Imagining an Aotearoa/New Zealand Without Prisons
Keywords:Prison reform, prison abolition, incarceration, punishment
It is hard to remember a time when New Zealand has not been draconian in its attitudes towards punishment. A national desire seemingly exists for a high level of incarceration whose effect, at the very least, is a systemic and needless waste of human potential. This desire sees a rising number of prisoners locked within a dehumanising and persistently expensive prison system. An effective response to this problem requires that the prevailing ‘populist’ understanding of punishment be abandoned. Ultimately, it will require imagining a society that is without prisons. Prior to that stage being reached, however, an interim strategy of ‘decarceration’ is needed, one which reduces the levels of imprisonment such that the abolition of prisons becomes feasible. This involves the reform of elements within New Zealand’s criminal justice system that proceed incarceration: the police, the courts, and sentencing in particular. Reforming these elements requires a serious engagement with the well-documented racial bias that characterises the operation of those fields.