Wednesday, 15 February 2006

Lock 'em up. Free the others.

TVNZ NEWS: The government is looking at open prisons and community based sentencing as a way to reduce inmate numbers in New Zealand's crowded prisons. Fresh from observing European systems, the Minister of Corrections Damien O'Connor says he will consider more "creative" ways of reducing prisoner numbers, including open prisons and work based sentences... The plan would mean up to 30% of prisoners being able to leave prison during the day to work...

Well, here's two suggestions to reduced prison overcrowding:
1) Criminals could stop committing crimes. If you can't do the time, then don't commit the crime.
2) Government might grant an overdue amnesty to those guilty only of victimless crimes.
To paraphrase what I've said before on the issue of overcrowding:

The reason people are locked up is to protect the rest of us from people who are a real, proven threat; specifically, to protect us people who have committed crimes in which it has been proved they are a threat. [That's the primary job of government, for goodness' sake.] With just one caveat, those prisoners deserve to be in there, not given 'open prison' favours and allowed out to commit other crimes.

Here’s the caveat, and therein the solution: if we really do care about injustice and about overcrowding then we could immediately cut prison numbers by about a third by freeing people who have committed any so-called crime in which there is no victim. Victimless ‘crimes’ such as our drug laws and laws against cutting down our own trees should be expunged from the books as the injustice they are, and as a practical solution that effectively doubles police numbers and reduces the prison population by at least a third.

I say keep the dungeons for those who’ve committed real crimes, and free the others.
UPDATE: "One third?" asks Mark V. "Hmmm. Maybe not," says PC.

LINKS: Open prisons under consideration - TVNZ News
Prison overcrowding - Not PC


  1. Do you have a source for your claim that one third of prisoners have committed a victimless crime? It may be true in the US, with its rather vicious anti drug laws, but I don't believe it is the case in NZ.

  2. Good question, Mark. NZ has arguably more vicious anti-drug laws than the US. NORML points out that "New Zealand has the highest recorded cannabis arrest rate in the world, at 606 people arrested per 100,000 population per year. The United States is second with 247 arrests per 100,000 population per year."

    Not a great statistic in which to come first. NORML's Cannabis Arrest-o-Meter shows too that there have been 123,303 cannbais offences since Labour came to power,and that cannabis offences number just over 80% of all drug offences. So that's an awful lot of victimless arrests.

    As for the prison population, I confess I was relying on US stats, and memories of checking figures here some years back. However, if you check the recent NZ Corrections Dept stats it looks like I was incorrect to say a third. Of 6,250 prisoners (costing taxpayers $56,575 per year) they suggest just nine percent of male offenders are incarcerated for drug offences, and eight percent for traffic offences. ["The main reasons for male imprisonment are: 39 percent for violence offences; 22 percent for sexual violence offences; 22 for property offences (e.g. burglary), 9 percent for drug offences; 8 percent for traffic offences."] So that makes fifty-six victims of drug laws (iff they had committed no other offence), and perhaps a few more in other categories.

    So is the NZ figure a third then? I confess I don't know. It would be worth trying to establish an exact figure. Shall we say one-tenth?

  3. This may be an old post but recently I read/saw some crime stats for n.z and they ( justice dept, statistics nz?) tried to claim that only 6% of inmates were locked up for drug offences.

    I would say these stats were a load of bs for a number of reasons. First reason would be the stats are out of date and do not reflect the current popularity of the A class drug meth/P. The fairly recent re-classifying of meth from a class B into a class A drug and the rather dramatic increase in penaltys for manufacturers and suppliers, plus the huge increase in the number of manufacturers and suppliers getting busted have yet to flow through into prison muster stats.

    Also the prison offender stats in relation to theft/dishonesty do not take into account that many criminals commit their crimes to pay for drug debts/drug habits.

    Prohibition has a huge downstream crime creating effect and also brings the drug supply scene under the controll of criminals.

    It is the interface between between recreational drug users and crime.


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