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National's former courts minister defies party's tough-on-crime rhetoric - 'It hasn't worked'

Former National MP, policeman and prosecutor Chester Borrows spoke out in defiance of his own party today, saying New Zealand should be smarter on crime - not tougher.

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The former National MP, policeman and lawyer talked about a better way of managing the justice system. Source: Breakfast

Mr Borrows' comments come after a tweet on the National Party's page yesterday attempted to paint a stark contrast with Labour over the parties' approaches to crime reform. "Labour is focused on giving criminals rights. National is focused on the victims," it read.

Mr Borrows, who was with National for 12 years and became minister of courts, has come out sounding caution on the statement.

When asked on TVNZ1's Breakfast today by host John Campbell "should we get tougher on crime?" he said: "No, we should get smarter on crime."

He was interviewed ahead of National releasing its law and order discussion document later today

Mr Borrows said it isn't mutually exclusive to support the victim and the offender.

"You can support victims, you can give them court processes that are far easier to deal with and don't revictimise them, and at the same time you can do a heck of a lot to prevent people from coming back because they create more victims," Mr Borrows said.

"We need to take a sensible approach to this. The tough on crime stuff hasn't worked.

"We need to ask ourselves the question whether we want to have policy that's evidence-based or policy that just tickles the ears of those who might vote for us."

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Simon Bridges outlined some of his party's ideas on TVNZ1's Q+A. Source: Q+A

He said in evidence-based policy, things are done to incentivise people to crime-free when released from prison.

It is also important, though, to have policy that recognises why people offend in the first place, he added.

"Sometimes it seems like too big of an elephant to eat, but the question is do you want to have evidence-based policy that says that if you get prisoners, for instance, focusing on life after they leave prison, we rehabilitate them better, we give them skills and education and a positive outlook, then they won't reoffend or they won't reoffend with the same severity and frequency?"

In New Zealand, 61 per cent of people are re-convicted within two years of prison release and 43 per cent go back to prison.

Mr Borrows said the statistics show that the tough-on-crime approach doesn't work and something needs to be done.

"What we do know is that teaching people in jail job skills so that they can get work when they leave, putting them to creative and innovative work while they're in prison, giving them therapy as early as possible through their sentence and working with them and their families while they're serving a sentence, keeping communication lines open, all those sorts of things lead to people not coming back to prison once they leave.

"Lets do that," he said. "We keep talking about a justice pipeline. It's more like a sewer because once you're in it you're not getting out until you're spewed out at the end of it, whereas there should be lots of different exit points from the justice system so we can keep people safe and keep them on track.

"But unfortunately, political parties only see incentives as something that happens with a stick instead of things that can happen with a carrot."

When asked if he was accusing the National Party and its leader Simon Bridges of dog whistling on the issue, he said he was just pointing out "it's sad to see the go back to the rhetoric because I think in Government there was a bit more understanding about that".

"We have to be less reactive and far more innovative and concentrate on what we know works instead of being so afraid of our own shadow that we're going to stop ourselves from doing anything that looks like innovative or looks like it could be successful."