Public have 'wrong end of the stick' on justice reform - Chester Borrows

Radical change could be on the way for our justice system - but will the public accept it?

Two consecutive prime ministers have slated prisons as a "moral and fiscal failure", but nothing seems to get done.

Jacinda Ardern launched the latest attempt on Monday - a criminal justice summit aimed at preparing the groundwork for an overhaul of the justice system.

One of the key people behind the plans for reform is former National MP and the chair of the Government's Justice Advisory Group, Chester Borrows. He joined The AM Show on Tuesday to discuss his aims - and the challenges ahead.

Mr Borrows says the goals of the reforms would be to see fewer people going through the court system and going to jail.

There would be fewer people in jail with mental health issues, prisoners would be given the help they need to tackle drug and alcohol issues and prisons would offer the right rehabilitation services.

"In a country our size we should have a prison population that looks a little bit more like the countries and states that we align ourselves with. And I would say that'd be about half," he says.

"There are people there for low level offending. There are people there because there's nowhere else to put them because there's no mental health facilities."

His goals are to come up with a policy platform for the Government and ensure the public are better educated about justice issues.

"We want to be able to put up some recommendations that will make big changes within the justice sector and we want to make sure the public actually understand the justice system and how it works," he told host Duncan Garner.

"If we get the public better educated and we have a better listening ear to what the public are saying about how justice is working in their communities, then I believe we will have achieved some good goals."

But Mr Borrows acknowledges he faces strong opposition, including the public - who he says don't understand the crime stats - and MPs, who he says deliberately inflame issues to get votes.

"People have already made up their mind on an issue. Very rarely want to listen to anything new that could show they've had the wrong end of the stick," he says.

"The biggest threat to a safer, effective and fair justice system is the fact that it's a political hot potato and there's a big red button called law and order.

"If you can take the political heat out of it, then you'll start getting some progress on these issues - and if you don't you won't."