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One Academic's Opinion Is Not Fact

Thursday 20 Jun 2002

Presenting one academic's opinion on ACT's Crime and Justice policy as fact is extraordinarily biased journalism, ACT Justice Spokesman MP Stephen Franks said today. He was responding to the Evening Post's report of a university lecturer's views, without any attempt to get comment from ACT, or even other criminologists.

"Career academic Gabrielle Maxwell supports the Labour Government's approach of shorter sentences for criminals and opposes a New York-style zero tolerance approach to crime. She is welcome to her views. But I am stunned to see a newspaper dress up her notions as headline-grabbing fact, without any counter-balance from the criminologists who have thoroughly researched the phenomenal success of Zero Tolerance.

"Internationally, this debate has been held. Theorists fought hard against admitting the obvious. Those who were honest enough to take a clear look at the Zero Tolerance approach were forced to conclude that it works. The facts speak for themselves:

· In New Zealand, youth crime has doubled while in the US it has reduced by one-third.

· In New Zealand, most young offenders imprisoned for short terms have re-offended within 25 weeks and 97% have been caught and convicted again within five years.

· The Zero Tolerance approach in New York prevented over 60,000 violent crimes from 1989 to 1998.

· In New York after the introduction of a Zero Tolerance approach, murder declined by over 70%, robbery by over 60%, total violent offences by over 50%, and total property felonies by over 60%. These declines were the steepest ever recorded.

"Sadly, we all know that prisons do not rehabilitate. They are for stopping crime while the offender is locked up, for deterring others, and for ensuring that the criminal has paid at least some price for the harm inflicted on the victim. We should be measuring success by reducing the numbers who are willing to risk going to prison in the first place. Internationally it is clear that experienced criminals keep offending if they are allowed to, almost irrespective of what programmes they are on.

"Prison must send a `keep out' message to entry-level criminals. Research from organisations like the Manhattan Institute and the International Police Institute back up ACT's policies.

"Rather than the words of an academic like Dr Maxwell, I put stock in Police Association president Greg O'Connor, who joins ACT in supporting Zero Tolerance on Crime as it was applied in New York. Mr O'Connor says: "The dramatic decrease in crime, minor and serious, and the return of New York streets to law-abiding citizens is now legendary. The fall in crime was far in excess of the national trends that the academic critics cited as an explanation."

"ACT has the support of international and local experience, and research from the country that has been the most successful in turning around violent crime. We welcome debate, but mere opinions should be treated as such. We will continue to advocate for every New Zealander's right to personal safety and security," Mr Franks said.


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