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April 15, 2013 | by  | in News |
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JustSpeak Have No Doubt

MPs and academics were locked into a forum held in Wellington last week, examining the cost of New Zealand’s reliance on the prison system.

The forum was the first of a three-part series of panel discussions on the prison system organised by JustSpeak, a group of young people interested in criminal-justice issues.

Last Thursday’s panel discussion lineup included Labour Party Justice Spokesperson Andrew Little, National MP Mark Mitchell, Victoria’s own Professor John Pratt, and Grant Burston, Crown Solicitor and expert in criminal procedure and the law of evidence.

JustSpeak member Julia Whaipooti chaired the forum, and kept the debate moving with the assistance of a bell to keep the speakers to time. The 100-strong crowd of mainly students and young professionals also had an opportunity to ask questions of the panel.

The panel agreed on a number of core issues: that effectively addressing the causes of crime must start in the very early years of a potential offender’s life, and the importance of rehabilitation. The case was made for prisons broadening their focus beyond just incarceration, as people will eventually be returning to normal society.

Views diverged on whether prisons worked for society, and whether they were cost-effective in terms of economic, social and moral costs. Pratt described prisons as a “moral and fiscal failure”, while Little believed that “prisons often perpetuate inequality and deprivation”.

However, two panel members disagreed; with Burston advocating the efficacy of prisons and Mitchell focussing on safety.

“Prisons are an effective form of punishment; they protect society from criminals because it is much harder to commit crimes when in prison,” claimed Burston.

“Obviously, removing dangerous people from society will make us safer,” said Mitchell.

An audience member and JustSpeak regular spoken to by Salient found the debate stimulating.

“[It’s good to get] insight into the prison system and the effects it has on society. One tends to think prison is for punishing criminals, but in some ways it can just become a university for crime.”

JustSpeak’s Wellington forums are held on the second Wednesday of every month in St John’s in the City. The next forum in the series
will address the daily realities of life in prison, while the June forum will explore alternative approaches to New Zealand’s prison system.

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