Media release from Rethinking Crime and Punishment
“Bishop Justin Duckworth’s prayer vigil for prisoners and their victims has reinforced the growing public view that a change is called for in the way we do justice”, said Kim Workman, spokesperson for Rethinking Crime and Punishment.
“From the meetings and discussions I attended, there were three main themes that dominated the discussion.”
“First, those involved want the government to set a goal, not just to reduce crime and reoffending, but to reduce the level of imprisonment. While there has been a significant reduction in crime, and in the number of people sentenced to imprisonment, the numbers in prison have remained the same. We are currently at around 194 per 100,000 population, and in comparative terms, sandwiched between Namibia and Gabon, two West African autocracies. The UK has 150 per 100,000, Australia has 130 per 100,000 and Canada about 111 per 100,000.
“What is needed now, is a government strategy to reduce the level of imprisonment. That may require changes to sentencing legislation, and include a review of whether people are being sent to prison unnecessarily, whether we need to expand the range of options available, and whether an increase in filtering mechanisms, such as Drug Courts and Mental Health Courts, could make a difference. It could also examine the reasons why some prisoners are denied parole due to the unavailability of rehabilitation programmes, and whether those programmes could occur after release, and as a condition of parole. It may also require increased participation by community organisations in the Parole Board process.“
“Second, prison volunteers shared their frustration at the increasingly hostile environment toward volunteer involvement in the prison system. Five years ago there were 3000 registered prison volunteers, compared to 2,500 today. Sixty five percent of those volunteers come from the faith community. They desperately want to work in cooperation with Department of Corrections, but potential volunteers find it difficult to cut through the department’s bureaucracy. There is a growing view that the department would be better served by contracting volunteer coordination to an NGO or NGO’s with expertise in that area.”
“Church involvement with prisons and prisoners is as old as prisons themselves and much of the discussion was about seeking new ways of supporting prisoners and their victims, to become fully fledged members of the community.”
“Finally, there was an acknowledgement of the efforts by the Department of Corrections to improve prison conditions. The main issues of concern were more fundamental than that. There was discussion about the effectiveness of prisons as a place of rehabilitation, and general agreement that resources available for rehabilitation would be better positioned within the community, given that for many, the experience of imprisonment increases the likelihood of reoffending.”
“The Prayer Vigil and the resource material distributed by the church were a successful catalyst to a wider public discussion. It was never intended as a protest, but as a way to engage the church and the wider public in an informed dialogue about a critical public policy issue. All we can hope for, is that people in places of influence, take account of those views.”
News from Anglican Diocese of Wellington – October 18
The Anglican Bishop of Wellington will end his week long prayer vigil for prisoners and associated victims this Sunday morning.
Bishop Justin Duckworth hopes his action, in a prayer cell outside Wellington Cathedral of St Paul, has left the country more informed about the current prison system and more willing to consider alternatives to prison that better serves victims and offenders.
“Prisons are intended for society’s well-being, yet two thirds of prisoners reoffend in two years. So we need to realise that a prison sentence only works in a minority of cases. As a society we need to consider options other than prison that can repair the harm to victims, their families, and the community,” says Bishop Justin.
One wall in Bishop Justin’s cell is papered with a list of every jail cell, in every prison in the country. During the past week he has systematically prayed through that list for approximately 8100 prisoners, and for all the victims.
Each day he has also led midday services that were attended daily by about 80-90 people, at which he spoke briefly about an aspect of penal reform. The topics included the underlying causes of crime, such as poverty and illiteracy, and the need for prisoner reintegration into society.
Bishop Justin says he is not protesting at any organisation but there is ample research that shows punishment alone does not address the causes of crime, nor solve high rates of reoffending, nor foster safer communities.
“The government has rolled out an extensive restorative justice programme but we as a society have been slow to adopt such programmes. Research shows that 74% of victims surveyed felt better served by a restorative justice approach than by a prison term being served,” says Bishop Justin.
Bishop Justin applauds the government initiative that was further detailed this week with measures to ensure each prisoner gets the education they need. His concern is that until now he has seen and heard too often that short term prisoners miss out on much needed education and rehabilitation, including literacy and drug and alcohol dependency, as their sentence is under two years or they cannot read.
“It is hard to have fewer victims of crime when too many prisoners leave with the only skill being able to offend again. That’s why prisons become a revolving door and that kind of justice does not serve anyone,” says Bishop Justin.
Bishop Justin will leave the prayer cell to speak and lead midday services today and on Saturday for an hour. His prayer vigil will end on Sunday October 20th at 10am as he leads a service in the Cathedral. This will be followed by a media conference at 11.30am at the Cathedral.