The Government's working on a public relations strategy to manage fallout should there be a serious crime while it's trying to radically reform our justice and prison system.
Heavily redacted documents released to Newshub Nation under the Official Information Act (OIA) discuss a package of changes needed to meet the Government's goal of lowering the prison population by 30 percent in fifteen years.
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Under a section titled "Levers for Change", the advice says large gains are possible from changes to the Bail, Sentencing and Parole Acts, but notes these could meet with "significant resistance".
The bundle of documents reveals strategies to manage public perception and media coverage of the potential changes.
A February briefing paper to Justice Minister Andrew Little says "making changes in the short term would alleviate many of the immediate pressures on prison capacity", but warns:
"Any public perception of increased risk resulting from short term change has the potential to undermine our attempt to redirect the prevailing narrative on crime and punishment."
It also advises that one-off serious criminal events can "derail reform" by encouraging more punitive approaches. It says such events could also result in a loss of trust and confidence that the reforms will have positive outcomes.
These events are not predictable, the advice says, but the negative effects can be mitigated.
"Officials are developing proposals for a new approach to reassuring the public in the event of a high-profile crime."
It also suggests adopting a no-blame learning culture and establishing a cross-sector communications strategy "to respond to events and control messaging".
"The media are hugely influential through their treatment of justice issues (and high profile criminal events). It will be important to build their understanding… and help them go behind the tendency to sensationalise."
The documents also claim that key decision-makers such as judges and parole boards are influenced by signals from the media and communities.
It is also noted that other countries that were unable to reduce prison populations had "failed to convince the public of the benefit of the reforms", or a serious incident influenced public opinion and resulted in reforms being reversed.