Saturday, July 03, 2010

The national standards controversy rumbles on

Had a call from National Radio yesterday looking for opinion from 'the right' that would support national standards. It wasn't going to come from me. A number of posts earlier in the year explained why. But the producer wanted me to join the panel (19:40) anyway. Which left Jim Mora pushing the government arguments but each guest refuting them. Yes, there is a problem with some under-achievement. No-one disputes that. But schools were already testing and as parents we were satisfied with the level of information provided to us about our child's comparative progress and ability. Imposing change across the whole system was unnecessary. I now see that's what the principals are also saying.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Art blog updated

Have just updated and re-templated the art blog with pieces from my last exhibition and other commissions. My Andean Woman was accepted for the Academy Galleries Matariki Exhibition opening Saturday 10 July. It will be a show worth visiting if you appreciate art. Especially representative art.

Maori almost 5 times more likely to be serving a sentence or order

According to the New Zealand Herald;

There are currently 9131 beds catering a muster of about 8400 prisoners, which is forecast to rise to 12,500 by 2018.

Putting aside the huge forecast increase, offenders in custody make up only a small percent of those serving sentences or orders.

According to Corrections;
The average number of offenders on community sentences and orders being managed on any given day was 44,893 at the end of March 2010.

44 percent or 19,753 of the people serving a sentence or order are Maori.

The Maori 15-64 year-old population is around 400,000 therefore 49 per 1,000 Maori are serving a sentence or order.

25,140 people serving sentences are non-Maori. The non-Maori 15-64 population is around 2,500,000. So 10 per 1,000 non-Maori are serving a sentence or order.

The likelihood of Maori serving a sentence is almost 5 times greater than for non-Maori. On reporting this to my other half he asked, quite guilelessly, why?

He doesn't ask questions if he doesn't want an answer. So, off the top of my head I offered:

Maori are poorer and get into more financial strife. Unpaid fines escalate.

Maori get into more shtook with substance and alcohol abuse.

Maori have higher rates of mental ill health often a factor in offending.

Maori have fewer stable two parent families which act as a defence to crime.

Maori are targeted more?

On this last point I am thinking about a book just published that posits the war on drugs is really a war on African Americans. It would appear that the author, an attorney, believes many young black men are 'fitted up'.

According to federal figures, blacks and whites use drugs at a roughly equal rate in percentage terms. In terms of raw numbers, whites are far and away the biggest users -- and dealers -- of illegal drugs.

So why aren't cops kicking their doors in? Why aren't their sons pulled over a dozen times in nine months? Why are black men 12 times likelier to be jailed for drugs than white ones? Why aren't white communities robbed of their fathers, brothers, sons?

It is unthinkable that NZ police would have a culture like US cops (if indeed there is one culture spread across so many different states and populations). And it is equally unthinkable that there isn't some degree of institutionalised racism operating in the NZ police and justice departments.

But it is a constant source of sadness to me that too many Maori experience any or all of the above precursors for crime and that I don't see this state of affairs changing in the next few years or even decades.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

The "intemperance of the rising generation"

Left to me the TV news wouldn't go on in the evening. But life is a compromise. (At least mine is and those I have observed that are not aren't happy ones.)

But by 6:12 watching Three News last night I was again verbalising my frustration about the prominence given to perennial nag issues. First up Hone Harawira pulling a heart stunt in front of the select committee. Forcing the tobacco manufacturers to hold the heart of a smoker still alive in the room. (Out the window the Maori attitude to body organs went at his convenience - " The tüpäpaku is tapu")

Hot on the heels of the announced ban on smoking in prison comes the news that psychiatric patients in Canterbury will not be allowed to light up anywhere on hospital premises from tomorrow. This is absurd and heartless. Cruel cantabrians. It's no wonder their incidence of psychiatric disorders leads the country.

Then we moved onto alcohol and the 'sages' petitioning other 'sages' about saving us all from the demon drink. It's our young, it's the drinking age. Put it up.

100 years ago the Evening Post used to run a "Temperance" column which regularly served up a summary of international nagging as well as local and ethnic nagging. Such as;

Oh no. The intemperance of the rising generation.

If it was possible to travel forward 100 years it is almost certain that the refrain will be unchanged.

Mean time, what the hell else is going on in the world? Surely there is more interesting news than this endless NZ navel gazing.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Quantifying the economic effects of the ETS fraught

Statistics NZ has released a paper about measuring the effects of the ETS. In summary;

Key features to note about the measurement of the impact of the ETS are:

