By Annah Stretton
If I had to pinpoint an issue that consistently strikes fear deep into the heart of the everyday New Zealanders, I would immediately single out the rise and rise of methamphetamine and the long tail of social destruction that it is leaving in its wake.
Methamphetamine has become New Zealander’s drug of choice and with that dubious honour has come all the associated trimmings; intergenerational cycles of crime and violence, highly dysfunctional social behaviour appearing in younger and younger New Zealanders and spiralling levels of prisoner population growth.
This last point in particular has caught the attention of the media in recent times and quite rightly so because when you delve deeper into the headline growth rates you discover that we are sending women to prison in record numbers. In fact, the growth rates for New Zealand’s female prisoner population has outstripped that of males by a country mile. (Department of Corrections data reveals that during the last five years the female prison population has more than doubled in size while the male population has only grown by 19 percent).
And while it’s no comfort at all, it appears that we are not alone. All over the world we are seeing this very same trend play out with female prison populations growing by 50 percent over the last 15 years relative to male population growth rates which weigh in at 18 percent.
So, what’s driving this influx? There is reasonably unanimous support across the world for drugs being the key driver and perhaps not, as police commissioner Mike Bush suggested in his recent briefing to MPs in Parliament, being somewhat fuelled by people chasing after notoriety on social media.
I decided to put that very question to a ‘panel’ of RAW women* who between them have collectively notched up 50 years behind bars and therefore are more than qualified to offer some insight into this societal challenge. The results made perfect sense.
In a nutshell, there seem to be two clear trends playing out for women who are immersed in the underworld. This first is that the creation and supply of methamphetamine is a relatively easy world to infiltrate and it’s providing many of these women with an extremely financially rewarding home-based business. Who would have thought that methamphetamine would create the next wave of micropreneurs or mumpreneurs but that’s what seems to be happening?
Many of these women are attempting to raise their children and finance a household in a world where their legal options are limited re income return and/or are too far outside of their normal to consider. An opportunity that allows them to remain at home, generate immediate and large income returns and utilises an existing suite of skills, such as cooking, therefore suddenly becomes a very viable way to keep their household running.
“The art of a meth cook can be learnt on You Tube and is a fully transportable process, cooking apparatus is cheap and can mostly be acquired through stores like The Warehouse… there is however a huge level of skill involved to do this well, which can take years of training, something often best learned off your male cooking partner…”
The second trend is all about gender equality. If you thought this issue was only present in the corporate world then think again, because it’s very much alive and well in the criminal world too!
“Gone are the days where the women stay at home and let the men provide, it’s all about equality nowadays and it’s the same in the criminal world.” says one of the members of the RAW panel.
“You never used to see a woman doing a drug deal, it was always a man’s role. Hell, today we have women who even cook the stuff and we’re starting to see more men taking a back seat.”
When asked for the reasons why, the answers coming back seem to prey on a women’s sense of loyalty, love and addictions.
“The [men} aren’t dumb, they know the consequences of getting caught! They’re thinking smarter, they know most women (especially their partners) are loyal, they know they’ll even go as far as taking the wrap for them and remember these women have probably been beaten, even groomed.
This is when the roles reverse… the women become the providers, the risk takers, and the big contributors, in order to keep the men happy, feed their own addictions and in some cases, to make money to feed and clothe their kids because morally they think they’re doing what’s right!!!”
So, what’s the solution? There’s certainly no silver bullet but I have no doubt that education during prison terms and support upon release is where we need to channel our energies, in that they both offer very real choice and opportunity to make real change
Imagine if we began to see the role of prisons as a place of renewal rather than punishment, and prison terms an opportunity to get clean and acquire the right combination of life, communication and vocation skills to enable a new life, and a new career to become possible to match the returns and flexibility of a criminal lifestyle. That’s the sort social agenda that will really begin to address recidivist offending and burgeoning prison populations.
*To find out more about The RAW Charity see raw.org.nz