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Q+A panel discusses Collins interview

Published: 2:58PM Sunday July 25, 2010 Source: Q+A

The Q+A panel of Paul Holmes, Dr Therese Arseneau, Matt McCarten and Richard Prebble discuss an interview with Judith Collins.

PAUL Well it has to be said, a lot of that sounded extremely reasonable, Matt McCarten, but in the end the question remains, what is the point of locking more and more people up who come out worse than they went in. We have a 75% recidivism rate in New Zealand.

MATT McCARTEN - Unite Union Secretary

Yeah well that's right, I mean she smoothed it right over like butter wouldn't melt in her mouth, but the facts they speak for themselves. What was the most interesting thing, there was an omission that actually it's social issues which drive this. I mean there's youth which always cause problems, and we were talking before that what judges know, keep the young kids out of prison as long as possible, because that counts, cos once they're in then they're in on the system. What, and she was backing down real fast because she actually told the truth. She said about why you've got large populations of Maori, Pacific Island and working class white people actually, they're alienated and it's a social issue, and until we resolve that, locking them up will just continue.

THERESE ARSENEAU - Political Analyst

I agree with Matt, the interesting thing was that she talked about the drivers of crime, not just locking them up. Politically locking them up for longer is an extremely popular measure and it's not just one party, we've had probably about 20 years of it and it's not just this country, you know it's typical of western countries around the world. In 2008, New Zealand election study, over 80% of the voters said we want to lock them up for longer. So it's a brave government that looks at all soft on crime, but the interesting thing is are we having the right debate? Are we asking the right questions? And I think there's some acknowledgement there from the Minister that we can't talk about locking them up for longer without a broader discussion of the social issues. And the Ombudsman Report on the Corrections actually points the finger somewhat at the media for how they cover crime, distort it, over report serious crime, and most importantly treat individual crimes as an event rather than discussing the broader issues, and it's clear that we need to discuss the broader issues.

RICHARD PREBBLE - Former ACT Party Leader

Well I thought she did very well, but having said that there are two issues which we didn't debate further, and one of them was the drugs, and that is pushing up the prison populations right round the western world.

PAUL Well she says about Doug Graham, ten years ago...

RICHARD Well we didn't take the next step and eventually it's gonna come, is this a war we're losing? And is the cost of deciding to make all the drugs illegal, which has been a policy I supported all of my political career, but has it come a point where you say does it make sense and with regards to something like marijuana, I mean it makes no sense, when large numbers of New Zealanders do not regard it as an offence. What you've got is a situation that doesn't work, and you end up with a whole lot of people in prison for something that a significant number of New Zealanders do not think was a crime.

MATT And Marijuana does a less harm than alcohol.

PAUL Than alcohol. Well the combination's pretty bad.

MATT What I'm saying but marijuana doesn't make you violent.

PAUL When you come to methamphetamine though we must say a very good piece of policing Customs work last week, you know and there might be a higher percentage of New Zealanders who also hold we should line these people up and shoot them. Why not?

MATT No I'm just making the point that when we're saying why is the prison population so high the Minister gave us the answer, that's one of them, but the second and where I do think we're wrong, is that we actually have a very soft policy, until you finally go to jail. The average prisoner has done 17 convictions before they are convicted. The average New Zealander never has a criminal conviction, if we were actually tougher at the beginning and we had a zero policy, so that young people when they offended suddenly realised that there are consequences, instead the message we give, if you're a 16 year old, and there's a young lad down my way, he did 23 burglaries, and because he's under the age there's no penalty, he'll suddenly turn 18, and he'll be astonished - no I think in this case this young man actually has turned himself around, but the average young person does all those offences they turn 18, suddenly appear in front of a magistrate and is sent to jail and they think what the heck happened, you know what happened here, you don't go to jail for crime in New Zealand?

THERESE Everything is pretty clear, alcohol and drugs are a big part of the problem. Also the longer we can keep kids in school is another big...

PAUL Drug problem in prison too, 8% of our people are sentenced to six months or less, and they don't qualify for drug and alcohol counselling. That is the perfect time to give it to them, because they've got release to look forward to.

RICHARD Oh they don't want to go to jail it's good to have a mum and a dad, it's good to have actually finished your schooling and it's good never to be on social welfare.

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