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Zero tolerance means no apologies for punishment

Zero tolerance means no apologies for punishment

Stephen Franks Tuesday, 30 August 2005

Speeches - Crime & Justice

Launch of ACT's Prison and Punishment policy; Rimutaka Prison, Trentham, Upper Hutt; Tuesday, 30 August 2005.

Fools in high places say that prison doesn't work. Yet they act as if they believe in punishment. Like us they try to do things that bring rewards and not to do things that hurt, or frustrate or cause shame.

What Labour politicians mean is that prison doesn't cure criminals. They are right. Around 80% reoffend soon after release.

That is up from approximately 45% when I started law practice over 30 years ago. Back then the idealists were claiming that prison didn't work. They used it to justify the loopy experiment we've been running for the last 30 years, hoping that if we are all nice enough for long enough to criminals they might decide to be nice back. It's been a complete failure.

But that hasn't caused a rethink for the anointed. They feel squeamish at the word

"punishment". Justice Minister Phil Goff has made sure the word doesn't even appear in his Sentencing Act 2002. The average offender has had nine adult convictions before he at last gets a prison sentence. They've forced judges to treat prison as a last resort. The law says they may impose only the shortest and least restrictive sentences they can. Prisons are told their purpose is rehabilitation or reintegration or correction, anything but punishment. They have to satisfy the "criminogenic needs" of prisoners.

The law is rife with dishonest provisions to let offenders out as soon as possible, while leaving ordinary New Zealanders under the impression that criminals can still expect punishment in prison.

As usual, it is left to ACT to blow the whistle on all this political correctness. It turns out that the simple commonsense of ordinary people is better founded than the dopey theories inflicted on us.

ACT doesn't measure prison by its cure rate. We already know that few will change criminal patterns once they're established.ACT has more simple measures.

The most important measure is the crime rate, not the reoffending rate.

Young people must be deterred from thinking that crime could be worth the risk in the first place. It's too late once they've had nine previous convictions.

Before prisons became resorts our crime rate was around a fifth of the current level. Prisons can deter. The military veterans, the Prime Minister pretends to respect, tell us about deterrent prisons. They say no sane man ever risked going back to a hard labour military prison like Ardmore.

Prisons also protect. While criminals are locked up they can't hurt more innocent people.

And then there is the measure for prisons that only ACT dares mention. We want prisons to deliver justice for victims. We believe that there must be a price for crime. It has nothing to do with rehabilitation or deterrence.

It is called retribution. It is to satisfy the victim that the criminal is not left better off after the crime than the victim. Every culture understands that. For example, Maori sanctions ranged from shame through to muru and utu.

Under the legal system we inherited from Britain, the State claimed the victim's right to retribution. "Leave it to us" worked for hundreds of years. Then the anointed in charge reneged on the bargain. They shudder at what they call "vengeance".

ACT does not. ACT shudders at the harm to the innocent since Sir Geoffrey Palmer's announcement 16 years ago that retribution had no place in the law of a civilised nation. We think the price for that political correctness is paid by the 45,000 bashed, robbed, raped or murdered last year, nearly 5000 per year more than when Helen Clark took over in 1999.

We believe in freedom and personal responsibility for actions. Realists know that responsibility needs reinforcement. It survives only when there are consequences for people who hurt or steal.

Our prisons no longer satisfy victims that there is an adequate price for crime. Upsetting to the anointed, 92% of New Zealanders voted for hard labour in prisons. That may not mean they all wanted to see prisoners breaking rocks.

But it did mean they were:

- Sick of the prisons where effective control had been ceded by guards to prison gangs.

- Sick of hearing about cooked breakfasts when few New Zealanders get them and complaints about shortfalls in the fast food delivery.

- Sick of feeble excuses for not intercepting cell phones and for not ensuring that prisons are drug free.

- Sick of hearing about release one hour into a month sentence because there is a general empty out for Christmas.

- Sick of hearing about free dental work, free sex change operations and expensive courses that many hard working people can't afford.

They've been sickened by the nauseating political correctness in the Corrections Department. The Minister of Corrections persecutes Josie Bullock for publicly asking the question Labour fears "where is the evidence that this compulsory tikanga Maori works?"

More recently they have been sickened by news of the $2 million gymnasium at this very prison. How many hard working, low income New Zealanders can afford to workout at the gym. Why are we pumping up thugs who are already staunch enough to punch out their fellow citizens?

These sickness and cultural theories of criminal justice camouflage personal responsibility for the choice between good and evil, between making and taking, between right and wrong.

New Zealand is now stuck in a swamp. We have the worst combination - high crime/high imprisonment. Yet there is still no certainty about paying a price for crime. Criminals can gamble on there being too few police to be caught, lawyers games to avoid conviction, getting a feeble sentence, then going free at one third of the feeble sentence, or on home detention even earlier.

Restoring certainty is the key to hauling ourselves out of that swamp. ACT policies will restore the certainty that prison is for punishment.

How much will it cost? We estimate the extra police, plus the extra prison beds required by our zero parole policy could absorb as much as $400 million per year more. That will last during the hump of maximum musters. We don't expect to substantially change the patterns of hardened criminals. The hump could last up to 10 years until reduced youth recruitment to crime drops off.

$400 million is cheap. With crime costing up to $8 billion per year, it is a great investment. Even if we get only half the 30% violent crime reduction achieved across the US it will be worth more than $1 billion per year.

And if a future Parliament refuses to meet those costs there is another solution. Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County in Arizona has shown the way. Under a huge pink neon sign assuring criminals there are always "Vacancies", more than a thousand are housed in tents in Tent City Jail. They go out advertising their fate by day in chain gangs.

There is a quarry a few kilometres back down the road from the Rimutaka Hilton. Peter Jackson used it for a film set. We could fit plenty of tents there for as long as that it takes.


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