Budget 2017 - what's in it for justice?

By Katie Bruce, May 26, 2017

Commentators have said that there wasn’t much in the budget on housing. I disagree. It was hidden, but there was an announcement of housing 1800 more people, and we’re not talking insecure housing here. This housing is certainly secure...


There is five times as much money to house more people in prison than for social housing in this budget. A billion dollars. The same cost as the entire budget for Treaty Settlements. Ironic really given that over 1000 of the people ‘housed’ by this expansion will be Māori.


I’m all for future planning, but my vision is not to build prison cells that some of the ‘vulnerable’ children targeted by the social investment package will end up in once they are built in a few years time. A broader view of social investment would recognise that building prisons is the opposite of this approach and is likely to undercut gains made in the social investment package.


You only need to know that over 80% of those in prison were the subject of a CYF notification as children to know that something is wrong with our approach to ‘justice’. You only need to look at the rates of neurodisability or poor mental health amongst prisoners, or the mass imprisonment of Māori, to know that something is wrong with our approach to ‘justice’.


Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all doom and gloom and there are positives in this budget too. There is $13 million allocated for 250 housing places for those leaving prison, which is desperately needed and hopefully just the beginning of investment in this area. There is $5.5 million for Iwi Justice Panels - a drop in the ocean of the justice budget, but still something.


The $30 million allocated to the management of self-harm and suicide prevention in prison is an important recognition of this priority issue. But alongside this we need to recognise the harm that the prison environment does to people’s mental health and also the need for community-based alternatives.


These initiatives, however, are dwarfed by the amount allocated to new prison beds. Given our rapidly expanding prison population, the lack of improvement in reoffending rates and entrenched inequities, this traditional approach is not a success story for expansion. It’s certainly not investing in ‘what works’.


We need imaginative change.


We look to the Government to spend their budget wisely, but we all have a role too. We have a role in articulating an alternative and collective vision beyond our individual areas. Until we can do that we can’t be surprised that we continue to invest in expanding the status quo - however badly it is failing.


If it were up to me I would happily return the entire surplus - over $1.5 billion of the justice/corrections budget -  to be invested in a positive vision for Aotearoa. What would you do with it? #abillionbetterthings


If you have ideas and want to be a part of transformative change for criminal justice then apply here to attend Whiti Te Rā - a kaupapa Māori hui on transforming criminal justice in Rotorua, 17-18 July 2017.


This blog post is a slightly expanded version of Katie’s 2 minute talk at the Child Poverty Action Group’s Turning the Tide? Budget Breakfast on 26 May 2017.