* ETS transactions between residents and non-residents are currently treated as intangible non-produced non-financial assets in the Balance of Payments (BoP) statistics.
* Individual transactions in derivatives associated with carbon emissions will be captured in the BoP statistics but will not be separately identifiable from other financial derivatives.
* The international treatment of emissions trading in the National Accounts is still being decided.
* The impact of the emissions trading will not be captured directly in the current suite of National Accounts (and related) measures, although they will be indirectly captured in many of the National Accounts data sources. It will be difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish the impact of the ETS scheme on the National Accounts from that of other factors.
* Environmental measurement statistics will be undertaken by agencies other than Statistics New Zealand (eg the Ministry for the Environment will measure the rate of emissions in the Greenhouse Gas Inventory and changes in land use via the Land Use and Carbon Analysis System (LUCAS)).
* These environmental measures will record changes that may arise from the ETS scheme, but not its economic effectiveness.
* Greenhouse gas emissions and energy efficiency have been identified as core topics in the finalised energy domain plan and environmental domain plan currently under development.
* The purchase of emissions units will not directly appear in the current suite of price indexes (consumers price index, producers price index).
* Indirect price impacts from the operation of the ETS scheme will be captured, but the attribution of how much of a price change is due to the operation of the ETS scheme will not be possible.
* The Annual Enterprise Survey (AES) will capture some information, but under the current questions this data will not be identifiable.

New Zealand embarks on a scheme tomorrow that it is going to be almost impossible to evaluate. Unreal.

Grope and go to jail

Today we have stories about a couple of creeps who both need a good kick where it hurts most.

The first is the re-telling of an incident that has probably happened thousands of times to thousands of people. Unwanted sex after too much imbibing. Wouldn't a person with a shred of morality realise they had played a part in encouraging what was later to become a problem? She and Brooke has previously had consensual sex and she pursued him. Then her 'friend' decided to exploit the situation by extracting money from Brooke as some sort of compensation (or was it hush money?) So sorry. Robin Brooke is a creep. But the friend is an even bigger creep who should have been done for blackmail.

Then we have...drum roll... New Zealand's 'first striker'. Well this is a joke. Another first class creep who can't handle alcohol makes a drunken pass at his friend's missus. This astoundingly qualifies as a strike on the list of very bad crimes. There must be a lot of people ringing 111 these days getting the police to sort out their dysfunctional private lives.

Good lord. At this rate the prisons will be full of randy reprobates (gagging for a smoke). And we will all be much safer - not.

Update: The 'blackmailer' was in fact the friend so I have adjusted the post to reflect that.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Smoking ban in prison - no tick here

The government's decision to ban smoking in prisons is not an easy one to support from any kind of liberal perspective. Health-wise it aims to protect people from themselves and others, but it is also quite likely to endanger people, both guards and inmates. Total prohibition has practical staffing and enforcement implications that may render it unworkable. The only positive I am attracted to is the deterrent potential. Maybe it will reduce crime as would-be offenders try to avoid a custodial sentence? But if the ban is unenforceable in practice, then the deterrent effect will disappear.

The piece below, Should smoking be banned in prisons? is reasonably balanced and provides evidence against the bans but this is the case when no or little cessation aid was given.

The success rate for cessation programmes is however fairly low. Having just consulted the in-house pharmacist he thinks around 1 in 5 patients actually quits. And these are people who are well-motivated - who want to quit.

Read on and make your own mind up.

The rush to ban smoking in prisons has occurred in the absence of evidence regarding their overall effectiveness in terms of long term cessation once the individual is released into the community, whether it achieves its main goal of actually stopping prisoners smoking during incarceration, and the consequences arising from tobacco prohibition.

The major impact of smoking bans appears to be the creation of another black market and its associated problems—standovers and intimidation, trading sex for tobacco, smuggling and policing another illegal substance. In California recent reports indicate that packets of cigarettes are fetching $125 within the prison system. Prisoners, visitors and prison staff have all been caught smuggling and selling tobacco on the prison black market.

The effectiveness of a smoking ban is evidenced locally in the juvenile justice system where smoking is currently prohibited in centres throughout NSW. According to a recent survey of the state's juvenile (under 18 years) offender population, 86% smoked before coming into custody and 66% of regular (at least weekly) smokers before detention also smoked in custody despite the ban. Cropsey also reports the ineffectiveness of smoking bans in the United States where 76% of prisoners continued to smoke in prison following the ban and 97% smoked when released to freedom.

In 1997 Queensland opened the Woodford Correctional Centre in which smoking was banned. Three weeks after it was opened the prisoners rioted and attempted to burn down the new complex. A government inquiry found that the smoking ban was partly to blame.

From a human rights perspective, a ban on smoking in prison represents the erosion of yet another freedom to an already disenfranchised group. However, this is likely to appeal to those who favour all punitive measures as part of the punishment spectrum. This attitude was reinforced recently when public outcry followed media reports that a high profile prisoner in NSW was allowed to have a bread‐toaster in his cell!

Banning and quitting are not the same thing

Banning smoking is different from quitting. Requiring people to give up smoking while in prison will undoubtedly have health benefits but these benefits are lost if they recommence smoking after release. There is no evidence that simply banning smoking is effective in reducing smoking rates over the long term. Quitting smoking while in prison and maintaining this in the post‐release period would undoubtedly save prisoners' money and could be part of the overall rehabilitation process. However, this has yet to be demonstrated.

