Crime is one of those eternal political footballs. Whenever they are in opposition right wing parties accuse the government of being “soft on crime”. They prey on people’s fear and prejudice, and call for tougher and tougher action. All too often left wing governments allow themselves to panicked by this politically charged rhetoric, and (although they know better) they fall all over themselves to demonstrate that they too are “tough on crime”.
That was pretty much the situation in NZ up to 2008. The Nats ran their dishonest, cynical rhetoric, Labour did its best to look tough, and we ended up with the second highest rate of incarceration in the “developed” world.
Now that they are in government, the Nats are, naturally, much more realistic about crime. In fact Bill English recently described prisons as “a fiscal and moral failure”. Interviewed on The Nation yesterday, Judith Collins tried to weasel around the words a bit, but she couldn’t deny the fundamental point, and was quick to emphasise her “rehabilitation strategy”. Then finally yesterday, Heather Roy from ACT, also came out with agreement that NZ’s prison approach is not working.
It is time for a cross party consensus on crime, prison and rehabilitation.
Quick, while everyone seems to be open to talking sense, National and Labour need to get together, examine the evidence, and reach an agreement on what New Zealand’s criminal justice system needs to look like. At the very least there should be agreement on the importance of rehabilitation, sensible sentencing (no not these fools), and the need to reduce our prison population. Ideally there should be agreement to identify and address the root causes of crime, most notably poverty and social inequality (well a blogger can dream, eh).
There seems to be a golden opportunity here – who is going to make the first move? Hello – Labour? Let’s get evidence driven policy and practice, and take crime out of the political arena, preferably forever.