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GoffSpeech To Safer Community Council Coordinators

Hon Phil Goff
Minister Of Justice

Speech To Central North Island Safer Community Council Coordinators

Angus Inn Hotel
16 February 2001

Greetings to you all.

Thank you for the chance to meet with and speak to you today.

The focus of your work and my justice responsibilities is fundamentally the same - to combat crime and to create safer communities where people can live without fear of violation of themselves or their property.

We can best achieve this objective by working in partnership with each other locally and nationally. Today is an opportunity for me to acknowledge and thank you for the hard work and effort you put in on behalf of your communities.

Before coming to the broader issues of crime prevention, I want to address the issues relating to crime which will be on many people's minds today. Those are the issues arising out of the sentencing this morning of Mark Middleton for threatening to kill Paul Dally, the man who murdered his stepdaughter Karla Cardno.

I share with every New Zealander the utter repugnance at the brutal and depraved actions of Paul Dally. All New Zealanders will understand how Karla's family feel towards the man who tortured, abused and murdered an innocent 13 year old girl. If it were my daughter I would feel exactly the same.

I cannot of course make any comment on the Court's specific decision. As Minister of Justice I am forbidden from attempting to direct the Court or from commenting on a particular judgement. The Courts must be, and must be seen to be, free from political interference.

I can however make the general comment that the rule of law requires that every one of us live under the law with no one exempt from it. We are not entitled to take the law into our own hands, however understandable might be the emotion that tempts us to do it.

To let anyone exact the retribution they wish against an offender would destroy the rule of law. I doubt that any thoughtful New Zealander wants that to happen.

Mr Middleton's actions were provoked by the belief that Dally was liable to be released on parole.

The law under which Dally was sentenced gave him a life sentence but allowed him to be considered for parole after 10 years. However, being eligible to be considered for parole is quite different from being granted it.

I do not believe that Dally will be seriously considered for parole for a very long time.

This case nevertheless raises questions about the adequacy of sentencing law.

Early last year, on becoming Minister, I initiated a review of sentencing and parole law. Shortly, I will report to Cabinet proposed changes which will toughen the law for the worst offenders.

This is not a knee-jerk reaction to the current debate.

The changes I am advocating are those I talked about in Opposition and promised the electorate during the election campaign.

I also listened to what people said in the 1999 referendum, which I myself voted in favour of.

Sentences should be tailored to fit the crime and the offender. An identical sentence for all murders, for example, just doesn't make sense. A killing such as that by Janine Albury-Thompson of her autistic daughter, if it were deemed murder, or a mercy killing at the request of a terminally ill person should not attract a minimum of 10 years in jail.

Mitigating factors should be taken into account which ought to mean some people serving less than 10 years for an intentional killing.

But equally, aggravating factors such as in the Dally case, where a child was murdered by being buried alive after suffering torture and sexual abuse, must attract a minimum sentence of much more than 10 years.

For this sort of murder I will be proposing to my colleagues a significantly longer statutory minimum sentence. I also hope to enshrine in sentencing law the principle that for the very worst type of offences in any category, judges should consider imposing the maximum sentence available to them under the law.

If they do not do this, having a maximum sentence is pointless.

There should also be discretion, even after an offender becomes eligible for parole, not to have to consider the offender for parole every year if they are unlikely to be granted it. This would reduce the trauma that those like the Cardno family endure every year.

Victims must also have the right to be notified of and have the ability to make submissions to the Parole Authority.

The Sentencing and Parole Reform Bill will deal with two of the four reforms called for in the referendum ? higher minimum sentences which will be applied to the worst murders, and also the question of restitution. The Bill will extend the circumstances in which reparation is paid and will strengthen the presumption that the Court should order reparation in every relevant instance.

A revamped and strengthened Victims' Rights Bill now before Parliament responds to the referendum's call to give greater heed to victims' rights. And the Corrections Minister is strongly supporting work for inmates in prisons in response to that issue addressed by the referendum.

Reforming sentencing and parole is overdue and important.

However, sentencing is a reaction to crime after the event, and what I want now to touch on is the need for better crime prevention.

Prevention is always better than cure. It is more cost effective and it is the most important way we can show respect for victims' rights, by stopping people from becoming victims.

The shift of the Crime Prevention Unit into the Ministry of Justice was carried out to emphasise that crime prevention should be at the heart of our justice policy.

The move is aimed at achieving better coordination and development of crime prevention strategies. The Crime Prevention Unit brings to the Ministry a practical crime prevention focus and enhances input from local and iwi authorities and community groups into justice sector policy development.

The key to the success of the Crime Prevention Unit has been the partnership it has forged between central and local government and the community.

Crime prevention isn't something that can simply be done from Wellington. Crime is a community problem and preventing it means drawing on the energy and skills of those members of the community who believe their neighbourhood can be a better and safer place to live.

I should here acknowledge that this year is the United Nations International Year for Volunteers. Currently there are over a thousand volunteers involved directly with Safer Community Councils around the country and many more involved in crime prevention in their communities in other ways.

I pay tribute to their efforts.

Successful crime prevention requires programmes that tackle offending and the causes of offending on a number of fronts: · environmental crime prevention, to reduce opportunities for crime to occur; · preventing victimisation and repeat victimisation; · early intervention, to stop people becoming criminals; · youth justice programmes that turn young offenders away from crime; · and adult sentences that utilise options of restorative justice, rehabilitation and deterrence to reduce re-offending.

The most effective crime prevention programmes are those that address the risk factors that we know lead to offending, before the offending occurs, or before the criminal behaviour becomes entrenched.

The early we address criminal behaviour, or the warning signs of it, the better our chances of changing that behaviour and preventing the unchecked development of a persistent adult offender.

Successful early intervention programmes, like Family Start, address the risk factors within the family such as poor parenting, poor education and health which lead to social alienation and failure, and ultimately to criminal offending.

These programmes are not delivered by what we normally think of as justice sector agencies ? health, education, social welfare ? but the truth is that investment in such programmes can have a much greater effect on the level of criminal offending than an equivalent investment at the reactive end of police, courts and prisons.

Longer sentences for robbers and rapists may offer satisfaction, but they can't erase the hurt that has been caused to the victim. Preventing the offender from committing the crime in the first place can.

As well as the social sector agencies, Safer Community Councils and the Crime Prevention Unit have a vital role to play in crime prevention, particularly in environmental crime prevention, youth programmes, preventing victimisation and in restorative justice.

Some of our most successful crime prevention programmes have been initiated at community level.

The anti-burglary initiative run by the Wanganui Safer Community Council in partnership with the local police is extraordinarily successful, delivering a 40% reduction in burglaries.

The Community Managed Restorative Justice Programmes have also delivered good results in terms of lowering the re-offending rates of those who have participated in them, and the process has enjoyed virtually unanimous support from the victims of the offenders involved.

Project Turnaround, in Timaru, halved re-conviction rates for offenders in the 12 months after participating in the process. Other restorative justice projects have also enjoyed success, and I hope the Te Puna Wai Ora project here in Hastings will achieve similar results.

These programmes are being gradually and carefully expanded, and tailored very much to local conditions and needs.

The Neighbourhood Safety Programmes, run by an ever-increasing number of Safer Community Councils, are another example of what can be achieved when the community, local sponsors and government agencies join together to support local crime prevention initiatives. Most of you will be familiar with the programme that transformed the Whangarei suburb of Otangarei and will be involved in planning or running similar programmes in your own areas.

The Otangarei project transformed the neighbourhood and has made a visible difference to the quality of life there, with increased community pride and confidence, reduced graffiti and vandalism, and ? importantly ? a greatly reduced fear of crime. I will be visiting a programme of this sort later on today in Flaxmere, which is already beginning to achieve similar success.

Crime prevention, and a determined and effective response to criminal offending, is critical to the quality of life all New Zealanders can enjoy.

Once again, I thank the Safer Community Council network for the contribution you are making in this area. I look forward to continuing to work with you in the future.

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