Friday, June 22, 2018

Lindsay Mitchell: Govt fails public and prisoners alike


Last week the government announced it will add a net total of 174 extra beds at Waikeria prison by 2022. This will fall woefully short of what is needed to fairly serve both the public and prisoners alike because the incarcerated population will continue to increase. How do I know?

Because the population group most prisoners arise from continues to behave as they have for decades.

Corrections has identified that the mothers of those children on the pathway to prison are young, uneducated, suffered abuse or neglect as a child, are, or have been substance dependent, are without family connections and have serial male partners. Treasury says abused or neglected children who spend most of their lifetimes on welfare, with a parent who is or has been a prisoner, and a poorly educated mother are ten times more likely to be prisoners before reaching 21.

Te Puni Kokiri has identified intergenerational imprisonment, particularly among Maori. They report, "...anecdotally we were often told by prisoners that they had children by more than one mother." The renowned Dunedin longitudinal study produced the following observation: "Men who spend time in prison are likely to father a disproportionately high number of children...men who engage in highly anti-social behaviour make up 10 percent of the birth cohort, yet account for 27 percent of babies fathered by the time the men are aged 26 years."

Overseas research finds a causal link between male imprisonment and female multi partner fertility. Father A goes to prison; mother takes a new partner, from a similar background, to whom she has another child. Replaced Father A comes out of prison on a short break (he's a violent serial reoffender, quite possibly a gang member) and in the available time quickly forms a new relationship leaving yet another child set on the trajectory to prison described above.

The enabler of these loveless baby factories is welfare, the ideology behind which is once more on the ascendency. On 1 July the taxpayers will foot a further hefty increase in benefits to these very families.

Last year 17 percent of all registered babies had neither married nor de facto parents listed. For Maori babies, the proportion more than doubled to 35 percent. This fact alone is a reasonable pointer to Maori over-representation in prison. The Department of Internal Affairs estimates 2,600 babies born last year haven't even been registered yet.

Many of these children, from chaotic beginnings, will soon come to the attention of CYF. Some will spend part or all of their lives in state care and will ultimately revisit the terrible hurt they have experienced on innocent parties. Eighty three percent of teenage prisoners have a CYF record.

These are all pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that when assembled reveal an ugly picture of the future.

While this state of affairs continues, there is no hope of lowering the prison population by 30 percent in fifteen years’ time - unless of course these angry young victims-turned-offenders are allowed to avoid custodial prison sentences in the future.

In reality a properly functioning prison system with not just enough cells, but enough rooms and resources for necessary rehabilitative programmes to take place, is vital.

And at the other end, the beginning? If nothing else, to policy-makers, please, reconsider making meal tickets out of innocent babies.


Lindsay Mitchell is a welfare commentator who blogs HERE. She is the author a new report, "Imprisonment and Family Structure: what is the evidence telling us?" available HERE.

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