MARC MY WORDS – 21 March 2005
When stopping crime starts …
Here we go again. In the case of notorious sex offender Lloyd McIntosh, the Parole Board has had to weigh up the uneasy balance between the ideal of equality before the law and pragmatic commonsense in the prevention of further criminal offending. A decision has been handed down that McIntosh live at a specified secret address; that for at least a year he be accompanied by one supervisor at all times, and be accompanied by two supervisors when off site in high risk areas. After that time he will be monitored electronically and subject to the following extended supervision for up to ten years:
Attending monthly counselling at Kia Marama
No association with those under 16 without direct supervision
No access to the internet
No employment without express permission
No contact with victims
Attendance at psychological appointments
Appropriate prescribed medications
While there may be some comfort that laws passed last year can be imposed on the Lloyd McIntoshs of this world to minimise their possible reoffending, they are only a stop gap measure to the real issue: what should we do about the way our criminal justice system handles serious offenders who have completed their sentences but are still clearly a risk to the community?
Embedded in our ideas about justice and fairness is the notion that once the ‘price’ of crime has been paid no more can be expected from offenders. That may well be fine for those clearly are at the lowest levels of offending but conditions should be reappraised for those whose track record shows that their criminal career is far from over. Gresham Marsh stacked up 60 offences before killing an elderly couple; Denis Hines had 80 before slashing someone’s throat; Joseph Thompson pleaded guilty to 129 charges; paedophile Douglas Corkill had 34 charges, and Brian Bolt, 636 offences – the last of which happened while on parole! Do you find it credible that this kind will stop offending. We might as well start preparing to do a body count of victims if any of those were ever let out.
It does not inspire any degree of confidence in the sentencing system when 86% of prison inmates re-offend within five years. In Lloyd McIntosh’s case, putting a regiment of guards on him would never be enough. He has already offended while being supervised, the costs are massive ($350,000 per year), and in the long term, the conditions are unreliable.
Unfortunately the Parole Board had no option but to hand down its “inadequate” decision on the supervision of Lloyd McIntosh. Currently there are no legal means of dealing adequately with his kind once their sentences are completed. I am increasingly taking the view that those who pose most risk should be considered for incarceration either in prison or in a mental health facility (if appropriate) for life, even when their given sentence is complete. I acknowledge that this proposition must be approached with caution. I believe that a history of incorrigibility warrants putting the interests of public safety ahead of those of the offenders. Put another way, the human rights of offenders are of a lesser order than those of their potential victims. These miscreants choose their lot in life and any experiment in human charity comes at too high a price for their victims. At the very least, sex offenders like McIntosh should have their sexual impulses chemically controlled. Only then might we see the risk diminish to the point where it is reasonable to consider restricted and supervised release.
I have been accused by some of being too ready to abandon the civil rights of offenders. But such criticism usually comes from those who have not spent time with victims, or they appeal to some rose-tinted ideal of forgiveness (only the wronged have the ethical right to assert these sentiments). I certainly don’t see a rush to offer their direct support, homes or employment to criminals by these apologists with their (misplaced) empathy. For the most part, they urge forgiveness from their safe worlds, willing to put others at risk. I also don’t see them doing much to prevent budding crims from starting their unlawful careers with a sense of the consequences. The worst end of our criminal population all started out as youths whose offending inclinations were never well curbed. To contextualise their criminal behaviour with allowances for circumstances sends the wrong message. The line of acceptable behaviour should never be blurred.
The real culprit in our justice system happens at the
other end of offending where teen crims laugh at talk-fest
conferences and show no sense of accountability. There has
been a rising trend in the number of family group
conferences (FGC) where hardened young offenders blithely
float from one crime to the next. One young offender stacked
up 11 conferences under his belt, and hundreds of teens have
taken part from three to eight times. I suggest a ‘three
strikes’ rule for youth offenders. Information I gained
under written Parliamentary questions shows that the number
of young offenders who attended two or more family group
conferences increased from 713 to 1601 (by 125 percent)
between 2001 and 2004.
In the same three years:
Those with two family group conferences increased from 524 to 944 (up 80%).
The number with three jumped from 141 to 395.
The number with four almost quadrupled from 43 to 163.
The number with five family group conferences increased from 3 to 62.
The number with six increased from 2 to 23.
And in 2004, 11 young offenders were on their seventh family group conference, and another three were on their eighth, ninth and eleventh respectively.
The rising trend indicates that current sentencing for youth crime is incremental. Family group conferences are not generally for first offenders. Most of them are for those who have committed a number of offences and already abused the system of police cautions and diversions. A Ministry of Social Development study released last year found that two-thirds of teens who were brought in to family group conferences reoffended! A ‘three strikes’ rule for teens means that after they have attended three family group conferences and have shown that they are still playing the system, they should be given a short, sharp shock and locked up. If we don’t start with a determined and credible sanction at the beginning of these criminal careers we will end up encouraging the view that crime does pay. There will be more crims at the other end who will walk away from prison, ready, willing and able to commit more crime and create more victims.
And there will still be those out there who go on excusing and forgiving them.