New Zealand Law Society - Government plans to tackle crime using power of information through social investment

Government plans to tackle crime using power of information through social investment

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Tackling the triggers of crime from the grassroots up so that the vulnerable in society never become victims of wrongdoing in the first place.

"It's my view that the best thing we can do to support victims is to stop them from ever becoming one," says Justice Minister, Amy Adams.

From the outset, the Government's recently announced new criminal justice system strategy - Social Investment, sounds like a maverick move, so what is it all about and could it make a difference?

In a speech recently delivered to members of the Justice sector, by Minister Adams, she says there is already much to be proud of with crime at its lowest in 35-years and fewer young people in our courts and youth crime down 38-percent.

But she says the system is not perfect pointing to research that found 3% of adults' experience 53% of all crime.

"It will come as no surprise that Māori are over represented in the criminal justice system, both as perpetrators and victims. Māori are six times more likely to end up in prison than non-Māori," she says.

The prison population figures are also sobering, as despite falling crime rates, incarceration numbers are still an eye opener.

 In 2014/15 194 people out of every 100,000 were imprisoned, making the country the seventh highest in the OECD, just behind Mexico, 27% higher than Australia and 40% higher than the UK, yet New Zealand has a fraction of their populations.

For Māori, the figure is appalling at about 700 per 100,000 people.

One of the Government's plan to bring the figures down is to use high quality data analytics to model how to better reduce crime and victimisation, not just by what occurs once an offender comes into contact with the justice system, but long before that.

So how effective could social investment be and how different is it to a traditional lock the perpetrator up approach?

The Minister says the investment approach to justice is based on four streams of work.

"The first is about how we measure the burden that crime places on society. We are exploring alternatives such as whether a harm based measure of an index based on a severity weighting of the offending could give a more meaningful picture," Ms Adams says.

The second stream of work is aimed at building statistical models to help understand who in society is most at risk of future offending and victimisation.

"We know that in family violence, 1% of New Zealand adults suffer 62% of family violence of family violence, meaning it has one of the highest re-victimisation rates across offence types.

"We also know that delinquency problems and substance abuse at age 15 and leaving secondary school early can be strong risk predictors of future family violence offending.  And we know that a partner's pregnancy or having a young child in the home, or a recent separation, or threat of it, can all be potential triggers for family violence," she says.

One of the key objectives of Social Investment is about identifying the types of offending or crime committed at a young age that will likely spawn recurrent and more severe offending in the future.

The third stream of work is about understanding what works to reduce crime.

"For example, do particular sentence types lead to statistically significant differences in re-offending when matched with comparable groups of offenders," Ms Adams says.

The final piece of work is about connecting these insights with policy makers across the justice system and taking different decisions as a result.

"What the investment approach does is bring hard numbers to the long-held truths people working in the Justice sector have intuitively known.

"Three out of every four young prisoners was notified to Child, Youth and Family for a care and protection concern before they turned 15-years old," she says.

A key area where the Government is applying the investment approach is in family violence where $1.4 billion dollars is spent each year, mostly reacting to it, whereas only about 10% of that money is put into preventing it.

Last week it injected a further $2 million dollars of funding into the justice sector, and PriceWaterhouseCooper will work with the Ministry on developing statistical models in relation to which people are most at risk of future offending.