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The Letter

The Letter

THE CRIME ISSUE In NZ, crime is an issue because the chances of you being a victim of crime are now higher than in America. This country has gone from being one of the world's safest places to live to being one of the Western world's most dangerous. You may be more likely to be shot in some other countries but your chances of being assaulted or burgled are higher in NZ than they are in the USA, Australia, or in the EC. What is really remarkable is that crime is not seen as a much bigger issue.

THE CAUSES OF CRIME The causes of crime, like the human beings who commit it, are very complex. Most crime is committed by young men between the ages of 17 and 25. Just 5% of the population are responsible for over 90% of all violent crime – the crime that the community is most concerned about. Children raised in single parent households where the father has absconded do less well at school, are more likely themselves to be on a benefit and are much more likely to commit violent crime. With the explosion in fatherless families we are now experiencing the resulting crime.

WHAT DOES NOT WORK? There is overwhelming evidence that most current so-called solutions to crime do not work. Parole is a failure. Community sentencing doesn't work. The rehabilitation record (except for those who take on religion) is awful. Fatherhood, where men live with their partner and children, often can be a solution, but is not encouraged by our welfare system.

WHAT DOES WORK? Prison. It is difficult to commit a crime when in prison. In the US, where they have locked up a significant portion of the 5% of the population that commit crime, offending of all sorts has fallen significantly. So it is a myth that crime is the inevitable partner of modern life.

ZERO TOLERANCE The community taking a firm line on all crime also works. Strongly enforcing laws, especially those laws against antisocial behaviour like vandalism, graffiti and disorderly behaviour, seems to work. It appears that young men at the age of 17 explore the limits of what society will tolerate. In NZ they find there seems to be no limit. The laws they break are often not enforced and then when they are, the penalty is a fine that they do not have to pay. They then graduate to a community sentence that they don't have to do. A young man can have three family conferences, and perhaps as many as a dozen convictions, before receiving a prison sentence, of which he discovers he needs to serve only a third. By that time he is in bad company and attending the university of crime. Over 50% are back in jail within a year of release and over 75% within two years.

Zero tolerance (as run in New York) would see that young man appearing in court within 24 hours of his first offence and that same day doing an appropriate sentence. If he continues to offend then he will spend his prime crime years in prison.

THE COSTS A zero tolerance crime approach is expensive. It does require more police, a faster court system and more jails. NZ has fewer police to population than any state in Australia; our courts are very slow (we're still waiting for the Court of Appeal's urgent consideration of Donna Awatere-Huata’s case and her fraud case has not been to trial!). Phil Goff's estimate of the prison space needed if we had “truth in sentencing” and no parole is not correct. He is double counting. With today's revolving door prisons, all that full sentencing cuts out is the “home leave”. Secondly, he is assuming that violent crime will continue to grow. The evidence is that a zero tolerance approach will see crime fall by more than 50%, and it follows the number of convictions will also fall.

It is the two old parties’ crime policies that have seen crime rise – along with the country's prison population. NZ today has one of the highest proportions of its population in jail and Labour has the biggest prison-building programme ever. Zero tolerance produces a sharp rise in the prison numbers followed by a levelling off and eventually a fall in the prison population. If we continue with the present policies we will see our prison population rise.

PHILOSOPHY Crime is a philosophical question. If you believe that crime is caused by society, that the capitalist system is at fault by creating an unequal society, then its society's problem and the criminal is a victim. (Labour and the Greens). If you believe that individuals are responsible for their own life choices, then society is entitled to hold criminals responsible for the consequences of their actions. (ACT’s view).

ACT’S INFLUENCE When ACT arrived in parliament, all the political parties held the philosophy that society is to blame. The bureaucrats in the Ministry of Justice who write crime policy are still dedicated to the view that society is to blame and that rising crime is an inevitable part of modern life. ACT has challenged this orthodoxy in speeches, private member’s bills and books.

The public has never agreed that the criminal is a victim.

While Don Brash’s Sunday speech is still somewhat vague it does appear that after 40 years of the major parties having identical crime policies, it is about to change. As in National’s Treaty policy, without ACT, there would have been no change. Don’s speech can be downloaded at http://www.act.org.nz/brashcrime and Stephen Franks’ comment is at http://www.act.org.nz/law-order

THIS WEEK'S POLL Last week we asked whether the Speaker should refer the Yvonne Dossiter affidavit to the privileges committee? 88% of readers were in favour of using the privileges committee. This week's question: "Should Parole Be Abolished? Vote at http://www.act.org.nz/poll - we will send the result to Phil Goff.

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