Palatable prison policy

Read all about it! Election year announcements are already being rolled out thick and fast.

It seems money can suddenly be found by the Government for all manner of bribes and U-turns, and the list of targets met, taxpayer monies distributed, projects suddenly coming to fruition and congratulatory statements is equal cause for bombardment.

Opposition parties, meanwhile, make promises about issues they seemed unwilling to contemplate or were unable to fulfil when they were in power, and smaller parties jostle for position with their kingmaking bottom lines, or game-changing policy proclamations with the most headline-grabbing potential.

Most are greeted by rival politicians with disdain, cynicism - and another round of announcements in response. (How the general public greets the rhetoric will of course be revealed in September.)

It is somewhat surprising then that a policy announcement by the Act party has been greeted with widespread interest.

At his party's recent annual conference, Act leader David Seymour outlined a policy to reduce jail time if prisoners complete literacy, numeracy and driver licensing courses.

Already literate prisoners could also get sentences reduced if they trained to mentor other prisoners in their learning. (The policy would not apply to the worst violent or sexual offenders.)

Both National and Labour agree the policy is worth considering. Also surprising is that such a policy should originate from a party usually associated with a tough line on crime and punishment. (The three-strikes legislation was an Act initiative). Indeed, Labour's Corrections spokesman Kelvin Davis said his party would have been mocked if it had proposed such ''socialist soft'' policy.

The proposal appears to have merit. It is a sensible acknowledgement of the sizeable economic and social costs of offending, including providing for a prison population which now numbers about 10,000.

Yet, significantly, it also acknowledges the importance of rehabilitation in reducing offending - and of education in achieving that. Act leader David Seymour said the policy was about incentivising and rewarding hard work and would be a win for everyone.

Crime and punishment are certainly hot topics in election year. It is easy to play on fear, even when crime rates are reasonably static. Assurances of more police, tougher sentencing, and safer communities cannot fail - all along the political spectrum. Act would also like to see burglary come under the three-strikes legislation, so the party is certainly not going soft on crime.

But it is refreshing to have a policy which - as well as saving taxpayer money and promising greater public safety through reduced offending - seems to be about making meaningful change for prisoners too.

There would need to be checks to ensure the policy could not be abused, and not all prisoners would welcome such learning of course. It is right the worst violent and sexual criminals should be ineligible, but rehabilitative measures are essential to break the cycle and offer hope to those who have often been failed by their families and the system.

It is palatable policy, therefore. Mr Seymour wants such education in prisons to be non-negotiable and says he would support greater access for NGOs and volunteers to aid in such work.

He says evidence from the United States shows such programmes have reduced recidivism rates, and there are similar literary programmes working here that could be made more widely available.

Educating prisoners to a stage where they can do basics many take for granted.

Being able to write letters and read books to their children, sitting the written part of a driving licence test, filling out job applications, contracts and tenancy agreements - seems a no-brainer.


just talk... this happens in prisons as of now....its not new