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News Worthy, 24 February 2006

News Worthy

24 February 2006 - No. 62

"Open Prison" proposals

It now seems clear that the increasing cost of containing prisoners is causing the Government to substantially shift its position on law and order issues. It had been the proud boast of Labour that it was "tough" on crime.

The boast stood little scrutiny because the effect of the Sentencing Act 2002 was that prisoners became eligible for parole after serving one third of their sentence. So the rapist jailed for 9 years could be released after three.

The new proposal is that low level sex offenders, thieves and drink drivers could be released into "open prisons". That proposal reflects North European practices which allow inmates to go home for one weekend a month and be paid for work carried out during sentences.

If the change is implemented the consequences are very far reaching. Aimed primarily at those sentenced for less than six months, eligible offenders (from actual case studies) would include:

* A taxi driver found guilty of indecent assault - six months.
* A woman who stole more than $11,000 from a sick woman in her care - six months.
* A man who was convicted of 72 charges of fraud and 3 of theft - six months.
* A man who was convicted for his sixth drink-driving offence, as well as assault and breaching community work - five months.
* A man who was convicted of 6 charges of theft, assaulting police, resisting police, and possession of cannabis - three months.

Census 2006

The planned Census on 7 March 2006 will involve for the first time the prospect of completing the census return on the internet.

The first reference to a census on any broad scale appears in Luke chapter 2 when Caesar Augustus ordered a census of the "entire Roman World". That saw Joseph and Mary who lived in Nazareth return to Bethlehem for the census taking and the birth of Jesus

It was the date of the Census which established that 7AD was the last year in which Jesus could have been born.

The second great Census was in 1086 when William the Conqueror sent men over England to each shire to find out "what or how much each landholder had in land and livestock and what it was worth".

The Domesday Book Census included an estimate of land value and unsurprisingly found that land in the North of England was worth less than land in the south as a result of war and insurrection in the north. That value disparity continues today.

Outstanding fine levels

As at 31 January 2006 $671.7 million was owed in fines by 482,939 people. Of this amount $366.7 million was overdue for payment. Men between the ages of 20 and 30 owe $213.2 million.

Given the figures one can legitimately ask why is the Government delaying the enactment of the Courts & Criminal Matters Bill which identifies fines defaulters at the border and precludes them from leaving New Zealand and evading their payment obligations.

The discretion to prosecute

There has been an ongoing debate that a law change is required to deal with the situation where "the good Samaritan" comes to the aid of a victim and then finds himself charged with a criminal offence. That was well illustrated in a recent case in New Plymouth where a neighbour grabbed a machete and confronted men who were threatening to kill a woman with a baseball bat.

The newspaper report noted that the drama began when the terrified daughter of the victim came rushing to the neighbour to tell him that there were intruders in her house threatening to kill her mother.

The neighbour grabbed a machete he used for chopping wood, telling his 7-year-old daughter to call 111. Then he went to help his neighbour.

The intruder had by then smashed items inside the house, and the woman's car. When he saw the neighbour the intruder got into a waiting car driven by an accomplice, and threatened to return.

The neighbour smashed the driver's window and four days later was arrested and charged with damaging the car and possession of an offensive weapon.

In the result the intruder was given diversion for his offending but the neighbour faced criminal charges. The Judge convicted and discharged him.

Was justice done? I doubt it. The proper course of action to follow was that the charge should never have been brought. This course of events provides further support for the view that the Police should exercise greater discretion as to whether they prosecute or not. When they do prosecute in such circumstances, the justice system is the loser.

Political Quote of the Week

"When great changes occur in history, when great principles are involved, as a rule the majority are wrong. The minority are right." - Eugene V. Debs - five time Socialist Candidate for Presidency, the only candidate to run for US President from prison, where he was serving time for making an anti-war speech about World War I.

Richard Worth

Visit my website for more information at: www.richardworth.co.nz


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