Crime and punishment

Kia ora. Nga mihi o te tau hou. We’re well into the first quarter and people are still wishing each other “Happy New Year” which just goes to show how slowly the nation re-engages at the end of the holiday season. Still, when the rubber finally hits the road it’s at pace. I was quite glum at the close of 2005. It was only this week when I was having an early planning review for 2006 that I realized I felt angst-free and finding form. This is a tribute to time off, whanau, and sweet music, namely a live performance by Tower of Power at the Church Rd Jazz, and endless replays of Stevie Wonder’s ‘A Time to Love’ and Ry Cooder’s new piece of guerilla theatre, ‘Chavez Ravine’. Viva la muse, viva la revolution.

An early uplift for me, a glimmer of hope perhaps, has been the fresh discussion on crime and punishment, a recurrent theme of this blog. Firstly, Wellington lawyer Robert Lithgow has given a thoughtful reality check about our propensity to imprison and about the Court of Appeal. Secondly there has been wide-ranging and informed korero about our overall prison system. It’s an appropriate time in the electoral cycle for politicians to tackle problematics like this, and newly appointed Minister for Corrections Damien O’Connor has proven to be a circuit breaker in this regard by taking Garth McVicar of the “Sensible Sentencing Trust” with him on a trip to Europe.

In particular Mc Vicar along with advocate of ‘faith-based prisons’ Kim Workman, and O’Connor, visited Finland, which once had an even higher rate of imprisonment than New Zealand currently has. In recent years Finland has halved the rate of imprisonment. The Finns have achieved this by de-politicising the criminal justice debate, by convincing the media to take a less sensationalist treatment in regards to criminal offending, and by investing in rehabilitation with those in prison. The Finns describe their approach as ‘human rational’ – Muldoon’s ‘intelligent pragmatism and genuine humanitarianism’ perhaps?


Oh no, I’ve hardly intoned the name of the old warhorse when both he and I get a crack from talback host, columnist and Mayor of Whanganui, Michael Laws. There’s been a gang scrap in Whanganui – Mongrel Mob vs. Hell’s Angels. These events are always violent and often quite frightening for the public at large. There are no redeeming features. In this case the Police, using an array of existing laws, seem to have the matter well under control. Having had a fright Michael wants gangs to be outlawed, to make it illegal to belong to a gang or to display colours. He says in his Sunday Star Times column (March 5th 2006) that gangs have been “accepted as our unnecessary evil by past appeasers such as prime minister Rob Muldoon and current apologists such as social worker Denis O’Reilly”.

Michael wants an official ‘no tolerance, no quarter’ stance. He wants the police to have more powers ‘To shadow and frustrate, to annoy and act’. I think that most gang members would claim that’s the situation anyway. The law around unlawful assembly gives the Police wide powers where three or more gang members are together. The Class A status of methamphetamine gives the Police almost free reign in terms of surveillance and entry. Proceeds of crime legislation enable ill gotten gains to be seized. Still, apparently, we need more laws and or tougher application. As a society NZ has tended to rely on increasing the size of the hammer as well as increasing the rapidity of the blows.

Anyone can take a cheap shot at Muldoon – most wouldn’t when he was alive – but the fact of the matter is that Muldoon’s gang policies were of that time and they were derived from the findings of a sequence of high powered investigations (1979 Parliamentary Committee on Violent Offending, the 1981 Comber Committee on Gangs and the 1987 Commission chaired by Justice Sir Clinton Roper).

Muldoon was no liberal. He came into the gang issue with very firm views:

“These mindless bullies may well have had an unhappy childhood. So did many children of my generation during the Depression. That does not give them a licence to engage in gang warfare against the peaceful enjoyment of their fellow citizens”. (Muldoon 1981:52)

But, he was pragmatic, and he did what he did based on the considered evidence at the time.


