4 July 2002
Justice Minister Phil Goff responded today to issues raised over the Sentencing and Parole Acts relating to the sentencing of Haden Karl Brown yesterday in the Whangarei High Court.
“It appears from the Judges statement on the case that having given a longer sentence to the offender under the provisions of the new legislation, the Judge believes that it is not necessary to also create a minimum period before parole can be considered.
“It is not appropriate for me to comment on a particular sentence or a particular case. The Judge who hears the detail of the case and takes all factors into consideration has to make his/her decision without political interference. It is however open to the prosecution if it thinks fit to appeal the Judge’s decision.
“The Government will be monitoring closely sentencing patterns under the new legislation and if deemed necessary, in due course, has the option of changing the legislation if it believes that is necessary for the judiciary to take on board the message given by Parliament.
“An offender becoming eligible for consideration by the Parole Board, does not mean that he/she will be granted parole. The new and clear instructions to the Board are that they must not release any offender who poses an undue risk to the safety of the community. That is the Parole Board’s paramount consideration.
“Under the new legislation, instead of offenders being automatically released at two thirds, they can and will be kept in prison until the very last day of their sentence if that is required for the safety of the community.
“Judges have the power to impose a minimum non-parole period of up to two thirds of a sentence where the seriousness of the case warrants that. Imposing a long sentence does not preclude setting a minimum period before parole. In fact the two should go together.
“The new legislation will mean that average sentences will increase. It is forecast to increase the number of people in prison by up to 400 over four years. The Government has budgeted an additional $90 million to meet the cost of tougher sentences. That is a large expense but is warranted for cases where serious and high-risk offenders need to be kept behind bars for longer.
”While New Zealand has significantly lower serious offending rates than many other Western countries, our imprisonment rate is one of the highest. It is certainly not a case of New Zealand following a softer approach than those in countries with which we normally compare ourselves.
“It is important however not to have a sole focus on responding after crime is committed. While sentences will be tougher there is a need for early intervention through crime prevention measures. We have in particular focused in our Youth Offending Strategy on new measures to break the link between juvenile offending and going on to a lifetime of adult crime,” Mr Goff said.