Press Release – The Howard League for Penal Reform
The Howard League undertook a snapshot prison survey to establish the views and knowledge of political candidates in the 2014 NZ election.Candidate’s Prison Survey
The Howard League undertook a snapshot ‘prison survey’ to establish the views and knowledge of political candidates in the 2014 NZ election.
Summary of Findings
The findings illustrate political candidates’ concerns about the current state of imprisonment in New Zealand. Problematic issues identified included: the overuse of remand; the tightening rules around parole; poor access to education, work, skills training, rehabilitation programmes or good health care in prison; and, limited supports for those leaving prison.
Survey results also signal a real desire for change within the prison system. Candidates thought that: health care should be moved away from Correctional remit; more should be done to address the needs of women, young people, Maori and Pasifika people in prison; Maori over-representation should be stopped; prisoners should have access to useful work programmes within prison; and, that relationships between prisoners and their families need to be encouraged by prison agencies. Candidates supported increased training of prison officers and increased oversight of prisons. Candidates called for the establishment of (i) a Commission of Inquiry’ to examine the interface between Corrections and health regimes; and (ii) an Independent Inspectorate of Prisons, to provide adequate monitoring.
Over three-quarters of respondents (77%) thought that New Zealand could improve imprisonment practices by learning from authorities in Finland, Norway and Sweden.
Candidates indicate significant concerns about the current treatment of prisoners in New Zealand:
Most candidates indicated concern about the growth in numbers on remand (81%) and the increasingly strict system of parole that prisoners face (60%).
Very few candidates thought that prisoners had good access to education programmes (15%) or work and skills training (11%).
No candidate thought that those leaving prison were provided with enough support on release, and 87% stated that not enough was being done to rehabilitate prisoners.
No candidate thought that current levels of health care for prisoners suffering from depressive illness, anxiety disorders, suicide ideation or personality disorders were adequate.
Candidates also established a real desire for change:
Candidates expressed a real desire for change in relation to health issues; the needs of specific prisoners; prisoner activity; contact with families; as well as oversight and monitoring.
9% candidates thought that health services should be provided by Corrections. 90% supported a new ‘Commission of Inquiry’ to examine the interface between Corrections and health regimes in NZ.
Just one candidate thought that those with serious psychiatric illness should be held in prisons, and 92% supported the increased availability of forensic beds outside the prison environment.
Needs of specific prisoners:
No candidate thought that enough was being done to address the needs of female prisoners or that girls should be held alongside women in prison.
Most candidates (85%) also supported separate programmes for Maori and Pasifika people in prison.
40 candidates had views about how Maori over-representation in prisons could be addressed. Seven recommendations were repeatedly emphasised:
– to address poverty and inequalities in New Zealand (63%)
– to eliminate institutional discrimination in the criminal justice system (40%)
– to increase Maori access to high-quality education (38%)
– to address alcohol and drug problems (38%)
– to increase Maori access to work training and employment (25%)
– to develop kaupapa Maori approaches to deal with offenders (25%)
– to improve mental health treatment options (25%)
The vast majority of candidates (77%) stated that prisoners should be locked in their cells for a maximum of 8 hours a day. 85% of candidates supported the extension of the ‘release to work’ scheme.
Contact with families:
Candidates thought that far more could be done to maintain relationships between prisoners and their families. They indicated that: children should have extended prison visits (85%), there should be full ‘whanau’ days at the weekends for families (85%); families should be assisted, if required, with visiting expenses (72%) and overnight or conjugal visits by partners should be allowed (64%).
Oversight and staff training:
83% candidates stated that there should be an Independent Inspectorate of Prisons in NZ. 90% of candidates thought that prison officers should receive a minimum of 6-8 months training, and 81% candidates supported training of 1-3 years.
About the Survey
The survey was electronically sent to political candidates in the 2014 election. 47 responses were received. Disappointingly, this included just one return from a National candidate. The other main parties (Labour, Green Party, NZ First, Maori Party and Internet Mana) were all represented in the survey findings below. These responses were the personal responses of candidates and not necessarily party policy responses.