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Tough New Sentencing And Parole Regime Begins

Monday 1 July 2002

Tough New Sentencing And Parole Regime Begins Today

A new era in criminal justice begins today with the Government's Sentencing and Parole Acts coming into force, Justice Minister Phil Goff said.

"The new laws complete a fundamental restructuring of the criminal justice system which includes significantly tougher penalties for the worst offenders.

"The Acts respond to the public concern expressed by the referendum at the last election and will result in increased safety for New Zealanders.

"Public expectations are for tougher punishment for the worst offenders and these have been met in the new Government legislation.

"Key changes which take effect from today include;

*The minimum non-parole period for the worst murderers will increase from 10 to 17 years and this will be just a start. Murders will certain aggravating factors should see Judges impose sentences which will keep the offender in prison for a much longer period of time.

*Families and relatives of victims may be spared the anguish of murderers coming up for parole hearings every year once they become eligible to apply. The worst offenders will have to wait up to three years between parole applications instead of automatically applying each year.

*The abolition of the nonsense of automatic release at two thirds of a sentence for serious violent offenders as defined under the old Crimes Act. These offenders now face the prospect of serving up to the very last day of their sentence, where they continue to pose any undue risk to society.

*Preventive detention - which is also effectively a life sentence - will now be available for a wider range of sexual and violent offending. It will no longer require a previous record of such offending and it can be imposed on those 18 and over instead of 21 and over as under the old law.

*Judges are directed that sentences near the maximum penalty must generally be imposed for very serious crimes and the maximum penalty must now be imposed in the worst cases.

*A new, professional parole board has been created. The New Zealand Parole Board is made up of 10 judges chaired by a former High Court Judge and 13 lay members.

*For the first time the protection of the community has to be the paramount consideration of the board when it is considering whether an offender can be released from prison.

*A better deal for victims. The Sentencing Act strengthens the presumption in favour of reparation for victims of crime. The extent of the loss or harm that can be taken into account has been extended. Judges are now required to give a reason why reparation is not imposed.

"The 'serious violent offender' category under the old law has been abolished. This change was made because the old criteria was a very poor predictor of risk of future offending. Judges in all serious cases will be able to impose a non-parole period of up to two thirds of the sentence. In other cases parole can be considered after one third as was the case for most offences under the previous law.

“Serious offenders who pose a risk to the community will be kept in prison right up to the end of their sentence.

"The Sentencing Act will clearly impose tougher sentences on the worst offenders and the Parole Act will delay the release of those who pose the most risk to society.

"The Government is spending an additional $90 million over the next four years to cater mainly for the expected increase in the prison population of up to 400 inmates,” Mr Goff said.


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