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New Zealand’s Record High Prison Population and what will be done about it?

The Bail Amendment Act, introduced in 2013 has a lot to answer for New Zealand’s burgeoning prison population.  When the Bail Act was amended, a clear co-relation to the increased prison population can be seen.  Some would argue that the changes were a knee-jerk reaction to a handful of high profile cases and the pressure from organisations such as the Sensible Sentencing Trust to be tough on crime.

Unless changes are made, New Zealand will need to build a new prison every 5-10 years.  The current Government has a goal to reduce the prison population by 30% over the next 15 years.  One of the ways of achieving this will be to repeal the previous change to the Bail Act which will then make it easier for some people to get bail in the first place.  Another factor which may have some effect is the repeal of the three strikes legislation, which the current Government has vowed to carry out.

Any effort to reduce the growing prison population must have to address the key drivers of crime but any moves will need to address the Maori prison population.  Although Maori make up approximately 15% of the population, they represent over 51% of sentenced prisoners and 56% of remand prisoners.  In recent times, the issue of “unconcious bias” in our justice system has been a taboo subject however more and more people are now seeing that these statistics warrant further investigation.  Maori are eight more times likely to be handed down a sentence of imprisonment than a Pakeha person.  Any effort to change Bail laws and goals to reduce the prison population must be willing to squarely face this issue head on.

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