...In their call for a review of the criminal justice system, the Anglican leaders also draw attention to a paper released last year by mainstream churches, titled "Reducing Fiscal Pressures in the Justice System."

"The New Zealand criminal justice system is currently facing a watershed moment in its history. The criminal justice policies of the past 10 years have produced a situation that is no longer socially or economically sustainable. The prospect of spending an additional $1b in the criminal justice system over the next four years is more than this nation can currently contemplate," the introduction to the paper reads.

"Over the past 10 years, our prison population has increased by 53.5%. Penal policies over the past two decades have created a prison system that is too big to fail. To keep it safe and in good working order requires constant feeding – taking essential resources from other Government agencies – and interventions to more effectively prevent offending or reoffending. Yet our prison system is still unable to provide the focused interventions that are needed. It is therefore also a system that is too big to succeed."

The archbishops and Dancer say that a criminal justice commission could look at innovative approaches to justice, including alternatives to imprisonment.

"For example, restorative justice, supported by the judiciary, has demonstrated positive outcomes for offenders and their families/whanau. We know that prisons do not work for all offenders and that incarceration does not deter. Longer sentences do not mean a reduction in reoffending; rather they increase the likelihood of reoffending," they say.

"We need a criminal justice system that reduces criminal behavior and offending from an early age. We want victims of crime to feel honored, heard and respected and to see that justice is being done. We also want people and communities to feel safe and empowered to hold people accountable for their actions."

The church leaders support a statement by Kim Workman, director of the Rethinking Crime and Punishment project, that the criminal justice system "should be principled, pragmatic, evidence-based, cost-effective, efficient and outcomes-based."

Such a system will not be achieved without political courage, the leaders add.


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