Dame Sian Elias' speech to the Wellington Branch of the Law Society - the 2009 Annual Shirley Smith Address - has generated a media circus.
Her speech chronicles the change in thinking about the penal system - from earlier attempts at rehabilitation to a more punative system, to placing victims at the centre of the judicial system.
So, who is our typical inmate? Dame Sian quotes Lord Bingham, a former Chief Justice of England:
At school he will have achieved no qualification of any kind, and will probably have been aggressive and troublesome, often leading to his exclusion or to truancy.
The background will be one of poverty, poor housing, instability, association with delinquent peers and unemployment.
Dame Sian adds that in New Zealand
It is 25 years this week since the Lange Government took over from Muldoon, and much protected industry was decimated by removal of import restrictions and the move to a market economy.
Prior to that it was okay to leave school at 15 because a job in a factory - for life - awaited the minimally educated. Dad was home by 4.30 pm and Mum had tea on the table at 6, unless they had a big bill to pay in which case Dad did a bit of extra overtime.
Society was relatively stable. Wage rates reflected the prevailing "Jack's as good as his master" philosophy and the Protestant work ethic ruled.
The decimation of the manufacturing industry led to huge numbers of unemployed who had few marketable skills. Some of these became the long-term unemployed and their children, and their children's children, have grown up in dysfunctional homes where parents have little grasp of parenting skills, and where addictions and violence is the norm.
Maternity units went from somewhere where a mother (who may not have attended ante natal classes) could spend 10 days or so learning baby husbandry, feeding, and bonding with her baby, to mothers leaving hospital within 24 hours of birth with no skills or strategies for coping with endless, crying babies. The National Government is - thank goodness - planning to address this issue with longer stays.
Enraged, high P addicts are beyond reason and - no matter how punative sentencing becomes - are not going to carefully weigh the consequences of a violent attack against the sentence they're likely to get.
There are no easy answers and both the Police and Justice system have an unenviable task.
It would be nice to think the various viewpoints on how we deal with those who commit crimes could sit down and listen to each other. I suspect that's not going to happen.