Saturday, 12 March 2011

A Simplistic Approach to Law and Order is Failing

Something is incredibly rotten with the National government’s simplistic approach to law and order.

New Zealand has one of the highest rates of incarceration in the OECD. Three years ago our imprisonment rate was 182 per 100,000, now the rate is getting close to 190 prisoners per 100,000.

The only Western country with a greater fondness for locking up its citizens is America, the land of the free, which bangs away 700 of its population per 100,000

That Parliament is now in the rabid thrall of a lock-em-up rhetoric is worrying.

Three strikes and you’re out campaign will lead to further shameful growth in our prison population.

The United States invented this crazy three strikes policy. Now wouldn’t we feel safer than in Norway, which is really soft on criminals. The Norwegians only bag 66 of their citizens per 100,000, so their crime rate must surely be spiralling out of control? Wrong. The homicide rate per 100,000 people is 0.8 for Norway, 1.3 for New Zealand and 5.6 for the USA.

Prison, while sounding a good option for offenders, can actually make society less safe. The English Court of Appeal – in the case of McInerney, Keating v. R – said of imprisonment: “There is a considerable risk that a prison sentence might actually make the factors associated with re-offending worse.”

“For example, a third lose their house while in prison, two thirds lose their job, over a fifth face increase financial problems and over two-thirds lose contact with their family. There are also real dangers of mental and physical health deteriorating further, of life and thinking skills being eroded and of prisoners being introduced to drugs.”

“By aggravating the factors associated with re-offending, prison sentence can prove counter-productive as a contribution to crime reduction and public safety”

These words apply equally to New Zealand. Locking people up often makes them worse, and can aggravate the vary things such as violence, poverty, social dislocation, mental illness and addiction and so on that cause people to offend in the first place.

In 2006 a Cabinet paper showed that 15% of all people refused bail and sent to prison until their charges were resolved – and who were often in prison for months – were never convicted. Further, only about half of those remanded in custody end up being sentenced to prison when they are convicted.

Previously, to be denied bail a person had to pose a real and substantial risk of re-offending, absconding or interfering with evidence. The Bail Act has just been amended so that now all a person has to do to be denied bail is to pose a risk.

This is stupid: any person poses as statistical risk. The question, if we take the presumption of innocence seriously, is whether a person accused of crime poses a real risk.

So while we are in a global recession, New Zealanders may not be able to afford to build new houses, but at least the building industry need not panic – we are going to be building a lot more prisons.

Now bail laws are tougher, the presumption of innocence will counting for even less and more New Zealanders will be deprived of liberty for charges they will never be convicted of.

It is time to ditch National and throw away the Key.

No comments:

Post a Comment