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Heather Roy's Diary: What Happened to Punishment?

Heather Roy's Diary

Whatever Happened To Punishment For Crime?

Last November the small yellow ACT campaign bus was stolen and taken for a joy ride by two 13 year old girls. They should have been at school. Instead, they had found their way along a quiet road, went on to a private property and discovered the ACT bus parked well out of view of the road. Driving the bus can't have been easy for an underage driver in a vehicle requiring a heavy traffic licence, and after a few kilometres the driver lost control, crashing through the brick fence of a suburban property. Approximately $1,000 of damage was done to the bus and the fence wouldn't have been cheap to repair either. This incident was, I understand, the first offence for one of the girls - and the police suggested a contract between themselves, the girl and her parents was the most appropriate course of action. The other girl was well known to police and, they suspected, the leader of the incident. A family group conference was held and victims were invited to attend.

Having heard many stories of the ineffectiveness of family group conferences I was sceptical to say the least. However I was keen to attend, firstly to see exactly what happened at a conference, secondly to have my say, and thirdly to see if justice would be served. It wasn't easy finding out about the conference - my office made many phone calls before we finally received an invitation because of our insistence. The social worker in charge was very impressive - an authoritative woman who stood no nonsense from her 'client'. She gave me some hope that the system might possibly work. The Youth Aid policeman was also impressive. He had an obvious passion for his job, but was realistic about what could be achieved with the law as it stands in regard to minors. The Youth Aid lawyer was the only one enthusiastic about the process and satisfied that it worked. The young lady in question didn't bother to attend on time. Her family were obviously embarrassed, one eventually persuading her that this was preferable to the alternative - a Family Court hearing - and went to pick her up. The conference started an hour and a half late. The bus conversion was not the only offence - others were dealt with at the same time and other victims were present. Predictably this girl showed little remorse.

Realising that the family was unlikely to have the money to pay for the bus repairs I had gone along to the conference with a suggestion in mind. $1,000 worth of time in lieu of monetary payment would, l felt, be fair and reasonable recompense. 40 hours worth of delivering ACT "tough on crime" pamphlets seemed an appropriate punishment for the crime and everyone was in agreement - the social worker, policeman, lawyer, the girl and her family. I left thinking that perhaps the system had some value. The social worker worked hard at co-ordinating times with my office, agreement was reached, crime pamphlets were printed and the girl was delivered to our office for the initial meeting, two hours in which she helped sort pamphlets and have the plan explained. That was the last we saw of her. The law and those left to administer the family conference process are powerless to enforce anything. This girl I suspect had no intention of completing her task - she simply didn't care. And by finding an alternative to stumping up with cash I had let the family off the hook.

The Lessons...

Committing a crime and damaging property that belongs to others is not punishable if you are a minor.

Family Group Conferences for repeat offenders are a waste of time.

If you want crime pamphlets distributed, deliver them yourself. Any volunteers for delivering in the Wellington area can contact me by return email.

Is Crime Getting Worse?

Over the last two weeks, two newspapers have run stories on the latest crime statistics. The Dominion Post ran a series on the figures for the year to 31 Dec 2005, which were released at the beginning of April.

The Sunday Star Times lead story last weekend was based on a leaked copy of crime statistics for the year to 30 June 2006, which are due to be released around 25 August. They show a massive increase in crime, especially in Auckland and Waikato. Police Minister Annette King refused to comment on the Sunday Star Times figures and said that they were often "subject to change", highlighting the suspicion that the Minister's office massages the figures before they are released.
Here are some of the published figures broken down by region.

"Crime Capitals" - Top region on a per capita basis:
Homicide: Wanganui
Aggravated Robbery: Auckland City
Domestic Violence: Gisborne
Burglary: Rotorua
Car Thefts: Hamilton
Cannabis: Marlborough
Methamphetamine: Far North
Minor Assaults: Upper Hutt
Serious Assaults: Rotorua
Sexual Assaults: Wairarapa
(Source: Dominion Post)

Nationwide Statistics
Violence 48,337 offences - 1 every 43 mins
Sexual 3,271 offences - 1 every 2½ hours
Drugs & AntiSocial 51,830 offences - 1 every 10 mins
Dishonesty 230,487 offences - 1 every 2 mins
Property Damage 43,577 offences - 1 every 12 mins
Property Abuse 18,730 offences - 1 every 28 mins
Administrative 11,264 offences - 1 every 48 mins
(Source: New Zealand Crime Statistics 2005)

30 June 2006 Statistics - Provisional
Percentage Change from 2004/05 year:
Northland All crime up 8.7% Car Thefts up 28%
North Shore/Waitakere All crime up 7.8% Burglary up 7.8%
Auckland City Burglary up 9.7% Car Thefts up 9%
Counties Manukau All crime up 24% Violent Attacks up 26%
Waikato Burglary up 28% Car Thefts up 32%
Bay of Plenty All crime down 1.9% Burglary up 8%
Central North Island All crime up 26% Car Thefts up 26%
Eastern North Island Violent Attacks up9% Burglary up 17%
Wellington Violent Attacks up 8% Car Thefts up 17%
West Coast/Tasman All crime down 2.4% Car Thefts up 5%
Canterbury Violent Attacks up 6.4% Burglary up 5%
Otago/Southland All crime up 6.3% Car Thefts up 16%
(Source: Sunday Star Times)

More statistics are available on our website -

The Labour Government's constant line that they are getting on top of crime isn't borne out by the statistics.


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