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Crime Survey Misrepresented

Crime Survey Misrepresented

ACT Justice Spokesman Stephen Franks today accused top justice official Warren Young of misrepresenting the official survey of periodic detainees' views on sentencing and crime, when he claimed it `demonstrates that harsher penalties do not necessarily deter criminals, since they are not always aware of the sentence associated with the crime'.

"The report itself shows that criminals believe harsher penalties do deter, and that they have a reasonably good idea of actual sentences. They don't know much about Judges' sentences - but why should they? Parole determines the actual length of time behind bars, not the Judge's sentence," Mr Franks said.

"Criminals are realistic. Their average estimate - of rapists spending only about five years in prison when the survey was run - was accurate. After last Wednesday's Appeal Court decision, that judges can rarely set a non-parole period longer than one-third of a sentence, actual prison time for rape may fall.

"The report shows criminals have more common sense than Labour Cabinet Ministers, who changed sentencing law last year. The report claims, `these research findings have assisted ... the development of proposed legislative reform'. The Sentencing Act actually goes directly against the research findings. For example, offenders:

· think fines are least likely to deter them, or make them change their lives. Many who were unemployed thought fines represented no real hardship. The Sentencing Act told Judges they must use fines instead of other penalties wherever possible

· think prison has the most deterrent effect, and is best for rehabilitation. A huge majority said a six-month sentence is most likely to cause them to change their conduct. The Sentencing Act told Judges they can use prison only as a last resort

· thought periodic detention was the second most successful penalty in deterring and rehabilitating. The Sentencing Act abolished periodic detention

· tended to be tougher than Judges when asked to recommend sentences for hypothetical cases. The Sentencing Act says sentences must give `the least restrictive outcome that is appropriate in the circumstances'

· were most upset by the unfairness when some get lighter sentences for the same crime. The Sentencing Act makes Judges tailor penalties to the criminal. The Parole Board sets the actual sentence according to the perception of risk to the community, not the nature of the crime

· often recommended a mix of sentences, such as prison followed by supervision. The Sentencing Act severely restricts Judges' discretion and prohibits most mixed sentences.

"The Deputy Secretary for Justice this morning let slip what may be the real reason for wheeling out this research at this time, though it was patently ignored last year. He suggested advertising to tell criminals how tough sentences really are.

"They won't be listening. The real target is voters. The Government is planning political propaganda at taxpayer expense, to persuade us they have toughened up, when the criminals know the reality. A few headline sentences have been increased, but what matters is the actual sentence served. The parole system has the prison back door gaping.

"Truth in sentencing is the only cure to, what Professor Young calls, the criminals' `poor understanding of the consequences of crime'. If Court sentences meant what they said, there would be no need for any advertising," Mr Franks said.

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