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Will this Criminologist Debate the Issues?

Will this Criminologist Debate the Issues?

Monday 2 Sep 2002 Stephen Franks Press Releases -- Crime & Justice -- Zero Tolerance for Crime

"ACT Justice spokesman Stephen Franks called for criminologist Dr John Pratt to publicly debate his "tougher sentences don't work" theories. The Victoria University of Wellington academic issued a release today deploring the fact that "an increasingly anxious and insecure public has demanded greater involvement in penal affairs," taking control away from the academics and bureaucratic experts.

"Dr Pratt's media release will attract attention because it attacks politicians without naming them. As one of his targets I sincerely hope he will debate the issues publicly instead of just firing shots from the top of the ivory tower.

"I want to read Dr Pratt's book. If he has evidence to show getting tough on crime doesn't work, he will have a world beater. The criminologists keep telling each other that it won't work. The anointed who have had control of penal policy (and media comment on it) keep saying that everyone knows that it doesn't work. But apparently the criminals in the US who committed a third less crime last year than 10 years ago haven't yet heard them.

"I have been trying to get to the bottom of this "everyone knows" belief. I followed up a claim by a VUW criminologist during the election campaign that longer sentences may even worsen crime. She admitted there was no study that established it. She said it was based on her "long experience".

"Victoria University risks becoming a nest for reactionary criminologists - refugees from the growing awareness elsewhere of the stunning success of US criminal justice reforms. Cutting crime by more than a third has blighted academics' theories and careers. Their remaining criticism is that to cut crime, too many criminals have to be locked up. Precisely!

"They dismiss the US achievement on the grounds that no-one would want to copy their numbers in prison. Four thousand more New Zealanders were beaten, bashed and robbed last year than if we had kept our violent crime figures at 1999 levels when the Labour government took power. They and their families might think that more criminals in prison was a price well worth paying.

"The real test of the US law reforms will be in say 10 years time. Then the staggering one-third drop in violent youth crime will have filtered through to reduce recruitment to prison. That is the only honest way to reduce both crime and prison musters. Because prison does not reform. Once criminals are hardened we can only lock them up until they get too old to offend.

"If the academic criminologists who decide the Labour government's criminal justice policy have their way, New Zealand will achieve the worst of all possible worlds - much longer sentences because the people will insist on it, but no reduction in crime because the anointed controlling the prisons and the parole system keep apologising for punishment," Mr Franks said.

For more information visit ACT online at or contact the ACT Parliamentary Office at

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