listen, this is a terrible look.