Monday, 18 June 2018

A Just Law Will Remain A Bit Longer

Three Strikes and You Won't Get Out

New Zealand's Three Strikes Law has been saved--at least for now.  The minor coalition party, NZ First had campaigned on retaining Three Strikes.  This week the party informed the Labour Minister of Justice, Andrew Little that it would not be supporting repeal--and so the Government lacks the votes to remove it.  

We are thankful.  But the Left Wing are not happy.  They have trumpeted forth the argument that money ought to be invested into prisons to rehabilitate prisoners, not to keep them incarcerated.  In putting this argument to the electorate they regrettably commit a childish fallacy.  Building an argument upon a false dichotomy fails miserably to win the case. 

The argument runs like this: rehabilitation of prisoners is essential if we are to build a stellar community.  Money spent upon rehabilitation prisoners is an investment in the future.  It is an affirmation of good will towards those who have made a bad start in life.  It makes sense that if you can interdict a prisoner going deeper and deeper over to the dark side, you save lost of public money in the long term.  Thus to its many merits fiscal rectitude can be added.  All of these evidences and arguments are both valid and good. 

But, Three Strikes does not deny the importance of such efforts and social investment.
  Not at all.  Rather, Three Strikes addresses those who have not responded and are now career criminals.  Here lies the false dichotomy.  Spending public money on prisoner education and rehabilitation is not an argument against Three Strikes. 

A conventional aircraft needs two wings in order to fly.  No matter how much one admires the left wing, flight will not result unless there is a right wing.  The two are integrally linked.  The same is true with the prison system: it has three equally important objectives.  Firstly, it must punish wrongdoing.  Justice requires it.  If not, then why put people in jail for any crime.  Secondly, it must rehabilitate wherever possible.  Thirdly, it must protect the innocent sheep from the marauding criminal wolves. 

The "Three Strikes" approach seeks to deal with the third objective: protection of the community from the depredations of career criminals.  It has been absent from our criminal justice system for far too long.  It rests upon a simple proposition: repeated offences brings greater guilt, and therefore justly requires longer incarceration. 

One of the staunch opponents of Three Strikes is Mike Williams.  He runs the false dichotomy argument described above.  He is active in prison reform. 
Mr Williams works closely with New Zealand's justice system, contributing his time to Howard League for Penal Reform, a charity with a history of working for prison reform and criminal justice in New Zealand.   One of the organisation's main activities is getting driver's licences for young offenders, because there are an estimated 500 people in prison right now simply for driving without a licence. The funding from Howard League helps those prisoners get driver's licences.

New Zealand First was "instrumental in getting the Howard League $7.5 million over three years to extend our driver's licence programme," Mr Williams said.  He has called for more rehabilitation in prisons since New Zealand's incarceration numbers are going up while crime rates are dropping. [The Hub]
This is all well and good.  We applaud such efforts.  But we also applaud the keeping of recidivist violent offenders in custody for longer.  Offenders such as--to use but one example--:
Rawiri David Wereta is a second striker.  According to the last High Court Judge who sentenced him in 2017, Wereta is currently serving a set of sentences totalling about 21 years for repeated serious violences.  His second strike offence was for wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm, committed on a fellow prisoner, for which he received a sentence of 6 years 9 months imprisonment.  He committed his second strike offences while in prison serving his first strikes sentences.

His latest sentence was for assault with a weapon after attacking another prisoner with a 30-40cm long ‘shank’ – prison slang for an improvised, sharpened weapon. After he nearly killed the prisoner by stabbing him 18 times, he did a shirtless victory parade of the cell block. Am sure he’ll respond well to rehabilitation eh.

His first strike offence was for the aggravated robbery of a suburban dairy, which he committed with his brother.  They attacked not just the employee on duty but also based a person outside the store into unconsciousness. For that, and other offending, he received a sentence of 10 years 6 months imprisonment.  Aggravated robberies of dairies can have devastating consequences for the victims. Apart from the obvious violence suffered, the psychological impact is often huge, and financially can be crippling on people often barely able to eke out a living from running their dairy, working long hours, 7 days a week.  When sentenced for this offending in 2013, the court had to have 13 police and security officers in court to ensure Wereta and his brother, who was also being sentenced, behaved themselves.  Both were heavily manacled for the sentencing.

Wereta has at least 68 criminal convictions stretching back to 1997.  He is or has been a member of Black Power and the Nomads gangs.  The judiciary considered imposing Preventive Detention on Wereta in 2014, but failed to do so.  Three strikes prevents him being released early by the Parole Board as he must serve his entire second strike sentences without eligibility for parole.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Justice Minister Andrew Little want the Parole Board to be able to let him out early to continue his violent offending in the community, rather than in the confines of prison.

Under Three Strikes, Wereta will remain in prison, ineligible for parole, until 2028.  [Kiwiblog]
 Of course, if Mike Williams and others were consistent, and not locked into their false dichotomies, they would oppose the repeal of the Three Strikes law.  After all, it gives more time in jail for teaching, coaching, encouragement, and so forth. They would insist upon prisoners taking responsibility of their actions.  After all, that is the essence of good citizenship, is it not? 

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