Professor calls for better NZ prison conditions
Sunday 27 Jan 2013 7:04 p.m.
A leading criminologist says New Zealand jail cells should be more like Finland's – equipped with televisions and coffee machines.
In a new book, Professor John Pratt says making prisons more user-friendly could help rehabilitate criminals and save the country money by slashing rates of reoffending.
But critics have slammed the proposal.
Inmates in Finland can watch television in their rooms, make coffee and they're even entrusted with knives. Victoria University criminologist Professor Pratt says that's how it should be in New Zealand too.
“They show it's possible to have much lower rates of imprisonment, much better conditions and much higher levels of public expenditure on much better things like education,” says Professor Pratt.
Professor Pratt says prison sentences in New Zealand should be slashed, the three strikes law abolished and parole made more easily available.
The belief in Nordic counties is that prisons should resemble the outside world as much as possible so that prisoners have a higher chance of reintegrating back into society and are less likely to reoffend.
The Sensible Sentencing Trust says Professor Pratt's comments are offensive to victims of crime.
“I think Mr Pratt is out of touch,” says Sensible Sentencing Trust spokesperson Ruth Money. “I think if Mr Pratt was a victim of crime he would have a very different take on the world.”
Leigh-Anne Mullins' father was stabbed to death at his South Auckland home in 1999. She says imposing more lenient prison conditions would victimise people further.
“It will never go away, the pain is always there,” she says. “The nightmares are always there. Seeing what had happened, the offenders – trying to keep them inside is what we need to do.”
New Zealand has one of the highest rates of imprisonment in the world, and the cost of housing a prisoner is about $90,000 a year. While The Sensible Sentencing Trust says that's money well spent on keeping victims of crime safe, Professor Pratt says it's like throwing it down a black hole and our prisoners often come out worse people than when they went in.