What Data Makes Possible: “Social Investment” in the New Zealand Justice System

By: M. Jerry McHale, QC

On May 3, 2016 the New Zealand Minister of Justice announced “a new approach to justice sector investment.”[1] The “social investment” approach to criminal justice is built on a framework of prevention, addressing root causes of crime and evidence-based decision making. Social investment is a broad strategy aimed at getting better results out of government programs. It brings the following principles to program design and implementation:

  • heavy reliance on information technology to provide enhanced data about what the public needs, and about what services work and which don’t,

  • clear, measurable goals are defined for all programs,

  • programs and services are closely monitored and systematically measured – and are adjusted accordingly,   

  • focus on results - outcomes are measured and they inform subsequent investment decisions,

  • funding moves to follow the most effective services, whether they are provided by government or NGOs,

  • adopts a user-centered approach; it focuses on the most vulnerable and “[it] puts the needs of people who rely on public services at the centre of decisions on planning, programmes and resourcing…”

  • it works closely with the local community and across existing departmental service channels.[2]

 The New Zealand Justice Minister noted that the program’s emphasis on crime prevention is made possible by access to enhanced justice data. “This is a new piece of work to ensure we give Justice Sector agencies information based on the incredible data picture we now have, to better plan, predict and invest. It will also enable them to better co-ordinate with areas like health, education, and social services to try and prevent today’s vulnerable young people ever becoming offenders of the future.”[3]

The project relies on high-quality data analytics and modelling to enable decision-making based on hard information.  Enhanced data is available through the information assembly capacity of Statistic’s New Zealand’s Integrated Data Infrastructure (IDI). The IDI pools and analyses information from an array of sources including health, education, and welfare agencies as well as tax, employment, business, migration, economic and crime data. IDI expanded to include the justice sector in 2013.[4]

The announcement was also accompanied by an investment of $2 million in new funding. There is an explicit expectation that this approach will be both more efficient and more effective.

Very few justice systems have yet managed to get themselves into a position to capitalize on information technology. Most are very far from it.  In the Canadian provinces, very limited data is collected and what is available is often patchy and of no assistance in actually measuring how well justice systems are performing. From this perspective, it is encouraging, and potentially instructive, to see New Zealand’s experiment in using integrated data to prevent crime.

[1] Press Release: New Zealand Government, New approach to justice sector investment, 3 May 2016, online at http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PA1605/S00029/new-approach-to-justice-sector-investment.htm

[2] See The Treasury (New Zealand), Social Investment, Feb. 18, 2016, online at http://www.treasury.govt.nz/statesector/socialinvestment

[3] Supra, note 1

[4] Statistics New Zealand, Integrated Data Infrastructure, online at http://www.stats.govt.nz/browse_for_stats/snapshots-of-nz/integrated-data-infrastructure.aspx#about