Saturday, 10 March 2018

More on NZ Labour's Kamikaze Penal Policy

Labour’s Goal of a Safer Society Doomed to Fail

David Garrett

Hat Tip: Kiwiblog

[Justice Minister] Andrew Little has said  he is utterly committed to creating a safer New Zealand – a laudable  goal, but one which he simply cannot achieve given Labour’s present assumptions about offending and penal policy. His colleague Kelvin Davis wants to  reduce the prison population by 30% – impossible unless we release those convicted of violent offences. Some leftie claimed  on National Radio the other day that the jails are “full of people convicted of cannabis offences”. This is a myth.  In fact, only 12% of the prison population are there for drug offences, the vast majority of them for manufacturing, distributing  or importing P. None are in jail for possession of cannabis.

The first thing Labour needs to change is the common leftie perception that most prisoners are hapless boys who have had  one lamentable lapse – a sudden mad or drugged urge to commit an aggravated robbery perhaps. The reality is very different. The average prisoner has 46 convictions – yes you read that right – forty six , and has served the gamut of non-custodial sentences before finally being incarcerated. Of the 5% who have less than five convictions, they will invariably be in prison for murder or a very serious assault.

Do-gooders like Workman like to mock people like me by suggesting that we have an unreasoning and irrational  fear of a mythical  “Other”; that those in jail are really pretty much ordinary people, just like the rest of us. While this picture may have been at least partly true 50 years ago, it is emphatically not so today.
By and large, prison inmates are  fundamentally different from the rest of us. They are people who  have not only utterly  rejected, but laugh at the principles by which most of the rest of us try to live: not to steal from or beat up our fellows; not to take advantage of the weak; to try and help the vulnerable, or at least not to do them further harm. They are indeed “The Other”, and we justifiably fear them.

How did we get here?  By two main routes in my view: firstly by abandoning the idea of a universal moral code to which all decent members of society should subscribe, evidenced by the decline both  of organized religion, and the  ideal of service above self.  All the members of Bomber Command in WW II – of whom 30% never returned – were volunteers. Does anyone really imagine that would happen today?

We declared two generations ago that the “ordinary” nuclear family of Mum Dad and the kids was no better than any other family – or whanau, as it is now. We declared that society had no business criticising a solo mum with five kids to three different fathers – a whanau that may have utterly different values to the mainstream. And we have reaped the consequences of that foolishness.

At the same time, far from becoming more punitive, as the Workmans and their supporters claim, our justice system has, with a few notable exceptions, become softer and softer over the past sixty or seventy years. As recently as 1974 a common assault on a woman would inevitably  attract a jail sentence. It is now very difficult to  be sent to jail unless one has committed a much more serious violent offence.

Consider for example, the punishment for murder. When capital punishment was first abolished by Labour  in 1941 – it was restored by National  in 1950 – it was replaced with hard labour for life.  Even the Labour party then  recognized that the price for taking a life must be a harsh and lengthy one. When capital punishment was finally abolished in 1961, it was replaced with life imprisonment – without the  hard labour. A lifer in 1962 was eligible for parole after ten years, shortened to seven years in 1975. So in 15  years, the punishment for murder went from paying with your life, to possibly being out after seven years. The minimum non parole period was restored to ten years in 1987.

The next really significant change – again largely a softening of penal policy – was the Sentencing Act 2002. Although it provided for a minimum NPP of 17 years for “aggravated” murder, the rest of the Act was largely concerned with lessening the burden on the criminal. All sentences of two years or less are now automatically cut in half. Judges are directed that they must give “the least restrictive sentence possible”, plus discounts of up to 25% of whatever the sentence would have been for early guilty pleas. There has never been a definition of “early”, and in practice, any guilty plea entered before a trial has actually begun attracts a discount.

So, far from becoming a more punitive society, we have become softer and softer. The one thing we haven’t tried in that period is a return to the penal policies of the past: hard labour for life for murder, and incarceration in harsh conditions for even minor assaults.

In my view there are  only two ways to achieve the safer society that Little says he wants. First and best would be to stop pretending that every form of  whanau is equal, and admit  that a stable two parent family is best for society. To acknowledge that there is in fact a universal moral code to which all civil societies subscribe – the ten commandments contain the main elements of it: not stealing from ones fellows; not bashing or killing them; recognizing that  parents are in a better position than some 14 year old punk to decide what is and isn’t  good  for that young person. Sadly, despite the efforts of groups like Family First, such a change is most unlikely.

The second alternative is to allow or at least accept the licence of modern life – but to severely  punish those who break the few basic rules; to once again routinely  lock up those who bash and steal from  others; to once again make the focus on paying a price for wrongdoing rather than the illusory holy grail of rehabilitation.

Labour refuses to accept  that rehabilitation of adult prisoners is and always will be rare, and only comes from within the individual. No matter how firmly you lead a horse to water, you cannot make him drink. Those “Other” who now fill our jails will mostly  keep on offending until age tires them of being locked up. Unless, perhaps, if  we make jail truly the kind of hell hole that has only existed in lefties’ imaginations for the last 60 years or so. Such a policy shift would  be as radical as Labour’s  welfare state in 1938. What do we have to lose by giving it a try? Heaven forbid, it might just work.

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