16 Jul 2018

Chester Borrows to head criminal justice advisory reform group

10:29 pm on 16 July 2018

by Jo Moir, political reporter

Former National MP Chester Borrows has been appointed to head a criminal justice reform advisory group and has hit out at previous governments' poor approaches to law and order policymaking.

Whanganui MP Chester Borrows

Whanganui MP Chester Borrows Photo: RNZ

In his first interview ahead of Justice Minister Andrew Little announcing the group later today, Mr Borrows has blamed political parties' self-interest in staying in power for the lack of progress in law and order reform.

An example was the three strikes law introduced by National and ACT under the previous government, which Mr Borrows said National never supported but was introduced to appease their confidence and supply partner.

"Three strikes was never part of National's plan, it came up as a political move because they needed a confidence and supply partner and that was it. I never liked it, I sent that back.

"Unfortunately it was a party vote and you fall under the whip on those occasions and that's what happened."

Mr Borrows, along with about eight other people, will make up the advisory group that focuses on reform designed to reduce the reoffending rate and the number of people incarcerated.

Mr Little said to fix the problems, changes had to be considered that go beyond the formal criminal justice and prison system.

"We've got to draw on what's happening in the education system, what's happening in health, the work that [Green MP] Jan Logie is doing on domestic violence," he told Morning Report.

"These are absolutely critical elements to what we do that's going to affect the criminal justice system, reduce the number of offenders and those going to prison."

Watch Andrew Little speaking to Gyles Beckford on Morning Report:

Mr Little said Mr Borrows was the obvious choice to chair the group because of his experience in the justice sector.

"I was keen to have Chester on board because of his background as a former frontline police officer, prosecuting sergeant and then later as a defence counsel after he got his law degree.

"He knows the political system, he was a minister outside cabinet, he was a deputy speaker of parliament - he brings a good understanding of the political process as well."

Mr Borrows didn't think anyone in the National Party would be surprised by his appointment given his whole career had been spent in the justice sector.

"I've been working in the justice sector for over forty years, mainly at the coal face, or up the sharp end of it. I took those ideas into parliament when I went into caucus and discussions and debates, and to policy where I could."

He hoped his appointment was "recognition that I have a few ideas of my own".

Mr Borrows announced last year that he would not stand for re-election in Whanganui in the last election. Mr Little approached him about the new role when he visited in March.

Many of the problems facing the criminal justice sector today were the same issues Mr Borrows dealt with as a police officer decades ago, he said.

"That is because law and order policy is so frequently governed by politics and not by a sensitive and sensible approach to it."

"If you've got politicians too scared to introduce policy that actually might work because it's seen to be soft on crime they won't do it because of how it might be reflected in the ballot box."

Mr Little will announce the other members of the advisory group later today.

He said his advice to them was to be "bold" and "courageous" with their recommendations while drawing on experience, science and data.

"We should all be incredibly concerned at a reoffending rate of those in prison of 60 percent within two years of release - that to me is a failure.''

He agreed with Mr Borrows' reflection on the three strikes policy.

"The political challenge is to confront the crude rhetoric of tough-on-crime/soft-on-crime and say, 'Ah-ah, I ain't buying into that, I'm about what's effective.' Because what's effective keeps people safe.''

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