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Robson Speech: Sentencing And Parole Bill

28 March 2002 Speech Notes
Hon Matt Robson
Minister of Corrections, Minister for Court

Sentencing And Parole Bill: Second Reading

Mr Speaker.

I also wish to place on record my thanks to the select committee for their careful deliberation and sensible suggestions to improve the Bill.

This Bill is an intelligent response to making New Zealand a safer place.

The opposition parties are falling over each other trying to be the toughest kid on the block when it comes to sentencing and parole.

Acting tough does not equate with being effective.

It is irresponsible of National and Act to attempt to create a sense of fear amongst New Zealanders that this government would let out all the worst offenders.

Because nothing could be further from the truth.

We're tidying up the mess left behind after a decade of law and order rhetoric and little action.

This Bill proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that we want to see the dangerous few locked up for as long as is necessary.

No-one in this House is soft on crime. No-one in this House condones violence.

We all agree that New Zealanders have a right to live their lives and go about their business in peace.

In this regard, this House is united.

About Time

We are also united in the need to address the causes of criminal offending – or we should be.

We must intervene early to prevent a new generation of criminals growing up to create a new generation of victims.

The Sentencing and Parole Bill will earn the trust of the New Zealand public.

The most dangerous offenders will stay in jail longer.

Only when we have earned that trust can we hope to have the support of the public for new early intervention initiatives.

The About Time report which I released recently on behalf of the government shows that young people who are likely to become adult offenders can now be identified with increasing certainty –

- as newborns, school entrants and young offenders.

The About Time report, the Sentencing and Parole Bill and the soon to be released Carruthers report on youth offenders are a package deal by government justice ministers.

Key proposals from the About Time report and others reports will be implemented.

Victims

I said earlier that this Bill is an intelligent response to making New Zealand a safer place.

The Bill provides for the outcome of restorative justice conferences to be taken into account by judges at sentencing.

Fulfilling a manifesto promise, I have introduced a court-referred restorative justice pilot scheme operating at Waitakere, Auckland, Hamilton and Dunedin District Courts. The pilot is proving highly successful.

Restorative justice places the victim at the centre of the criminal justice system.

It provides an opportunity for offenders to learn first hand of the real affects their offending has had on victims. It provides a chance for the victim to be heard and to heal.

Under the pilot, restorative justice conferences only take place where the victim chooses this option.

Restorative justice is not the answer to criminal offending. But it has huge advantages for all those who do participate.

Victim impact statements

The Bill also strengthens the victim impact statements by allowing victims to present whatever information they wish to the sentencing judge.

Victims’ have been limited in this regard until now.

Sentencing judges will have the information before them to more fully appreciate the extent of the effects of criminal offending on the victim.

Reparations

Judges will also have before them better information about the offender’s financial position when making reparation orders.

The Bill allows the sentencing judge to direct the offender to make a declaration of all their income, assets and liabilities.

Reparation orders will better suit the offender’s ability to pay. People with the financial ability to pay more will no longer be able to hide the fact from the court.

Judges will be able to increase reparation orders and fines commensurate with the offenders’ means.

Judges will no longer make reparation orders which offenders of little means have no hope of paying and the Department for Courts has no hope of collecting.

The Department for Courts will, however, have much better information at their disposal when pursuing payment. The recovery rate, both of fines and reparations, is likely to improve markedly.

When making reparation orders, judges will take into account loss or damage to property and emotional harm – and the loss or damage consequential on any emotional or physical harm or loss or damage to property.

Thus, the full affects of criminal offending can be taken into account when setting orders for the payment of reparations to victims.

Funding

The Bill will see an increase in the prison muster of about 300 inmates after four years on a daily muster.

That will cost the taxpayer about an extra $90m.

We need more cells to keep people in prison for longer. That's partly why I have to build four new prisons.

National of course have seen fit to oppose the building of new prisons. What an earth do they propose as an alternative given their law and order rhetoric?

I wanted to ensure that the extra money required to implement this Bill did not compromise any other crime prevention initiatives in the prison system.

It has not. Extra money has been allocated.

Parole

As Minister I need to be able to reassure the public that the safeguards are in place when an offender is released.

We have had too many examples recently of violent offenders released at two-thirds of their sentence, and then re-offending while on parole.

Parole Boards have felt frustrated at not having the tools to keep an offender in prison for longer if there is an obvious risk that they will re-offend.

Probation officers have too often been in the firing line when an offender in their care re-offends.

And yet past governments have failed to give probation officers the tools to take action if they have fears for the safety of the public.

This Bill changes that – and it’s about time.

Some recent tragedies could have been averted if these tools had been in place.

A new single New Zealand Parole Board will replace the current Parole Board and 17 District Prisons Boards.

Most importantly, it will now be able to make community safety its paramount consideration.

If there is any concern, an offender will be kept inside.

Parole is a useful tool in monitoring offenders released from jail.

This Bill tightens the controls we already have and introduces some new ones.

If an offender breaches the conditions of his/her parole, under this Bill, a Probation officer will be able to put in an application for re-call to prison to the Parole Board.

The Parole Board will then be able to issue a warrant for arrest immediately.

In the meantime if a court finds that the conditions of parole have indeed been breached, the courts will have the right to sentence the offender to another year in prison – instead of the present three months.

The majority of people in prison are there for property offences, traffic offences and drug related crimes.

We can turn many of these away from a life of crime after they are released.

But for the dangerous few who remain a danger to the community, we will now have the tools to keep them inside for as long as it takes to make our community safe.


Ends

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