Rise in prison population gets comic spin

Rise in prison population gets comic spin

A panel of comedians and activists joined together in Wellington on Wednesday night to provide entertainment on a topic that's usually not entertaining - prisons.

It's a panel show with a difference - and with the Government increasing its spending on corrections facilities, it's timely.

"Many entrepreneurs have businesses that go into the red - these ones stay in the black. That's their power. Instead of locking them up, the Government should be headhunting them," comedian Raybon Kan joked.

The two teams are named after Bill English's 2011 quote, when he called prisons a moral and fiscal failure - but it's not easy to pick a side.

After the Government announced plans to spend around $2.5 billion on prison expansion, community group Just Speak sprung into action. It wanted to start a conversation, giving some uncomfortable truths along with laughs.

"It's a shame prison separates parents from their kids. If only more children committed crimes," Ray O'Leary quipped.

It wasn't just comedians getting involved either, with MPs and academics giving it a go too.

"I think the Government perceive housing Maori in prison as part of the Treaty settlement," sociologist and ex-inmate Dr Paul Wood joked.

The debaters say entertainment hooks people into a serious topic in a different way.

"We can't talk about politics in 2016 without talking about Donald Trump - and I think it's important to note that his popularity sprung off the back of being able to say controversial and entertaining things," the Green Party's Chloe Swarbrick said.

And ultimately there were no winners on Wednesday night - with New Zealand's prison muster topping 10,000 for the first time today, it's an issue that will carry on well outside the confines of debate.


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