The Department of Corrections has been deleting information about the Department on a page on Wikipedia. In the last couple of months, the page has become the venue of a wiki editing war between alcohol and drug counsellor, Roger Brooking, and two other contributors who apparently work for the Corrections Department. Mr Brooking is the author of Flying Blind – How the justice system perpetuates crime and the Corrections Department fails to correct.
The Information Mr Brooking posted on the Department’s Wikipedia page is accurate but potentially embarrassing for the Department (see below). Two employees of the Department keep deleting this information (over and over again) and accuse Mr Brooking of a lack of neutrality. They seem to have taken offense to the recommendation by the Court of Appeal, reported in the Sunday Star Times on New Year’s day, that management of the Department should read ‘Flying Blind‘.
On February 26, a Wikipedia administrator posted a one week ban on further editing of the page until the dispute is resolved. A ban was also placed on the Wikipedia page about the Sensible Sentencing Trust after one of the Department’s employees deleted sections of that which were written by Mr Brooking.
Here is some of the information that was deleted from the Department of Corrections’ Wikipedia page. Citations were provided for every statement.
Population: As at March 31, 2011, there were 8,755 people in prison in New Zealand. Altogether about 20,000 New Zealanders are sent to prison each year, 80% of them on sentences of less than six months. 96% of inmates are men and 51% of male inmates are Maori. Maori are over-represented on a population basis by 3.5 times.
Rehabilitation: Nearly 90% of offenders were alcohol or drug affected in the period leading up to their offence. Out of its $1 billion annual budget, the Department spends only $4.7 million a year on drug treatment programmes. 90% of prisoners also have sub-standard levels of literacy. The Department spends $3.5 million a year on literacy programmes. In 2010, only 1,496 prisoners (out of over 20,000) attended literacy classes. Only 9% (that’s 135 prisoners) were assessed by their tutors as having passed.
Reintegration: The Corrections Department funds two halfway houses in New Zealand with a total of 28 beds. Less than 1% of the 9,000 prisoners released each year go into them. Compare this figure with Canada where 60% of federal prisoners are released into halfway houses. There are no halfway houses funded by Corrections in the North Island where the bulk of prisoners are held. There are no halfway houses for women funded by Corrections anywhere in the country.
Recidivism: 70% of prisoners reoffend within two years of being released from prison and 52% return to prison within five years (some of them more than once). For teenage prisoners, the recidivism rate (return to prison) is 71%.
Costs: It costs $90,000 to keep one person in prison for a year and the running costs for the Department are over $1 billion a year. The Department estimates that a lifetime of offending by one person costs the taxpayer around $3 million. Corrections research suggests that if a rehabilitative programme required as part of the sentence could reform just one high-risk offender, that success would be worth at least $500,000 of ‘benefit’ in the form of avoided costs to Police, Courts, Corrections, income support, and victims.
Almost all of these figures come from research done by the Corrections Department itself. The figures are on their own website. It’s strange that when the same information is posted on Wikipedia, Corrections’ employees delete it. Corrections staff were in the news recently for using work computers to watch porn and access high-profile prisoners’ details. Surely, they must have better things to do than fritter away taxpayer money looking at porn and editing Wikipedia on their work computers. They could be working on policy and figuring out how to improve the Department’s performance.