“Muldoon’s continued interest in finding accommodation for gang members, turning gangs into social clubs, and encouraging gangs to contract through work trusts was balanced by his tough rhetoric and support for the police against the gangs’ violence and criminal activities. It was very much a ‘carrot and stick’ approach. Counseled by friends such as Whina Cooper and Graham Latimer, Muldoon also favoured young Maori, including gang members, returning to their marae and learning their Maori culture to give them alternatives to their gang subculture and identity” (Gustafson 2000:107)

However we are now in different times. Michael Laws describes our gangs as terrorists. Be careful of what you wish for. We exist in an immediate and global environment. With international organised crime we now have real gangs and real terrorists. We must turn off the talkback hysteria and move to considering fact, scope, reality. That’s why the current prison debate is so good to behold so let’s move back to that as a saner space.

It seems to me that wherever people stand on crime and punishment we all essentially want the same thing – safer communities. Whilst in Europe O’Connor’s party heard New Zealand cited as a case of ‘what not to do’. Our system is described as not only failing to rehabilitate but also failing to deter. The Salvation Army has made a call for non-partisan debate on the criminal justice system, but this is obviously still an aspiration judging by the Laws reaction and the response of Simon Power, the National Party spokesman on these things. Simon has responded to the discussion by saying that all O’Connor is trying to do is to cut costs. Well, yes, of course. Imprisonment is a major cost to the taxpayer with very little social gain.

Cost-reduction is one obvious response to the situation, considering that the average cost-per-prisoner is approximately $160 per day (only $4.00 of which is food), and that the projected growth rate of prison numbers will see us with 9,000 imprisoned New Zealanders by the close of the decade.

Effort needs to be around improving effectiveness and decreasing our high rate of recidivism (currently 86% within 5 years of release).

Some of the clues to the failure of our prison system – i.e. neutral or negative social gain – have been provided in data arising, in part out of Parliament’s Law and Order Select Committee in recent weeks, and partly out of a recent Ombudsman’s Report into aspects of our prisons.


Take the issue of drug and alcohol treatment and rehabilitation for instance. A startling 83% of all prisoners are assessed as having problems with alcohol and drugs. Last year (2005) out of over 7,600 inmates only 145 prisoners went through the drug courses. This year it is projected that 174 will do so. There is now only one 27 bed drug and alcohol unit (Waikeria) and this is fully booked through to 2008. Corrections staff pooh-pooh the claim by baby-killer Rachealle Namana that she first tried P whilst in jail. I don’t know about her situation but I have been told by a male inmate who’s word I trust, that he had his first pipe of P whilst in the pre-release wing of a prison.

Take education. 20% of prisoners are assessed as being illiterate. Last year the prison education budget was under-spent by 44% and this year it will be under-pent by 33%. Obviously someone isn’t learning.

Take work. The Ombudsmen’s Report (December 2005) described the situation as ‘enforced idleness’ with a decreasing percentage of prisoners undertaking work. Vegetable gardens have been pulled at 8 out of 12 prisons where they existed 5 years ago. Nurseries have been closed at 5 of 12 prisons. Joinery production has been stopped at 3 prisons. Prisoners are locked up for up to 15 hours a day with nothing to do. Don’t be surprised that the devil has been making his own work for idle hands and minds.

The racial skew of our prisons is almost too scary to contemplate and certainly too sensitive to debate. Taken as a rate over the general population we have 113 New Zealanders per 100,000 locked up, but, when we consider Maori as a distinct population we find that the rate is 596 Maori New Zealanders per 100,000 in prison. This does not sound like a fair go.

The P issue is in the news again for several reasons, not the least of which was the recent anti-P march to Parliament. Marching to Parliament is the classic Kiwi ‘we gotta do something’ response to any issue. Unfortunately the march in itself it won’t resolve anything although it will have raised awareness. Although I supplied advisory material and supported the overall effort I didn’t agree with every message promulgated by the organisors, particularly the notion of imprisoning addicts.

Still, there at the front of the march was a photo of my friend and fellow Black Power member, the late Hone Day, whose death triggered the effort recorded in this blog. Differences excepted, we are all heading in a similar direction.

