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"Truth In Sentencing" - Speech To Parliament

"Truth In Sentencing" - Speech To Parliament

Wednesday 6th Sep 2000
Richard Prebble
Speech -- Justice

Mr Speaker I rise as the promoter of the Truth in Sentencing Bill.

From the day ACT arrived in parliament we said that we need tougher sentencing. It is disgraceful that the Labour-Alliance minority coalition, with the assistance of the Greens are blocking the passing of Truth in Sentencing.

At the last election, 92% of the electorate supported Norm Withers' petition for stronger sentencing. In another public opinion poll 80% of the electorate said they supported Richard Prebbles' Truth in Sentencing Bill.

Truth in Sentencing won, letting criminals out early lost. Coalition, in the words of Michael Cullen, it's time to "eat that" and pass this law.

The public is right. Today in New Zealand we have lies in sentencing. Criminals sentenced to prison rarely serve more than 50% of their sentence. Under the Justice Amendment Act, a liberal experiment of the last Labour government, most prisoners are automatically eligible for remission of a third of their sentence and if sentenced for less than 12 months, to a 50% reduction. Of offenders sentenced for nine years, most are out and offending again in less than five.

So they can be like Geoffrey Alan Jones who has threatened to kill Cheryl Shine and Lorraine Steel. Sentenced to 18 months jail in February this year, he is due for release in February 2001 - one third off for a man who swears he will kill two women. The women believe him, the police believe him - but officials say they are powerless to do anything.

They are powerless. It's the law. Only parliament can change the law. The MPs on that side of the house can act, but they do nothing. Labour, Alliance and Green MPs are putting people's lives at risk.

For those MPs on the select committee who are telling 92% of New Zealand that the minority coalition is right and that 92% of New Zealanders are wrong, consider this.

Kylie Jones would be alive today if my Truth in Sentencing Bill was law.

Every six weeks a New Zealander is murdered by an offender on early release. Every day, today, someone in New Zealand will be violently assaulted by an offender on early release. Thousands of crimes every year are committed by criminals on early release.

Parole in this country is a joke. Parolees commit so many crimes that Corrections Minister Matt Robson does not even bother having his officials keeping a record of who is on parole and their offending. There are too many crimes - it would take too much time, it's too expensive, he says. The Police are not even notified of the release of parolees - ”it's too expensive,” says the government.

That is this government's excuse for not voting for this bill. The cost. They don't care about people's lives.

Any drafting errors the select committee can fix, that's their job. But no, the Labour, Alliance and Green MPs say it's too expensive to keep criminals in jail - tell that to the families of six people this year murdered by offenders on early release. Six more people could have been alive today if government MPs had voted for this bill.

The Corrections Minister today launched his restorative justice trial to find out "what works" with crime. Well, I'll tell him what works, and he won't need an expensive 'milk and cuddles' programme to find out. Prisons work. You can't burgle, assault, rape and murder innocent members of the public when you are in jail. It's bad enough to have this sort of touchie-feelie experiment foisted on us by MPs out of touch with the public's daily fear of crime - but their excuse for not passing this bill is even worse.

We've all heard Phil Goff's figures on the cost of this Bill - and all MPs know that they are creative accounting. In our revolving door prison system we are arresting the same people we released last week. Some 76% of prisoners are reconvicted within three years of release.

Estimates of $838 million to keep existing prisoners in jail longer and claims that the prison population would double if this Bill is passed are nonsense, for two reasons. One, most crime is committed by a hard core of recidivists; two, crime will fall.

Phil Goff himself said, while in opposition, that perhaps as few as 30 professional criminals committed 70% of the burglaries in Auckland's North Shore. So, I estimate the prison population increase will be closer to 20%

If you examine the cost of prisons, it costs just $257 million to provide custodial services - $71 million was for administration - a 20% increase would cost just $51 million dollars a year.

But that is assuming crime won't fall, and it will.

Phil Goff has used Australia to criticise Truth in Sentencing. The latest New South Wales Law Commission report into Truth in Sentencing gave full support to the idea.

As of 1997, 27 states in America had passed Truth in Sentencing laws - with an 8% drop in crime. The 10 states with Labour/Alliance/Green style soft-on-crime laws saw violent crime increase 51% - just what New Zealand is experiencing.

If the government won't act out of compassion for the victims of crime, consider the economic cost of crime. The New Zealand Institute of Economic Research in a report to the Justice Department said crime costs 5% of GDP, roughly $5 billion or $1,500 per person.

An 8% reduction in crime - as happened in the US - would save a massive $400 million a year.

Passing my bill would save money, but more importantly, my bill will save a life every six weeks. It will save numerous women from being raped. It will stop countless other assaults, robberies and burglaries. And those MPs will do nothing.

Mr Speaker, let's have no more Taffy Hotenes or Travis Burns or Geoffery Jones being freed from jail to kill.

Truth in Sentencing will help win the war on crime. Being soft on crime has lost. It is time the committee did its job.


For more information visit ACT online at or contact the ACT Parliamentary Office at

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