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Zero Tolerance for Crime -- Richard Prebble

Extract of a speech by ACT Leader Richard Prebble

to a public meeting organised by the ACT Party and the Sensible Sentencing Trust

at Le Grande Hotel, 237 Victoria Street, Hamilton,

on Wednesday 29 May 2002, at 5pm

Sensible Sentencing and the ACT Party are holding a series of joint public meetings to protest the Labour government's ignoring of Norm Withers' referendum, in which 92 percent of voters asked for tougher sentences for violent offenders.

In Labour's new Sentencing and Parole Acts:

- the minimum sentence for murder has been abolished

- violent criminals are now eligible for early release after serving just one-third of their sentence

- a violent home invasion offender, sentenced to eight years jail, can be out in two years, eight months.

The National Party yesterday announced a new law and order policy that will not work. National proposes to go back to its old law where violent offenders were eligible for automatic parole after two-thirds of their sentence. So a rapist sentenced to nine years would be released in six years.

Norm Withers' mother was violently attacked by an offender released under National's two-thirds law.

National criticises Labour for ignoring the Withers referendum, but forgets the referendum was against National's early-release law that the party says it wants to return to.

The Justice Department last week released new research that shows the early-release policies of both old parties don't work. The report finds: "More than a third (37%) of inmates were reconvicted of some offence within six months of release, while more than half (58%) were reconvicted within a year. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of inmates were reconvicted within two years of their release. Most inmates (86%) were reconvicted within five years".

The report also says: "In general, inmates released after serving shorter prison sentences were more likely to be both reconvicted and reimprisoned than inmates released after serving longer prison sentences". (You can read the report at www.act.org.nz/justicereport (www.act.org.nz/justicereport) .)

Early release is the rehabilitation policy that has failed. What we need is Truth in Sentencing, where offenders serve their full court-imposed sentence.

ACT is also sceptical of National's promise to increase police numbers by 500. Such promises are not credible. It is true that police numbers in the Waikato are down, while violent crime has increased. It is also correct that New Zealand has a lower ratio of police to population than any state in Australia - and you are more likely to be the victim of a violent crime in New Zealand than the United States.

But National has given no analysis to justify the figure of 500 extra police. Why not 400 or 600?

What we need is a new approach to policing - the New York approach of Zero Tolerance for Crime, that targets minor street offending. This has spectacularly lowered violent crime, including murder, by 30 percent in New York.

Zero Tolerance for Crime works because it targets first-level offenders, and directs young offenders away from a life of crime. In contrast, the soft approach taken by successive New Zealand governments - which includes wiping $80 million worth of fines, and family group conferences - has seen 90 percent repeat-offending by young offenders.

Zero Tolerance for Crime does require more police, especially community constables. ACT says safety is the number one priority. ACT will fund whatever number of police is required. If it is not 500 but an extra 800, so be it. Less than 2 percent of government spending goes on police.

ACT is going to make personal safety the number one issue in this year's election.


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