Friday, 22 September 2017

Cheap Propaganda and Throw-Away Lines

Avoiding the Hard Questions

An interesting piece has been published as a "guest post" at Kiwiblog.  Written by Garth McVicar of the Sensible Sentencing Trust, it responds directly to the plan by Labour's Kelvin Davis to reduce the prison population by 30 percent.  

The Sensible Sentencing Trust which as stood up as a public voice to speak out for the victims of crime and the necessity of just judgement being rendered upon the perpetrators has taken the time and trouble to access and assess Corrections data on sentencing in New Zealand.

The revelations are staggering.  They beggar belief.

On average, the persons imprisoned or held on remand in New Zealand have 46 prior convictions on their record.  [Emphasis, ours.]  And that excludes any they have in the Youth Court.

Think about that for a minute. Forty-six occasions where the prisoner offended, a complaint was made to police, evidence was collected, the offender was caught or identified, the decision to prosecute was made, the offender was convicted and finally the offender was sentenced – mostly not to imprisonment. Think about all the offences not convicted, where evidence was not sufficient to prosecute, where the victim chose not to lay a complaint, where police chose not to prosecute.

Those 10,000 prisoners are, by and large, 10,000 individual crime waves. No wonder the injustice system never publishes an offender’s criminal history. The excuse given is ‘privacy’. The real reason is embarrassment – to the system.
Kelvin Davis wants to reduce the prison population by 30 percent.  Rehabilitate them, and get them back out on the street.  Well, rehabilitation is a laudable goal and one we heartily subscribe to.  But consider what the prison population is actually made up of--given the present policies of the court.  Most of those in prison are already career criminals before they end up in prison.  This implies that the chances of rehabilitation amongst such a cohort are not good to begin with.

McVicar goes on to raise a curious question about Davis's goal of reducing the prison roll by 30 percent. Why focus upon prisons?  Why not focus upon offending per se, since there is a vast reservoir of people engaged in serious lawbreaking for years before they end up in prison.  They have been long term recidivists before being sentenced to prison.  Our wet-bus-ticket judicial system makes that inevitable.
We would be much more supportive if Mr Davis said he wanted to reduce by 30% the serious and violent offending along with sexual offending, burglaries and the shameful level of family violence in New Zealand. That would be a laudable goal. But he doesn’t say he specifically wants to reduce offending – just the number of people imprisoned. And that is a critical distinction. It means fewer people imprisoned for the same level of offending. He could choose, like Sensible Sentencing Trust does, to seek reduced offending, fewer victims and improved justice for victims.

Why would Mr Davis, and presumably the Labour Party generally, seek not reduced offending, but reduced imprisonment? We appreciate that prison is expensive, and a great deal of taxpayer funding goes into building and running our prisons. But it is money well spent, and justice doesn’t come cheap.
Why has Labour focused upon prisons, and not crime in New Zealand?  Prisons represent only a fraction of the crime which infests our communities, and which appears regularly before the courts, and which is sentenced regularly, but not to prison.   It's easier for Labour to get sensational, simplistic headlines, we suspect.

There is a petty crime tsunami in New Zealand.  Most of it is comes from the malefactions of repeat offenders, whose criminal careers have not yet been sufficiently long enough to warrant prison.  They need to rack up, on average, 46 convictions before being sentenced to prison.  Each conviction, followed by its non-custodial sentence (fines, community work, for example), are locking in patterns of behaviour that for many mean escalation of criminal actions over time--until one is sufficiently serious to attract a prison sentence.  That is why current NZ Police policy has it exactly right: prevention, prevention, prevention has to be the top priority.

But, have no fear, the Labour Party has it another view.  Reduce prison numbers by 30 percent.  That's the ticket.  As our parents used to say, these "let's do this" folk are dumber than a sackful of hammers.

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