Editorial - Hope in the face of ‘wicked’ problems

Welcome to the seventh volume of Practice, the New Zealand Corrections Journal. In this issue, we cover a wide range of themes, including family violence, desistance, and alcohol and drug treatment.

We open this issue with an article on family violence from Dr Ian Lambie, Chief Science Advisor for the Justice Sector. Family violence is a huge issue in New Zealand, and this article is especially relevant to us at Corrections because we know that the vast majority of offenders have been exposed to such violence. Lambie gives us such sobering statistics as those found in a review of more than 16,000 New Zealand child and youth offender records since 2013 (New Zealand Police, 2017). The review found that 80% of child and youth offenders had evidence of family violence in their homes. And since we know that family violence is under-reported, that is likely even higher. Lambie’s call to action should influence all our approaches with offenders and ensure we continue to embed trauma-informed practice in all areas of the justice sector.

The alarming statistics around family violence are a poignant reminder for us all to ensure we put victims at the heart of the criminal justice system, which is the focus of the article by Dr Kim McGregor. McGregor is leading the way in this area and provides an overview of the importance of victim’s rights and her role as the Government’s Chief Victims Advisor. McGregor also offers her views on what we can do to better support victims, which should serve as a basis for how we work across the justice sector.

Desistance from crime is always topical and this issue includes three articles on the subject.  With the female prison muster growing by 46% over the last two years there is a timely article from Jill Bowman and Dr Bronwyn Morrison on ‘Understanding women’s pathways to desistance’. Desistance literature has traditionally been dominated by studies on men’s desistance, so this is a useful addition to the growing body of research about women’s desistance processes.

We all know that drug and alcohol abuse is a major driver of crime both in this country and internationally. Forty seven percent of New Zealand prisoners have had a substance abuse diagnosis in the last 12 months and this is likely to be similarly high for those serving community-based sentences. The Department has continued to invest in this area and there are three articles in this issue that summarise the evaluation findings from two pilots: Alcohol and Drug Testing in the Community and the Alcohol and Other Drugs Aftercare Worker Service. Overall, the results show that we are making a positive impact for the people in our care who have drug and alcohol needs. As a Department we will continue to tackle this “wicked” problem as staying sober can contribute to people leading an offence-free life

Many of the issues we face in the corrections arena can be defined as “wicked”, but this issue of the journal demonstrates that we are building evidence and taking action as we move towards finding solutions that will reduce re-offending and make our practices both more effective and more humane.

Eamon Coulter
General Manager Design and Implementation, Department of Corrections