“Police Minister Ginny Andersen’s claim on Newstalk ZB that the reduction in prison numbers is primarily due to there being fewer people in prison on driving and cannabis charges, is completely wrong,” says ACT Leader David Seymour.

“Andersen said on Friday morning that ‘the two main decreases of that prison population decline, the two areas that have declined the most have been low level drug offences like cannabis, and traffic offences. They’re the two main drops.’ This statement is untrue, and indefensible.

“Figures from Statistics New Zealand show that the population of sentenced prisoners, not those awaiting trial, dropped by 4,092, or 44 per cent between 2017 and 2022. Helpfully, Stats NZ break prisoner numbers down by each prisoner’s worst offence.

“Since 2017, the largest drop was ‘Offences against justice procedures, government security and government operations,’ at 990 fewer prisoners in the 2022 year than 2017.

“The second largest drop was ‘Acts intended to cause injury,’ 606 fewer people were in prison with that as their worst offence in 2022 than in 2017. Rounding out the top three was “Unlawful entry with intent/burglary, break and enter,” with a drop of 603.

“’Traffic and Vehicle Regulatory Offences’ were fourth, with a drop of 459, and ‘illicit drug offences’ were sixth, with a drop of 324 in the years 2017-2022. Traffic and Cannabis had nowhere near the largest drops in prisoner numbers, as the Minister claimed.

“It is possible the Minister was talking about percentage drops, but she would still be incorrect. In the years 2017-2022, traffic did have the largest percentage reduction, 66 per cent, and drugs had the fourth largest reduction, at 53 per cent.

“However, these figures still aren’t the greatest and second greatest. The percentage reductions are higher because there were fewer people in jail on these charges to start with. The public are interested in the number of dangerous people let out.

“It’s possible the Minister was referring a different starting year. ACT has crunched the numbers, comparing every starting year from 1998 onwards with the imprisonment figures in 2022. There is not a single year where traffic and drugs have the two largest reductions in sentenced prisoners.

“The Minister has not just got this a little bit wrong. We can’t see how she could have thought she was right. Had the Minister been answering questions in Parliament, she might be before the Privileges Committee like Jan Tinetti.

“What is clear is that this Government has a woeful record, not just for locking up fewer prisoners, but for locking up fewer of the most serious offenders.

“The Labour Government set the goal of reducing the prison population and achieved it. New Zealand has become less safe as a result, with crimes in nearly every category increasing.

“ACT’s long-standing policies are to abandon prisoner number reduction as a target, build more prison capacity including youth capacity, and review the use of electronic monitoring. In the meantime, we’d just like Government Ministers like Ginny Andersen to start telling the truth.

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