Pubdate: Mon, 13 Feb 2006
Source: New Zealand Herald (New Zealand)
Copyright: 2006 New Zealand Herald
Author: Simon Collins
Bookmark: (Incarceration)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


One of the strangest couples on the Japan Air Lines/Air New Zealand 
flight from Frankfurt via Tokyo to Christchurch last weekend must 
have been Garth McVicar and Kim Workman.

Mr McVicar, the Sensible Sentencing Trust founder who has been the 
scourge of politicians who are "soft on crime", spent most of 
Waitangi Day in the air with Mr Workman, the liberal former deputy 
secretary of justice who is now head of the Prison Fellowship.

"He was fantastic, a really genuine guy. He's done a lot of work with 
offenders," Mr McVicar said.

Mr Workman was slightly more guarded. "We got on well. I think there 
are some things we agree on," he said.

The odd pair were invited to Europe at taxpayers' expense by 
Corrections Minister Damien O'Connor to look for ways of reducing New 
Zealand's fast-rising prison population, which is now proportionately 
higher than any other developed country except the United States.

Mr O'Connor stayed on for a tobacco control conference in Geneva, but 
Mr McVicar and Mr Workman returned together on Tuesday.

Mr McVicar said their first surprise came when they arrived at the 
International Centre for Prison Studies at King's College, London.

"They use New Zealand as an example of what not to do - how our 
prison population is escalating and our level of violent crime is 
increasing," he said.

"They educate other countries on what is working on a worldwide basis 
since New Zealand is an example of what not to do. That was possibly 
a bit of a shock to all of us."

Both were impressed by "open prisons" they saw in Britain and the 
Netherlands, where prisoners go out to work during the day, return to 
jail at night, and stay with their families at weekends.

"I think we should do that," Mr McVicar said. "They have sorted out 
what they call the hard-core recidivists, who stay in the closed 
prison system and they don't put huge resources into that end of it.

"They do have the opportunity at some stage of their sentences to 
come into that half-open prison system, but not at the very early 
stage of their sentences when some of the other offenders might."

He said he was "a big fan of community work", provided it was 
properly enforced.

"If the Government are going to implement changes, they have to take 
the public with them, and that means that nothing we do is seen as a 
soft option," he said.

"If you commit a crime, you have to pay the price for that crime. 
That philosophy must stay. The only debate as far as I'm concerned is 
whether it should be in prison or whether you should be out there 
working, repaying your debt in other ways."

Mr Workman, in turn, took a leaf out of the get-tough lobby's script 
after seeing the "huge problem" with drugs in the Netherlands, where 
drugs have been decriminalised.

"They have all these very seriously addicted drug offenders," he 
said. "If there was any lesson that came out of that, it was that we 
shouldn't liberalise the drug laws more than we have."

In Finland, both men noted that prison numbers have gone up again 
after a deliberate policy cut the imprisonment rate from around 200 
in 100,000 people in 1950 to around 50 today. New Zealand's rate has 
doubled since 1980 to 164 in 100,000.

"The Finnish population feels they have gone a little too far, and 
what's happening is a change in the society because they are now 
starting to get drug offenders coming in from Russia and Estonia," Mr 
Workman said.

Mr McVicar said New Zealand could learn from a system used in 
Finland, the Netherlands and New South Wales, where the state pays 
reparation to victims of crimes and then extracts the money from the 
wages or welfare benefits of criminals when they leave jail.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom