Wayne Map Speech To Safer Communities Forum
SPEECH TO THE "SAFER COMMUNITIES - NOW" FORUM V.O.I.C.E. (Victims of Invasive Crime) CHARITABLE TRUST
Auckland 2.30pm, SATURDAY, 8 SEPTEMBER 2001
SAFER COMMUNITIES - NOW
One of the basic obligations of government is to provide a justice system - one that people trust, one that sets a climate for safety and security for its citizens. It is surely self-evident that lawless societies do not prosper, while peaceful societies are the foundation for prosperity. It is no accident that the largest economic boom in United States' history coincided with big reductions in crime. In contrast, this year has seen an 8.5 percent increase in violent crime - the highest level in New Zealand's history.
People instinctively know that New Zealand is struggling with crime, and losing. That is why they want safer communities, so that New Zealand is a good place to raise families, to grow and prosper.
These were the reasons people supported the Withers' Petition. People were tired of the continuing increases in crime - especially violent crime. Voters wanted action. That is why we are here today.
Has the public got what they voted for? Does Mr Goff's Sentencing and Parole Bill deliver? Mr Goff has certainly talked it up. He raised great expectations, before the 1999 Election and during last year. The announcement in March this year helped drive up these expectations. Norm Withers thought Mr Goff was going to deliver.
In fact the Bill dismally fails to achieve its goals. It actually makes it easier for violent criminals to gain early release from prison. Rapists, bank robbers, those who bash, stab and rob will be able to apply for parole at one third of their sentence.
My analysis of the Sentencing and Parole Bill shows: 1. The top end of murderers will get longer sentences. 2. A small number of the most violent recidivist offenders will get preventive detention. 3. The worst criminals in each offence category will get longer sentences.
The third point means that of all the rapists, maybe the worst 20 percent, will get longer sentences. All these measures are good - they have wide support, but there has been a huge trade off. All offenders, except murderers and those in preventive detention, get to apply for parole at one third of their sentence. This includes those in the third category who have received longer sentences.
Taking practical examples, what does all this mean? The maximum sentence for aggravated assault is 14 years. This is the sort of assault that will put you in hospital.
Under the Sentencing and Parole Bill it is possible for the worst offenders to get a sentence of 14 years. But I suspect the average sentence will remain closer to the current nine years. In both cases offenders will be able to apply for parole at one third of their sentence. That means the offender sentenced to 14 years can apply for parole at four years eight months. The typical offender sentenced to nine years for aggravated assault will be able to apply for parole at three years. These are offenders who are so vicious that their victims are usually hospitalised.
Currently the worst offender in this category typically gets 12 years. The average sentence is about nine years. Nan Withers' attacker was sentenced to 10 years. Under current legislation, he will be released after six years, nine months; Mr Goff's proposed law could see him released at three years, three months. At present all serious violent offenders serve two thirds of their sentence. They are then released, whether they deserve it or not.. This means that offenders sentenced to 12 years get released after serving eight years. Offenders sentenced to nine years are released at six years.
However, under the Bill, serious violent offenders are eligible for parole at one third of their sentence. They won't all get it on first application, but many of them will. It is clear that some of these violent offenders who are released early will end up brutally assaulting members of the public before their actual sentence is complete. After all, 80% of all people released from prison re-offend within 12 months, and nearly 40% of those released are re-imprisoned.
National believes that the trade-off is dangerous. Official Cabinet papers show that Mr Goff did not want eligibility for parole at one third of the sentence - he wanted eligibility for parole at one half of the sentence. Mr Matt Robson, Minister of Corrections, from the shrinking Alliance Party, won this contest. Mr Robson wanted eligibility for release at one third - and he got it.
People are starting to realise that Mr Goff's Bill does not deliver what the people asked for in the 1999 referendum. They did not expect one third parole for serious violent offenders. The Justice and Electoral Select Committee has called for submissions on the Bill. We want to hear your views.
We want to hear from you on how to make the Bill deliver on Mr Goff's hype. However, I recognise that simply critiquing the government's bill is not enough. Alternatives have to be offered. National has been considering its own programme of criminal law reform.
We know the people want the worst offenders locked up for longer. There is a deep expectation that the 25 year old who brutally murders, the Taffy Hotenes of this world, will effectively lose the best years of their life. A minimum non-parole period of 25 years would take the likes of Taffy Hotene out of circulation until at least age 50. This would mean he probably loses the opportunity to have a family, to have a normal life. There is a reason why people have this expectation - it is essentially a life for a life. It also takes a person well beyond the violent passions that affect so many violent offenders.
We certainly will abolish the automatic release at two thirds of the sentence for violent offenders, but we will not allow parole eligibility at one third of the sentence. Serious violent offenders will not be able to apply for parole until two thirds of their sentence has passed. They will have to earn parole. This will result in a strengthening of the law, not the weakening of it as is proposed by the government.
Preventive Detention will be strengthened so that it catches a wider range of offenders. The Judges will be able to give preventive detention to any offender who poses a risk of violent offending. There will no requirement for a pattern of offending to be established. Instead, the judge will be required to make an assessment of the offender at the time of sentencing.
If there is a significant risk of dangerous offending in the future, preventive detention will be the appropriate sentence.
I believe that a broader approach than simply changing a sentencing and parole law is necessary. One of the great scourges of New Zealand is the proliferation of gangs. Police figures indicate that there are 15,000 gang members and associates in New Zealand. We have a higher number of gang members as a proportion of the population than any other country. Gangs are now multi-generational. Families are raised within the gang environment. It is impossible to believe that this could be a good environment in which to raise children, to instill values about respect for others, respect for oneself, and the reciprocal nature of obligations and duties in society.
National wants to develop legal measures that would outlaw criminal organisations, for this is what the gangs are. The specific measures would strengthen the law about consorting with other people with criminal records, and being associated with an organisation, the members and associates of which have criminal records. This will result in more gang members being jailed, but this seems essential if we are going to effectively break the gangs.
What we really want to achieve is to convince young people, particularly young men, that it is not worth being sucked into the gang lifestyle.
Breaking the cycle is the goal. If we succeed in this, we will have much less crime. We will be the peaceful society we aspire to be, and that we can be.