Learnings from "The Cost of Crime"

by Communications Manager, Henwood Trust, 22 February 2011

Yesterday I attended a one day seminar on “The Cost of Crime.” It was run, very well, by the Institute of Policy Studies and the Robson Hanan Trust. The Robson Hanan Trust is a very effective group – its Director, Kim Workman, is a true veteran of justice reform who has worked as an advocate in this space since the formation of the “Rethinking Crime and Punishment” project in 2006. Kim’s very comprehensive slide set is well worth reading.

The best aspect of the event was the quality of the speakers, coupled with the vast amount of high quality information. These are well-informed people who have researched and contemplated the issues around incarceration and who can speak with great authority.

The disappointment was the almost total absence of media. This was an extremely important forum at which the converted, frustratingly, preached to themselves.

Over the coming weeks I’ll cover off some of the speakers in detail. Right now, here are some of the factoids and pearls of insight that I collected during the day:

• Globally the fiscal cost of crime, especially incarceration, is increasing alarmingly. The USA has the most people in prison – around 1 in every 100 citizens including 1 in every 11 black males. New Zealand has the second most.

• Reform is urgently needed, but based on research – not knee-jerk reactions nor political expediency

• The cost of crime to NZ has been calculated at $9.7 billion annually, of which $2.1 billion is borne by the taxpayer

• More than 80% of the people coming through New Zealand’s court system have alcohol and/or drug dependency

• Maori constitute 15% of NZ’s population, but 50% of the prison population. Moreover, Maori are twice as likely to be victims of crime

• Recidivism is worsening, not improving

• There is overwhelming evidence that money spent dealing with youth crime has a huge payoff in later years

• The proportion of GDP spent on family services across the 26 OECD countries varies widely. The Scandanavian countries are in the lead along with France, Belgium and Hungary. New Zealand languishes at third from last, with our spending being about a tenth of the leaders.

• As more Maori become incarcerated, the ability of those remaining to manage social order through cohesive families diminishes

• 40% of Maori males over the age of 15 have a criminal record – which often completely eliminates then from contention for paid employment

• Since 2000, the number of remand prisoners in NZ has trebled

• A massive prison building programme since 1994 (think Newmarket and Wiri) is one contributor to justice spending increasing from 3.7%, to 6% of government expenditure

• We need a way to measure the cost of inter-generational transfer of a culture of violence

• Victims of domestic violence are disproportionately at risk of poverty and social exclusion – we need ways to make sure they are set up to get on with their lives

• We need a strategy to transform the vicious cycle of increased offenders and victims, into a virtuous cycle of fewer

• Preventing crime is far, far cheaper than responding to it

• Media are driving politicians to a frenzy – where does this come from; why is the public mood as it is?

• Politicians respond to the noise made by vociferous minorities, rather than to genuine, considered public opinion – we need a different vehicle to get the message through

There were many more pearls I could have recorded. The material was far too rich and comprehensive to deal with in just one blog post, so watch for more over the coming weeks.

Opinions expressed on this blog are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Henwood Trust nor its Trustees.

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