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Truth in Sentencing

Truth in Sentencing

Thursday 31 Jan 2002 Richard Prebble Press Releases -- Justice, Law & Order

Sentencing and Parole Reform Bill - an arrogant response to the Norm Withers petition for tougher sentences for violent offenders.

ACT has called its first press conference of the year to set out ACT's response to the Labour/Alliance Sentencing and Parole Reform Bill.

This is a massive Bill, some 170 pages long, and seeks to instruct the courts in sentencing and prison officials on how to administer parole.

Over the summer ACT MPs have studied the Bill, the submissions, carefully researched the proposals and we have come to a substantive response. Stephen Franks, one of Parliament's leading lawyers, has headed up ACT's justice policy. Stephen will today outline in detail ACT's concerns regarding this Bill. This is a complex piece of legislation and government Ministers in their propaganda have taken full advantage. So today we are handing out a backgrounder to enable the press gallery to identify key provisions and their legal effects. When you read it you will see that ACT has done its homework and the criticisms that we make are soundly based.

Ken Shirley, ACT's deputy leader and police spokesman, will explain how the Bill will effect policing.

Muriel Newman is here because ACT acknowledges that any realistic response to crime must involve the causes of crime. Today's press conference is not to release ACTs policy but we recognise that an effective Opposition not only opposes but also puts forward practical, workable solutions. The ACT Party is doing this and we support a sentencing and parole policy based on Truth in Sentencing that I'll come back to.

In my time in politics, I have never read a more fraudulent and misleading explanatory note than the statements made in the Sentencing and Parole Reform Bill explanatory statements. I am taking the matter up with the Speaker. In the past the public have been able to rely on the fact that the explanatory note is a non-political, factual explanation of the bill. If it was an advertisement we could lay a complaint to the advertising standards authority. The statements made in the explanatory note are fraudulent and designed to mislead. Let me quote - `The Bill ... addresses a number of issues. First there is the outcome of the criminal justice referendum held in conjunction with the 1999 General Election, which included a high level of concern over the sentencing of violent offenders'.

Ninety-two percent of the electorate voted for tougher sentences for violent offenders. This Bill removes the legal requirement for violent offenders to serve two-thirds of their sentence and replaces it with a requirement to serve just a third of the court-imposed sentence. This means an offender sentenced by a court to nine years jail for rape will now be eligible for parole after just three years.

Is there anyone in New Zealand who believes that what 92% of the public voted for?

The Bill for the first time sets out in statute the principles that judges and parole board officials must follow on sentencing issues. ACT says these principles should reflect our values as a community and should ensure that our legal system is just.

The values set out in the sentencing principles are not the values of 92% of New Zealanders. This Bill is an attack, if I put it in colloquial terms, on our inheritance of a British system of justice.

My most important criticism is what's not in the Bill. Common-law judges have said since time immemorial that one of the purposes of sentencing is to punish offenders for wrongdoing. This Bill removes from our justice system punishment. It is now not lawful for a judge to say that he is setting an exemplary sentence as a punishment or to say, as Judges occasionally do, their have been to many crimes of this sort and the court is going to make an example.

Instead, this Bill strips courts of their powers and gives it to bureaucrats.

Under this Bill, anonymous officials will determine the length of sentences. A new, vague criteria of `public safety' will be the sole criteria for parole and no consideration can be legally taken of the viciousness of the original crime. This is turning our Common Law legal system on its head. That for justice to be done it must be seen to be done. For there to be justice it must be open in court by a judge and jury, and the reasons given. Instead it's going to be in secret by anonymous bureaucrats who have to give no reasons or accountability for their actions. These bureaucrats aren't even accountable to politicians for their actions.

The ACT Party says there are serious constitutional issues at stake in this Bill.

I am surprised that a Labour Government would put forward such a Bill which makes the length of sentence dependent on how you present yourself. If you are middle class, white, female and articulate, regardless of your offence jail will just be a revolving door. If you are Maori, uneducated, inarticulate and you look scary, even if your original crime was relatively minor officials will keep you in jail. There are already reputable academic studies that say that background factors like your gender influence lengths of sentences. This bill will add to that injustice. What Labour is proposing is not a justice system.

The Sentencing and Parole Reform Bill is a continuation of the justice policy that has been followed by the two old parties for nearly 30 years. The experiment has failed. This is the notion that the real victims of crime are the criminals and if we let them out early crime will go down.

The experiment has been an appalling failure. The re-offending rate by early release prisoners is alarming - 76% of prisoners are reconvicted within three years of release.

The Labour/Alliance coalition refuses to research the number of offences committed by early release prisoners while they have been in Government but the figure of 50% reoffending within the first 12 months is regarded by experts as conservative.

So what has been the effect? Violence has continued to increase every year. While the Labour/Alliance Government has been in office, violent crime has increase 8.5%.

New Zealand has gone, since we started this experiment of early release, from having one of the lowest crime rates in the English-speaking world to having one of the highest. It is a statistical fact you are far more likely to be a victim of a violent crime in New Zealand today than you are in America.

The ACT Party says we need a new approach. ACT says we need to have a justice system that has certainty. Criminals sentenced by judges to jail should do the sentence the judge has imposed. Truth in Sentencing.

ACTs approach is one of zero tolerance to violent crime.

In the United States more and more states, now over 30, have adopted Truth in Sentencing policies. Even the Federal Government has set up a Sentencing Commission to ensure consistent sentencing, co-sponsored by that great Liberal, Senator Edward Kennedy. The results have been spectacular. States that have adopted Truth in Sentencing laws have seen drops in violent crime of 30% while we in New Zealand continue, under successive governments, with our failed experiment.

ACT acknowledges that the causes of crime are complex and we don't state that Truth in Sentencing by itself is a total solution. We do need effective policing. We also need to look at the causes of crime. In New Zealand, as in America, real welfare reform would contribute to long-term reductions in crime. ACT in advocating real welfare reform is not picking on beneficiaries but on the Government. Welfare is a government programme and well-designed welfare programmes will have a significant impact on long-term crime rates.

The United States has reduced crime by 30%. Some of their success is due to tackling the causes of crime. Welfare reform in America has contributed to lower rates of juvenile offending - a chronic problem.

Let me complete by saying, ACT acknowledges that ACTs approach does cost the taxpayer more money. Not the $800 million that Phil Goff claims, simply because in his estimates of the extra prison space required for Truth in Sentencing that he has engaged on outrageous double counting.

As 50% of early release prisoners re-offend, ACT's policy has just removed their home leave, as it were. It is estimated in United States studies that the average early release inmate costs society while out of prison up to two million dollars. At the last estimate of cost of crime in New Zealand done by the Justice Department is five billion dollars. The US estimate of crime committed by early release prisoners appears conservative. So ACT Believes that our tougher approach to sentencing will result in huge savings to the community. A 30% drop in crime would save society two billion dollars a year.

I have also publicly said that ACT supports a well run home detention policy. The concept of forcing prisoners to pay for their own imprisonment appeals, so we're not convinced that our tougher approach in reality would be more expensive. Even if it is the ACT Party says keeping the citizens safe is a core function of society and we are prepared to pay whatever the price is.

You deserve to be safe.

ENDS

For more information visit ACT online at http://www.act.org.nz or contact the ACT Parliamentary Office at act@parliament.govt.nz.

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