The average citizen might well have gained the view that Government has done nothing about P, but besides strengthening the classification, increasing penalties and buttressing both the Police and Customs efforts the Government has funded 25 community based projects, Community Action on Youth and Drugs (CAYAD), through the Ministry of Health. Unfortunately during the march the positive side of the story just never got told. Associate Health Minister of Health Jim Anderton, who in my view deserves plaudits for having grasped the issue of recreational drugs and taken sound action, went on National Radio to explain his policies. Although Jim expresses irrefutable logic, his monotonic voice and habit of providing layers of argument filled with conditional clauses triggers the sleep button in an audience so even when told by him the good story is unlikely to be listened to.

The public and political focus is still heavily focused on street level distribution whereas the growing evidence (as recently presented to the Foreign Affairs and Defence Select Committee) seems to suggest that higher and more effective impacts might be gained by raising our sights up the distribution chain. It’s the flood of product coming into New Zealand that we urgently need to stem and I don’t believe that this is being primarily carried here by local street gangs. It’s as if the prevailing paradigm is so fixed that we can’t see what’s before our eyes, naïve house surgeons or Asian importers or whatever. In the year July 1st 2004 through to June 31st 2005 seizures of crystal methamphetamine at our borders were up by a factor of 8. There were 73 significant seizures – up from 32 and the upward trend continues driven by the immutable law that supply will follow demand. NZ Customs assess they intercept about 20% of flow. We hear the call for more Police. If it’s stopping the flow we’re after maybe we need more Customs Officers

In my view we need to rethink our relative deployment of resources into the two prongs of Government drug-control policy, supply-reduction and demand-reduction. We have invested heavily into supply-reduction by way of toughened laws and increased resources for interdiction and prosecution. But, like the prison system, policies that produce only a 20% success rate can’t be sustained. It seems to me that our primary effort should be on demand-reduction with the supply-reduction effort being aimed at our recalcitrant citizens and those international suppliers who have been attracted to our market conditions. I’m not arguing to reduce supply-reduction resources by the way, simply to bring up the investment in the demand-reduction sphere.

In any case the overall recreational drug debate is set to take a new twist in New Zealand with the presentation of a Private Member’s Bill by Maori Party MP Hone Harawira who intends to promote the outlawing of tobacco. Considering that the deaths of over 4700 New Zealanders are attributed annually to tobacco use it would seem absolutely logical to stop the use of this harmful substance. No doubt, logically, alcohol should follow. At this point a certain ill sense of déjà vu could be expected to intrude on the musings. Prohibition (total reliance on supply-reduction) is expensive, ineffective and likely to produce perverse outcomes.

Again, in my view, the more sustainable strategy is an inclusive one, investing in people’s potential and helping them identify what is more meaningful in their life than using this or that substance or engaging in self defeating behaviour. When it comes to pulling oneself up by one’s own bootstraps consider the words of author Irvine Walsh – think ‘Trainspotting’ – as expressed in a recent Sunday Magazine (12 Feb 2006)

“My attitude is that you make yourself a contract with yourself, whether you’re getting out of it or getting straight. There’s nobody standing there pouring it down your throat or putting it in your arm, but yourself. You have to see it on a very basic level, and just stop. In a way I’ve always thought that going to an NA or an AA meeting every day is a way of keeping the whole thing going. It’s referencing the whole thing by omission. Really it’s up to you to decide what’s at the centre of your life and what isn’t”

It’s interesting to note that Hone Harawira himself gave up smoking after the death of kaumatua Maori Marsden, who was struck down by tobacco-induced cancer. Dr. Pita Sharples, Maori Party co-leader, stopped smoking after considering that he wanted to stay alive around for his mokopuna. No law compelled them to do so, they simply exercised their tino rangatiratanga.

And talking things Maori, at Christmas I hooked up with an old friend (Dr.) Jules Older. Jules, now based at home in San Fransisco, once lived in Dunedin where he ran the Behavioural Science programme at Otago Medical School (1972 to 1986). Whilst here Jules wrote ‘The Pakeha Papers’ (published 1978 by John McIndoe Ltd) which lamented the absence of Maori in the professions and advocated positive discrimination. Jules is now a fulltime food and travel writer, radio commentator and editor-in-chief of Ski Press Canada and Ski Press USA. He was back in New Zealand, traveling with a group of American food and travel opinion leaders, and he was encouraged by what he saw as the repositioning of Maori as active participants in the economy and the generally broadened appreciation of Maori culture, with the exception perhaps, he opined, of those in New Plymouth.


