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Speech: Ryall - Exits from conveyer belt to crime

Speech: Ryall - Exits from the conveyer belt to crime

Hon Tony Ryall National Law and Order Spokesman 11 July 2004

Speech by National Party Law and Order Spokesman Hon Tony Ryall to the 2004 National Party Annual Conference

Exits from the conveyor belt to crime

Leader, Madam President, Ladies and Gentlemen

We like to say all New Zealanders are born equal. But the reality is something else.

Sadly, some children are born into homes without aspiration, where crime is a lifestyle and honest values are lacking. Crime is, fundamentally, an individual choice...but no choice is made in isolation.

Two-thirds of prison inmates receive their first criminal conviction before their 21st birthday.

Forty percent before their eighteenth birthday! And 50% of all inmates do their first term in prison before their 21st birthday.

Nearly all these people begin their criminal careers as children.

You can see why people have used the image of a conveyor belt to crime to describe the rolling history of the law-breaker moving through different stages: neglected child, disruptive pupil, anti-social teenager, young offender, first-time prisoner, repeat offender, hardened criminal.

At each stage, the individual has the choice of stepping off the conveyor belt. Our job is to help him or her make that choice; to give the offender every opportunity to get off the conveyor belt and every discouragement from carrying on.

Yet our current system is not doing enough to provide the exits to make this happen. And the consequence of that is the spiralling violent crime rate and the growing number of violent and repeat offenders filling our jails.

The conveyor belt rolls on

National's approach to law and order targets each stage of this so-called conveyor belt.

The fight against crime starts at home.

While hardship is no excuse or cause of crime, as I said earlier crime does not occur in isolation. Research shows that welfarism, neglectful parenting, the absence of fathers, drugs, lack of self-respect, and witnessing family violence are all risks for potential young offenders. Too many of our homes are breeding grounds for crime.

National recognised the sense of investing in early intervention when we began Parents As First Teachers, Strengthening Families, and Family Start. These programmes are all proven to make a difference. Yet it has taken Labour five years, until this last Budget, to announce one extension to any of these programmes. In fact, the Government has cut funding for Parents As First Teachers. The Left talks a lot about early intervention, but does nothing about it.

Policymakers spend a lot of time looking at what makes families dysfunctional. I often think we would be better looking at what makes families successful. Things like independence, loving and supportive parents, parental monitoring of their kids' friends and activities, school attendance and social skills. That's why getting people off welfare and into work, and supporting the family unit are so important. Then to the school years.

Truancy remains a strong feature of youth offending. Researchers have found that attending school has more of an impact on youth crime than how well children actually do at school. I'm told that almost 7,000 high-risk children - that no school wants - are enrolled in the Correspondence School. That's no way to fix the problem.

Collaboration between agencies is vital to crackdown on truancy. The Police, schools, the courts, welfare, the community, and families all have a part to play.

Some parts of the country have reduced truancy by having police make regular visits to the homes of truants. These parents do not want the police at their homes, particularly if it involves inspecting the glasshouse at the back of the section, and, as a result, parents exercise control over their children. This works and should be encouraged.

Needless to say, good discipline, interesting and challenging work in classrooms, and sport - particularly in high crime areas - reduces offending.

As children get older the single most important risk factor for getting into trouble is their circle of friends. If their associates are intent on stealing or damaging property, or worse, then the young person will more than likely end up in the youth justice system.

What do they learn youth justice system?

All too often it is that the system is impotent, that anti-social behaviour is "understood", and that minor crimes are rarely punished.

Our first formal response to young offenders is the Family Group Conference system. Most kids who get into trouble have one or two of these meetings with their family, and often the victim, and never re-offend. But the hard-core 5% do ... and they keep re-offending.

Last year, of the young people who had youth justice family group conferences, around 80% had none or only one previous contact with the system. The worst 5% were on at least their fifth conference. One young person was on his or her fifteenth.

These kids do not fit the comfortable middle-class image of what teenagers are like. These hard-core kids are street-wise. And tough. And they know how to use every legal right to avoid detection and accountability.

