Prisons the answer?

Last week we were told of the Coalition government’s plans to increase the number of beds at Waikeria Prison by 1410.

Despite the potential growth all that building will bring to our region, there are worrying aspects.

Reverend Julie Guest

The creation of so many more prison beds, especially within one facility will turn Waikeria into a mega-prison.

In his 2018 review of research related to the building of mega-prisons, Kim Workman concludes that mega-prisons in fact make for worse outcomes in every target the current government has stated it wants to improve.

Prisoners and corrections staff are safer and have better outcomes when prisons are small.

Even the government’s proposed increase in funding aimed at rehabilitative measures has not previously worked where it has been tried in other mega-prisons according to Workman’s findings.

He concludes:

“The review of existing research indicates that if the mega-prison is built, it will:

  • Increase the risk to staff
  • Increase risk of violent, self-harms and suicide incidents
  • Contribute to ineffective rehabilitative and reintegrative outcomes
  • Make it more difficult to house prisoners in accordance with their security rating.”

Surely, then a mega-prison is not the answer. There is another aspect that causes concern. We can all agree that crime is on the rise in New Zealand. But will more prison beds reduce crime? Unlikely.

The underlying reason for a rise in crime is not lack of prison beds. The reasons are absolute need along with discontent because of the rapidly increasing gap between rich and poor. When it is tough to make ends meet by legal methods, illegal methods become attractive, especially when social media offers a stream of images of wealthy lifestyles.

Have you ever visited a prison? Entering a prison, even as a visitor is the most degrading experience I’ve ever had. I was treated with disdain and distrust, not a shred of kindness or courtesy.

Prisoners experience that every day. The bigger the prison the harsher the control is. It can be easy and comforting to believe that anyone who commits a crime is inherently lazy or evil.

But the Bible is clear that ALL people are created in the image of God, everyone is of worth and value.

Jesus commands us to love our neighbour as ourselves. Prisoners included. And the families of prisoners.

If we can find a way to meet a prisoner one on one, get to hear their story and know them, in most cases we find someone who doesn’t want to live the way they do. Somone who really wants to change, but often doesn’t have the tools.

Building more prison beds will not change anything for each of those people. Each of us is responsible for the society we are creating. We can work towards a safer, caring society, or we can make New Zealand even less egalitarian, create greater need and dependence and build bigger prisons to try and manage the fallout.

The choice is ours.

 

 

 

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