Andrew Bradstock’s address to the Howard League (Otago) was one of his final public events as the first professor of the Centre for Theology and Public Issues.  I put the date in my diary.  His departure for England from this position will be setback for the Centre, especially as a vehicle for public discussion in Dunedin and around New Zealand.  My prayers are with the Advisory Board as they seek a successor in this position.

Obviously I am not the only one feeling this way as the meeting  in one of the rooms at Knox Church Hall was full.  I was late  and extra seats were found for myself and others who followed after me.

What did I hear about penal reform in New Zealand?  Well, don’t mention Finland, politicians don’t want hear any more about Finland, a country which has turned its penal rates around through a multi-party initiative.

A healthy democracy is an informed democracy.  It’s about reasoning, not about elections.  New Zealand is a country where, in the name of Common Sense (which is neither), Anti-Intellectualism has triumphed.  We are so suspicious of any ideology we expect our leaders to be agnostic rather than atheist.  Any commitment to a hypothetical worldview is suspect.  We have inherited an Anglo-Celtic utilitarian sensibility.   My bed-time reading has become Speaking Truth to Power: Public Intellectuals Rethink New Zealand, (ed.) Laurence Simmons (2007), which was quoted by Bradstock.

The minister declined our invitation.

The one politician Bradstock never got to a forum for questions was John Banks from the Act Party.  While the forums may looked like being mauled by a Pomerian, and if you have ever petted a Pomerian you will know that this is a more dangerous risk than you expect; the challenge may be more intense than a participant expected.  Maybe that’s why an unknown number stayed away.

For the god of the Bible prison is not a positive metaphor.  This is the god who offers “release for the captive” not perpetual imprisonment.  We come back to the announcement that the manifesto of the Kingdom of God is the year of the LORD’s Jubilee.  Restorative justice works to incorporate all people who are alienated from society back into society.  The limits of such a system are tested in the current case of an unrepentant scammer who has skimmed our health system to the cost of the lives and surgery for patients of the system.  This exceptional case suggests that our justice system operates for the benefit of a class-based hegemony where white-colour crime is silently overlooked and the persecution of beneficiaries is on-going.

Our punitive prison practice is a form of death, a substitute for capital punishment.  I keep seeing an implicit assumption that if criminals are removed from society, then the remainder of society will be made up of ‘good people’.  The more we lock people up, the less society has to change.  The roots of the problem of an unequal society go unchallenged.