Jules recounted that the last time he was in New Plymouth, around 1982, local Pakeha acted as if they’d never heard of the Maori-Pakeha wars and had never heard of Parihaka, now a kainga of international significance. This time he arrived to discover the inclusion and celebration of Maori history and culture at Puke Ariki, the new museum in New Plymouth. Red neck Kiwi provincialism however wasn’t far below the surface. In Jules’ words And at the Air New Zealand Wine Awards ceremony, my drunken tablemate from Taranaki told me, “Here’s what really happened at Parihaka. The Maoris were fighting with each other to the point that the constabulary had to come in to protect them from killing each other.”

Well, there you are, the truth at last.

Actually New Plymouth is pretty interesting as regards our coming of age as a nation. It could well be considered that the land wars started there, and the settlement of those matters remains unresolved, in part trapped in the struggle between the New Plymouth District Council and a group of lessees known as the Waitara Leaseholders Association. In 2004 the Council resolved to offer 179 hectares of unfairly acquired land, essentially ‘Pekapeka’ (part of what is now known the Waitara Endowment Land), back to the Crown for inclusion in an offer to settle historic claims by the local tribe, Te Atiawa. Most of the land is subject to ground leases for a range of residential, industrial, commercial, municipal, rural and general purposes. The block has deep symbolic significance for Maori as it is at the heart of issues concerned with Crown acquisitions of local Maori land from the 1860’s onwards. The New Plymouth City Council’s intention – which has the potential to enable local Maori to move past grievance and enter in to mutually advantageous development with the local community, in the same way that progress for all parties has been achieved in the South with Ngai Tahu – has been strongly opposed by the Waitara Leaseholders Association. The leaseholders -perhaps Jules’ dinner bore is one of their number – can’t see past the fact that their landlord will change and the face of that landlord will be Maori. It’s unacceptable to them.

When stuck with a problematic one of my mentors, John Wareham, advises to look for the big idea and the power that flows from such an idea. Like dealing with P and other destructive recreational substances or resolving Treaty Claims we aren’t going to move on doing the same old thing and holding the same old position. These shifts do require the big idea. Somehow we need to find, articulate and agree on a shared future, a shared dream. We have to redefine the mission for the nation and that mission has to be inclusive, a mission where even the people on the edge can see that they are needed and that their contribution can make a difference. Kevin Roberts speaks of ROI as “Return on Involvement”. The New Zealand Mission has to be able to cascade to each Kiwi. My gut instinct is that the value proposition needs to be couched around notions of whanau whereby we can evoke emotions and build our connectedness, in other words, foster love.

One beautiful current love-filled buzz is the electronic conversation amongst the former community, ‘nga mokai’, who lived with Hemi, James K Baxter, at Hiruharama, Jerusalem. John Newton’s ‘Nga Mokai’ project – a book – was given the go ahead at a meeting held at Hiruharama in 2004. John has since been resident at Jerusalem for 6 months.

The current dialogue has been triggered by a recent meeting of the steering group (Maraea Taiwhati, Miriam and Angie Stoddart, Rae Wiari, Jack Doherty, Carl Stapleton, Te Miringa Hohaia, John Newton and Greg Chalmers) held at Jerusalem 20/22 January 2006. The steering group is looking towards establishing an editorial kawa for the Nga Mokai book and undertaking further consultation with the Jerusalem hapu, Ngati Hau. The plan is to have a further hui at Jerusalem in August or September this year and a final review in Easter 2007. The Nga Mokai book is expected to be published mid-2008. If you were part of ‘Ngati Hau Namarua’ and want to have input to the process link in through Greg Chalmers greg@ihug.co.nz


Later this week I’ll hook up with some of the tribe at the Parihaka Peace Festival (love-filled hopefully) where I’m due to present some ideas about P.

I’ll get back to you after that.

In the meantime, arohanui. Denis.


Tags: Denis O'Reilly  Prison