(I'm Afraid) The Masquerade is Over
(I’m Afraid) The Masquerade is Over – A Pentecostal Approach to Reducing Crime and Reoffending
"Your words don't mean what they used to mean
They were once inspired, now they're just routine"
(I’m Afraid) the Masquerade is Over, Words sung by Marvin Gaye
Historic Christianity affirms a necessary and proper relationship between faith and reason. There is a broad measure of agreement that the two are indeed compatible. Christian faith, far from being arbitrary and blind, is grounded in knowledge and reason. It is the believer's task to represent this historic faith graciously and accurately in an age of hardened skepticism.
Bridging the gap between religion and science proves to be a challenge in a time when technological and scientific advancements leave little room for faith and spirituality. Congratulations are therefore owing to the Justice Sector Leadership Board, for taking a leap of faith when in 2011, it decided it could reduce crime and reoffending over five years, by a massive 25%. At the time, the announcement, and the media hype that accompanied it, was reminiscent of some of the more outrageous claims by Pentecostal and Evangelical churches, who in the name of God, claim that a religious revival is about to descend on a community, or worse still, that the end is nigh. While I am a firm believer in the relationship between faith and reason, there are times when the gap between the two is of such significance, that bridging it can only occur through divine intervention.
I made this connection to the church in July 2012, when the strategy was first announced.
"In Christian ministries, the difference between what is achievable and what is aspirational is known as the ‘faith gap’. Faith and determination is what usually drives people toward achieving the higher target. In our view, it won’t matter if the higher target is not achieved – it’s being determined enough to attempt it that matters.”
Members of the Justice Coalition agreed that it was important to be publicly supportive of the plan, as it was heading in the right direction. However, the proposal to reduce reoffending by 25% was worrying. My own experience, overseas contacts and everything I had read, suggested that attaining a goal of that magnitude had never been achieved anywhere in the world, and the most one could hope for was a 5% reduction over two to three years. While I admired the Minister’s courage in aiming for the goal, it seemed a bridge too far.
When Corrections reported an 11% reduction in reoffending in the fiscal year to June 2013, I commented on it in an October 2013 newsletter article "The Reducing Crime Rate - It's Not all Smoke and Mirrors".
“There is one other figure that is mystifying people familiar with crime statistics; the reduction of reoffending by 11% in the fiscal year to June 2013. No one can recall ever seeing a reduction of that magnitude in a 12 month period. It means 1,947 fewer offenders returning against a target of 4,600 fewer by 2017. The official explanation is that this significant drop is due to the Policing Excellence programme, with its emphasis on alternative resolutions, and the Department of Corrections’ investment in enhancing rehabilitation services across the offender population, (although it notes that the roll-out of rehabilitation measures on re-offending will not become evident in the next two years). Whatever it is, it is likely to attract international attention if it tracks toward a 25% reduction by 2017."
At the time, I was unable to reconcile the progress reports from the Better Public Service (BPS) Reducing Crime and Reoffending strategy with other information we had about the reoffending rate. In April 2014 I pointed out that Salvation Army’s State of the Nation report presented a different view.
In August 2014, a Rethinking blog Part Two: The Better Public Service Reducing Crime and Reoffending Plan explained the approach taken by the department to achieve the result. At about the same time, the Chief Executive of Corrections, in his Briefing to the Incoming Minister, reported that the department was on track with the 25% reoffending target, with further benefits to come therapeutic intervention.
Since the election, there has been a distinct shift in the Justice sector’s marketing strategy – the regular Ministerial pronouncements about reductions in the crime rate have stopped; and for good reason. There has not been any further reductions in the reoffending rate, and contrary to the August 2014 predictions, the reoffending rate has plateaued.
There is now a more serious problem. Given the significant reductions of offenders appearing before the Court, Minister Anne Tolley, in March 2014, predicted that the 25% reduction in reoffending would mean 600 less offenders in prison by 2017, and the prison population would reduce to around 7,888.
While the department has been loath to report it, there has been a muster blowout, with around 8,890 currently in prison, about 590 prisoners more than the same time a year ago. A 6.5% increase in prison numbers over the last year, is a serious issue, and blows current prison population predictions out of the water.
Market Logic and the Criminal Justice System
The steady penetration of market logic and the spread of managerialism has over the last 20 years, altered the culture of the criminal justice system, which has become increasingly concerned with meeting narrowly-defined targets often set without reference to criminal justice experts, or the research literature. As the business sector becomes a key partner in the criminal justice policy-making process, criminal justice professionals and academic élites are pushed aside, thus facilitating the formation of unrealistic goals. Rumour has it that when the goals were agreed on, two senior Corrections statisticians resigned.
Where to Next?
Rethinking Crime and Punishment’s latest Epub “If Prisons are a Cause of Crime, why not reduce the numbers?” anticipated this outcome, and traverses the reasons why prison is limited in its effectiveness, and when used inappropriately and in excess, becomes a major contributor to the increase of crime. Excessive imprisonment is also a major cost driver, and ties up funding that could be released, to greater effect, for primary crime prevention.
The masquerade is over. It’s time to take off our masks, confront the issues, and come clean with the public. More importantly, it’s time to develop a different approach to the reduction of crime and social harm. Let’s stop fooling ourselves and work together for a long term strategic solution – one which doesn’t rely on audacious goal setting, and is based not on faith, but on fact.