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New Zealand Abandons Prisoner Reduction Goals and Prioritizes Cultural Reports Before Sentencing

The coalition government has made the decision not to set new targets for reducing the number of people in jails. They will also end cultural reports as part of the sentencing process.

The New Zealand government has confirmed it is ending what Justice Minister Paul Goldsmith called a “cottage industry costing taxpayers millions and doing nothing for the victims of crime”—cultural reports handed to courts to consider when sentencing an accused person.

Mr. Goldsmith said these had cost taxpayers more than $7 million in the last financial year—up from $40,000 in 2017—and had led to shorter sentences.

A bill will be introduced in the next session of Parliament, making the reports ineligible for legal aid funding.

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon, speaking at a post-Cabinet press conference, said anyone facing sentencing was still able to bring into court someone who could speak about their past, but there would not be funding for written reports.

“Over time it’s become professionalised,” he said.

New Targets Across the Justice Sector

Mr. Luxon said the government was working on targets for a range of measures across the police and justice system, including youth crime, violent crime, and reducing the time taken for cases to progress through the justice system. It would also introduce further legislation to cap discounts on jail sentences at 40 percent.

The government has also decided not to renew the expired target for reducing prisoner numbers by 30 percent, set by the previous Labour government, which then ditched it during the election campaign.

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Corrections Minister Mark Mitchell said that only a reduction in serious offences should lead to fewer people being in prison.

“Sadly, under the previous Labour government’s soft-on-crime policies, we have seen a 33 percent increase in violent crime. This government is determined to put public safety back at the heart of the criminal justice system,” he said.

Both moves were signalled when the incoming government released its 100-day plan, but were confirmed after Cabinet met today.

Changes Met with Mixed Reaction

The changes have been welcomed by the ACT Party, which had campaigned on the promise.

“ACT’s coalition agreement secured the defunding of cultural reports and exploring further reform of how these reports are used. We also secured the commitment to abolish Labour’s prisoner reduction target and reform the Sentencing Act 2002 to give greater weight to the needs of victims and communities over offenders,” the party’s justice spokesperson Todd Stephenson said.

“Finally, the scales of justice are shifting away from rights for criminals and back toward rights for victims.”

But the Green Party said Māori in particular would be caused “significant harm” by the decision, due to their “ongoing and heartbreaking over-representation” in the courts.

“They can cover things like substance abuse, personality disorders, neurodivergence, learning difficulties, brain injuries, poverty, and trauma—including family violence and sexual violence.”

She accused the government of taking New Zealand “further away from a justice system that treats everyone with humanity, dignity, and respect.”

“We need a government that will work toward a justice system that restores mana [dignity and respect] to our people and communities and heals the harms of intergenerational trauma. A government that will create meaningful alternatives to putting people in prison.”

Activist group claims racism

Reform group People Against Prisons Aotearoa called the decision “racist.”

“Pre-sentencing reports are a helpful tool for judges to make informed sentencing decisions,” said spokesperson Emmy Rākete.

“Removing legal aid funding for reports will result in more ill-informed and inappropriately long prison sentences. There is no fiscal argument for ending cultural report funding—they pay for themselves by reducing state spending on incarceration.”

Labour MP Ginny Andersen—a former Police Minister—said the reports were important to prevent reoffending, and for the rights of the victim.

“The victim also gets a pathway of getting their views into the courtroom,” she said. “While National talks about empowering victims and victims’ rights, taking away these [reports] is actually doing the opposite.”

She claimed the homicide rate in New Zealand had “doubled” over Christmas, and said the scrapping of cultural reports would not help to reduce the crime rate.

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