Book Reviews | Gordon Campbell | News Flashes | Scoop Features | Scoop Video | Strange & Bizarre | Search


No Right Turn: Draconian And Barbaric

No Right Turn: Draconian And Barbaric

That is the only way to describe United Future's proposed "law and order" policy. Though alternatively, it could be called a wishlist for the "hang 'em high" brigade. The policy includes

  • abolishing distinctions between different classes of drugs;
  • making drug dealers accomplices to the crimes of their customers;
  • specialist drug courts (the implication being different rules of procedure and lower standards of evidence);
  • scrapping concurrent sentencing;
  • mandatory life imprisonment for "heinous" crimes;
  • mandatory prison terms for repeat drug offenders;
  • allowing victims to appeal parole board decisions;
  • lowering the age of criminal responsibility to 12;
  • "voluntary chemical castration for sex offenders as a pre-condition of parole".

According to Marc Alexander, these moves are justified because otherwise "we'll keep building prisons." Which is a rather curious justification, given that the effect of the dramatically increased sentences and mandatory life imprisonment proposed will be more people in jail. Our prison system is already struggling due to the imposition of longer sentences - yet Alexander thinks that making them even longer will result in us building fewer jails? Crazy.

"Dealer liability" - or rather its target - is also curious. Sure, methamphetamine has been implicated in a couple of high-profile murders in the past few years - but alcohol contributed to 141 deaths and 555 serious injuries in 2003 through drink-driving alone. Overall, it is implicated in 60% of all incidents reported to police, 77% of street disorder and fighting offences, and 40% of serious assaults. By any sensible measure, Alexander is after the wrong dealers.

Further lowering the age of criminal responsibility means putting more children in prison. It's not just barbaric, it effectively writes people off for the rest of their lives. But the worst idea is chemical castration. Quite apart from the Orwellian phrasing of "voluntary... as a pre-condition of parole" (which implies that people who "choose" to hand over their wallets to muggers do so "voluntarily... as a condition of not being beaten"), this is simply a monstrous violation of human rights that treats people like animals, based on the crude belief that the root cause of sexual offending is nothing more than an over-active sex-drive. It's a simple solution for simple minds, whose aim is more to humiliate than cure - which in fact describes United Future's crime policies to a T. They are not interested in actually solving the problem, only in showing how vicious they can be. Unfortunately, that's par for the course from our politicians, and no doubt National, NZFirst, ACT and Phil Goff will all try to outbid United Future by being even more savage.

The problem with this bidding war is that it is predicated on a lie. The "need" for tougher sentences and harsher penalties is driven by the belief that crime is "out of control" and that nothing is being done about it. This is nothing more than dishonest fearmongering. Our crime statistics show that even in the middle of a P-epidemic crime rates have dropped, while clearance rates - the number of crimes solved by police - have increased. But what has increased is the reporting of crime in the media - which has led to (to quote a Ministry of Justice report) "an inaccurate and negative view of crime statistics". It has also led to policies which target this created media fantasy, rather than reality - which cannot be good in the long-term.

But perhaps what's most offensive is that all this viciousness won't work. A 1997 report into predicting trends in crime rates found that severity of punishment had "no significant deterrent effect", and that

No relationship was found between the changes in the number of prison inmates and recorded crime rates. The size of the prison population was not significant in any model... the size of the prison population does not significantly reduce the number of potential offenders

In other words, having harsher sentences in order to "keep criminals off the streets" doesn't reduce crime one iota. But it does allow politicians to gain votes by playing to the public's thirst for vengeance. I guess that's what's really important in criminal justice policy.

© Scoop Media

Top Scoops Headlines


Werewolf: Living With Rio’s Olympic Ruins

Mariana Cavalcanti Critics of the Olympic project can point a discernible pattern in the delivery of Olympics-related urban interventions: the belated but rushed inaugurations of faulty and/or unfinished infrastructures... More>>

Live Blog On Now: Open Source//Open Society Conference

The second annual Open Source Open Society Conference is a 2 day event taking place on 22-23 August 2016 at Michael Fowler Centre in Wellington… Scoop is hosting a live blog summarising the key points of this exciting conference. More>>



Gordon Campbell: On The Politicising Of The War On Drugs In Sport

It hasn’t been much fun at all to see how “war on drugs in sport” has become a proxy version of the Cold War, fixated on Russia. This weekend’s banning of the Russian long jumper Darya Klishina took that fixation to fresh extremes. More>>


Binoy Kampmark: Kevin Rudd’s Failed UN Secretary General Bid

Few sights are sadder in international diplomacy than seeing an aging figure desperate for honours. In a desperate effort to net them, he scurries around, cultivating, prodding, wishing to be noted. Finally, such an honour is netted, in all likelihood just to shut that overly keen individual up. More>>

Open Source / Open Society: The Scoop Foundation - An Open Model For NZ Media

Access to accurate, relevant and timely information is a crucial aspect of an open and transparent society. However, in our digital society information is in a state of flux with every aspect of its creation, delivery and consumption undergoing profound redefinition... More>>

Keeping Out The Vote: Gordon Campbell On The US Elections

I’ll focus here on just two ways that dis-enfranchisement is currently occurring in the US: (a) by the rigging of the boundary lines for voter districts and (b) by demanding elaborate photo IDs before people are allowed to cast their vote. More>>

Ramzy Baroud: Being Black Palestinian - Solidarity As A Welcome Pathology

It should come as no surprise that the loudest international solidarity that accompanied the continued spate of the killing of Black Americans comes from Palestine; that books have already been written and published by Palestinians about the plight of their Black brethren. In fact, that solidarity is mutual. More>>


Get More From Scoop

Top Scoops
Search Scoop  
Powered by Vodafone
NZ independent news