Demand for quit smoking programmes among prisoners is considerable. According to both the 1996 and 2001 inmate health surveys, around half of all prisoners report needing help to quit smoking. While demand is high, only eight (6%) individuals in 2001 had received help or treatment since coming into custody. Many jurisdictions require prisoners to pay for smoking cessation aides such as nicotine replacement therapy—this is an unrealistic expectation.

Smoking cessation programmes for prisoners are few and far between and little reliable evidence exists regarding their effectiveness if the medical literature is anything to go by. However, in 2003 we undertook a trial at Lithgow Correctional Centre of a multi‐component intervention for smoking cessation involving combined nicotine replacement therapy, a pharmacotherapy (bupropion, Zyban), and brief cognitive behaviour therapy. The results were promising with a 40% abstinence rate at 5 months. This trial has evolved into a randomised controlled trial (placebo versus nortriptyline) currently under way in the NSW correctional system.

Health has been remarkably absent from the debate on smoking in prison, but more recently a NSW government response to the inquiry into tobacco smoking in NSW recognised that smoking rates need to be addressed in vulnerable groups such as those with a mental illness, injecting drug users and Aborigines—all of whom are over‐represented in prisons. The challenge is likely to be formidable as these groups are probably the most difficult in which to reduce smoking rates, as many report commencing smoking from an early age and are therefore highly dependent on nicotine, have co‐occurring mental health and substance misuse problems and lack access to community smoking cessation programmes.

The future?

Prisoner populations comprise some of the most disadvantaged groups in the community and are recognised for high levels of smoking. With around nine million prisoners worldwide at any one time (more if younger offenders and those serving part‐time and community sentences are included) and significantly more passing through the criminal justice system each year, there is scope for accessing this group and initiating smoking cessation interventions as a means of impacting on the general community.

Smoking bans appear to have little impact on whether prisoners continue to smoke during incarceration and the long term decision to quit smoking following their release to freedom, thereby bringing into question the health benefits of prohibition.

Smoking bans create another black economy in prison and the problems this creates for custodial authorities who have to enforce the ban. These problems impact on all levels of the prison system from the debts accumulated by prisoners to buy contraband tobacco to the staff who have to enforce and police them.
While smoking bans are laudable and have a clear role in the public health arsenal, prisons cannot be viewed in the same light as restaurants, hospitals and office buildings. Clients [prisoners] cannot just pop out for a quick smoke or hold off the urge for a couple of hours; prisoners are locked in their cells for prolonged periods with little to do. By the same token, a non‐smoker prisoner cannot leave his/her cell to avoid the harmful effects of his/her cellmate's smoking. The solution appears to be a better management of this problem with guarantees that non‐smoker prisoners are not subjected to environmental tobacco smoke in cells, prison transport or communal living areas and that smoker‐prisoners have access to free interventions with proved efficacy. The challenge is likely to be considerable and the responsibility should not be left to prison authorities alone.

Perhaps the most important aspect of this issue is that any moves towards smoking bans in prison need to be implemented in tandem with cessation programmes proved to work for this population group and offer the prospect of long term cessation. This approach will also reduce the disorder often caused by hurriedly implemented bans.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Another reason for the high Maori prison population?

I am struggling through a highly technical paper about the role of incarceration and child support in the labour force participation rate of young less-educated Black men.

Their labour force participation rates dropped through the 1980s and 90s, to a much greater degree than white or Hispanic rates, while over the same period their incarceration rate climbed from 2 to 5 percent and the index of child support enforcement measures taken by states climbed from 0 to almost 6.

The paper speculates about the high marginal tax rates on non-custodial fathers, in the order of 60-80 percent, and what effect this has on their labour force participation. Incarceration potential (my suggestion) is heightened by not working and in turn, incarceration lessens the chance of working after release (verified by the paper).

The increasing focus on child support enforcement was a feature of the welfare reforms with the federal government paying states bonuses if they met child support targets. Child support extractions range from 20 to 35 percent of income according to state. Our child support system, began in 1991 from memory, works in a very similar way.

I am now wondering whether the same factors are at play in NZ and account in part for the high incarceration rate for Maori. Unfortunately the IRD does not keep specific statistics on ethnicity of non-custodial parents.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Another fail for Phil Goff

Does someone risk secreting drugs on their own person on behalf of another? Clearly if good money is offered, yes they do. But into a dance party?

Because if Phil Goff's daughter has "never taken drugs" that is what she must have been doing. Taking a huge risk to satisfy someone else's desire to take ecstasy. I don't buy it. But Phil does.

At least that is his story for the media. She carries ecstasy in her bra but doesn't use it. Oh, OK, it was the first time she had done it so fortuitously never actually got around to taking them. At 25?

Why not come out and say that prohibition is futile law, and causes more harm than any it seeks to prevent? Including the inevitable political fallout and stress for his family.

And would a poor brown boy managed to have dodge the consequences of this pernicious law as successfully as Mr Goff's daughter? I don't think so.

Instead of going into denial Mr Goff could have learned something really useful from this nasty episode. But he failed.