Image: Anna Rawhiti-Connell
Image: Anna Rawhiti-Connell

The BulletinJune 27, 2023

National walks thin blue line on law and order

Image: Anna Rawhiti-Connell
Image: Anna Rawhiti-Connell

Parts of National’s law and order policy are a clear nod to Act policy but the party’s proposal on rehabilitation is a hat tip aimed at centrist voters, writes Anna Rawhiti-Connell in this excerpt from The Bulletin, The Spinoff’s morning news round-up. To receive The Bulletin in full each weekday, sign up here.

Cost of living in prison hasn’t been accounted for

“This election is about law and order,” said National’s campaign chair Chris Bishop at the party’s conference on Sunday. It is also about the cost of living according to the majority of headlines to date and a speech from National’s deputy leader Nicola Willis on Saturday. Ironically it is the cost of living in prison that hasn’t been accounted for in National’s law and order policy. National’s policy proposes imposing a 40% limit on the reductions judges can apply to sentences. The policy came without costings and when asked what it cost to keep someone in prison in prison for a year, party leader Christopher Luxon deferred to justice spokesperson Paul Goldsmith who, as the Herald’s Simon Wilson reports (paywalled), “confidently told him it was $100k. As Wilson notes, the correct figure is $193k. National has since clarified that judges would be able to offer more than a 40% discount in some situations.

Virtue-signalling and penal populism

Business Desk’s Pattrick Smellie suggests (paywalled) that what National is proposing could be labelled as “virtue-signalling” as once again, we find ourselves circling the drain of election-year rhetoric. Smellie notes that the judiciary is prone to finding ways around these kinds of proposed mandates based on the simple fact that we would quickly run out of prison cells if acted on. That’s pragmatic but evidentially, most people now accept that prisons fail to reduce recidivism at best and at worst, operate as expensive crime universities that offer little hope of reform or rehabilitation. In 2018 the chief science advisor said that “prison growth has been driven largely by ‘tough on crime’ policies, from … both sides of the political spectrum” in a process known as “penal populism”.

Chasing the vote

Within National’s own broad church over the years, prisons have been declared a moral and fiscal failure by Bill English. The late Chester Borrows, the minister of courts under John Key’s government, went on to describe the “tough on crime” approach that originated out of New York in the 1980s and the subsequent police action as doing nothing but setting a new low. National have also said they will reintroduce the three strikes law which was repealed in 2022. That is a clear nod to Act and its supporters. Writing this morning on National’s bids to stare down Act, Toby Manhire notes that given the factors currently working against the government, National will hoping for a larger gap to open up between them and Labour in the next round of polling. “If not,” he says “National could be left to rue becoming preoccupied in a grizzly tug-of-war with Act that not only fails to grow their aggregate vote, but actively alienates those in the middle.”

Alignment on rehab but also uncosted

Newsroom Pro’s Jono Milne suggests there is political alignment (paywalled) near the centre with both Labour and National’s proposals to extend rehabilitation services to people on remand. National is proposing to extend a fuller suite of rehabilitation services to all those on remand. Minister for corrections Kelvin Davis has also introduced legislation to extend rehabilitation services for those on remand but not quite to the same extent as National. That might be viewed as a less generous embrace of its potential, but as deputy prime minister Carmel Sepuloni rightly noted in the post-cabinet press conference yesterday, there are some instances where people are in remand awaiting trial may not want to take up a rehabilitation programme lest it also somehow imply guilt. As Simon Wilson also notes, National’s rehabilitation policy is also uncosted.

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