It is this hard-core that we need to move into the Youth Court system sooner. Lowering the age of criminal responsibility from 14 to 12 is not about putting 12-year-olds in jail. It is all about saving these young people from a life of crime. If the current approach is so good, why are the results so bad?

If we can get these kids into a more formal setting to confront the seriousness of their actions, where judges have more options and powers to deal with the young offender and their parents, then that will make a difference. If we don't take their offending seriously, why would the young person?

For example, take bail. A young person before the Youth Court on bail can have conditions placed on who they associate with, where they go, and what curfew they must keep. The authorities, and parents, can then enforce these. But when the case is dealt with the Youth Court has very little power to impose similar restrictions on the young person and their parents.

We need to expand the powers of the Youth Court to give more exit points to young offenders. We'll be announcing new and innovative policies in this area in the next few weeks.

Moving to more serious crime.

If they are detected, and if they are brought to court, and if they are convicted - what does the offender learn at that stage?

That punishment is weak and ineffectual; that they can get away with not paying their fines; that they can get away with not turning up for community work; that they won't have to pay reparation to their victim. These are exits that are being abused.

But if, finally, they find themselves in prison, what do they learn from this harshest of lessons?

Well, you'd have to say not much. Forty percent of released prisoners will reoffend within 12 months of release, 55% within two years, and 86% will reoffend within 5 years.

It comes as no surprise that letting violent and repeat offenders out of prison, putting them back on the streets on parole or automatic release, results in countless murders, rapes, assaults and burglaries. This week not one minister would justify Labour's policy of qualifying for parole at 33% of the sentence. That's because it is indefensible.

Who can justify a judge giving a sentence, and then another government body cutting that sentence by 66% and letting the offender out? Is that fair on the victim?

National will not ask police officers to put their lives at risk to arrest dangerous criminals, just to have them go through a revolving door prison system.

The closer you look, the clearer it becomes that a huge part of crime in this country comes from slack parole policies. William Duane Bell could have been stopped if his parole had been administered properly.

People have the wrong idea about parole. They think it means intensive supervision and surveillance. It doesn't. It amounts to not much more than weekly contact between the parolee and their parole officer, reducing quickly to monthly contact. That doesn't sound like much crime prevention. It should be abolished.

As Dr Brash said last Sunday, the one certainty for most inmates is that they will be released. And while it may seem the natural state that an ex-prisoner is likely to reoffend, more must be done to create a better exit from the conveyor belt to prevent this.

We want to see more emphasis placed on work and study as rehabilitation. Creating regular work patterns and the appreciation of work will give inmates greater capacity upon their eventual release. And there's no need here to recite the plethora of health and psychological problems that the prison population shares.

We must do more to reintegrate inmates back into the community. Research shows the need to address individual housing, employment, family, and other issues some months before release. And then we need to maintain contact, support, and care after that time.

But again, agencies working together can make a difference. The Prisoners Aid and Rehabilitation Society (PARS) told me last month that one of the biggest stumbling blocks to getting inmates into accommodation is a bureaucratic rule. That rule prevents WINZ from advancing money as a bond for a flat until the inmate is actually out of jail and registered on the WINZ system. Surely there could be more flexibility since a stable home environment is vital to reducing reoffending. We don't want inmates ending up in backpackers' hostels.

National's law and order view is clear:

Families, schools, the courts, the police, the probation service, and the prisons, each should present a series of exits from the conveyor belt to crime. But instead, for all too many, the conveyor belt rolls on, moving young people closer and closer to the barbed wire.

During this current, much-needed debate on crime and imprisonment, we must never lose sight of this basic truth: crime is not the community's fault. Crime is something that one person chooses to do to another. And criminals are not victims of the justice system. It is the people who they assault and steal from who are the victims.

Until we have a government that stops treating criminals as people drawn into crime whether they like it or not, and starts dealing with them as people who must be held responsible for their own actions, then we cannot begin to win the war against crime.

With Dr Brash, that new government is on its way.

© Scoop Media

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