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Burton: Interventions in Criminal Justice

Hon Mark Burton Effective Interventions in Criminal Justice

Thank you Prime Minister and thanks to all of you for making time to attend today's briefing.

The Prime Minister has laid out the very significant changes that are being proposed across the justice and social sectors to reduce crime, re-offending and imprisonment.

I would like to now focus on several key elements of this package, particularly some of the new sentencing initiatives and the work that will build on this Government's focus on meeting the needs of the victims of crime.

As the Prime Minister outlined, the Labour-led Government is preparing to move to a sentence structure aimed at making offenders more accountable, reducing re-offending and, in turn, strengthening the safety of our communities.

The proposals involve a clear five-tier hierarchy of sentences, based on the degree of restriction on liberty, and supervision, contained within each.

Imprisonment sits at the top of this structure and will continue to be imposed for serious offences. Let me reiterate, for serious repeat offenders, hardened and violent criminals there can be no other option.

Home Detention

The second tier will see the introduction of a new sentence of home detention.

Home detention in its current form is a means of serving a sentence rather than a sentence in its own right.

>From July 1, 2007, home detention will be established as a separate sentence for lower-risk offenders.

The proposed new sentence will replace front-end home detention for those currently serving prison sentences of two years or less.

Home detention as a separate sentence will have a maximum term of 12 months and importantly, will be able to be combined with community work, or with a fine.

The use of home detention as an alternative to a prison sentence has been identified as an effective and proven alternative for low risk offenders who would otherwise receive a short prison sentence.

Home detention is not a soft option – on the contrary results so far show that it is more successful than prison at stopping re-offending.

For example, about 37 percent of those who serve a prison sentence of less than two years will later be imprisoned within the next two years.

By comparison only around 13 percent of people who serve home detention are later imprisoned within the same period. Further, home detention allows offenders to be punished while offering them a much greater chance of being rehabilitated as employment, accommodation and family responsibilities and relationships can be maintained. This is positive for, and in the best interests of, the whole community.

Further, home detention has recorded high positive compliance rates. It is noteworthy that the rate of recall by the Parole Board for existing home detention programmes is below two per cent.

And, it is also a more cost effective use of taxpayers' money. The annual cost of a person on home detention is $22,000, compared to $59,000 for a minimum-security prisoner.

In addition to the effectiveness of home detention as a sanction against some offending, once fully implemented it is estimated the new sentence will reduce the additional prison bed requirement by more than 300.

Overall, the introduction of home detention as a sentence can and will play an important role in genuinely improving the safety of our communities.

Community-Based Sentences

Another effective alternative to prison is the imposition of community-based sentences.

Strong and credible community-based sentences, combining elements of punishment, rehabilitation and reparation, are critical to our overall strategy of reducing criminal offending and the prison population.

Earlier the Prime Minister outlined a new third tier of community sentences comprising more intensive, community-based sentences that will involve electronically monitored curfews and intensive supervision.

The use of electronically monitored curfews is particularly suitable for offenders whose offending has a specific pattern, or tends to occur at particular times. The use of intensive supervision would see a larger and more comprehensive set of conditions focused on rehabilitating offenders than those used currently.

In addition to these new sentences we will be improving the delivery and conditions around the existing community-based sentences to ensure they have the confidence of the public and judiciary.

We're also looking at the existing sentence of community work to increase the availability of community work projects and strengthening the credibility of agency placements.

We'll be revisiting the combination of community work with other sentences and providing judges with the ability to impose clear sentencing requirements and to supervise offenders serving the new intensive community-based sentences.

Restorative justice

Restorative justice processes require offenders to face their victims, redress the harm caused to victims and the community, and to address the causes of their offending.

Within today's package there are four proposals to expand the availability of restorative justice processes at different stages of the criminal justice system.

The proposals are: restorative justice processes for both less serious, and more serious offending; increased provision of restorative justice in conjunction with prisoners' re-integration into the community; and the development of a national performance framework.

The first of these proposals will extend provision of restorative justice processes in cases of less serious offending, as part of the Police Diversion process.

In these cases, the use of restorative justice can ensure that offenders are held fully accountable, both to those who have been directly harmed by their offending, and to their community, in a way that nonetheless will support them to become contributing and law-abiding members of the community.

This initiative, which will be led by the Ministry of Justice in collaboration with the New Zealand Police, will build on a number of successful community panel restorative justice programmes that have been in operation in a number of locations for several years.

The second proposal is for the extension of the successful pilot of restorative justice in cases of serious offending – where an offender has pleaded guilty and admits responsibility, and the offence is serious so diversion is not an option and imprisonment is a possible outcome.

This will provide opportunities for victims of these offences to meet offenders in a controlled and safe environment, and to have the outcome of their meeting taken into account in the sentence of the offender.

This expansion will be a staged process so that the Ministry of Justice can ensure that all programmes meet best practice standards and that all those involved in providing restorative justice have been trained to a high standard.

Restorative Justice evaluations have told us that significant numbers of victims of crime value this service. When managed safely, and when the victim has agreed to participate, restorative justice can offer victims of crime a real voice in the criminal justice system. A victim can sit face to face with an offender and ask the questions they want answers to.

These evaluations also tell us about the sustained benefits that victims receive from the restorative justice process. For instance, twelve months afterward most victims who participated in pilot programmes were still satisfied with their restorative justice conference and the sentence handed out, and most believed the process was useful in helping them put the incident behind them.

The evaluations also tell us that offenders do not consider a restorative justice process a 'soft option'. It may well be the first time that an offender has had to accept full responsibility for their actions and be in a position to front up and to apologise to the person they have harmed.

The third proposal is a positive new development that will use restorative justice when offenders are in prison and as part of the process of reintegrating them into the community.

Initially this would be through a trial programme in two prisons where victims will be offered the opportunity to meet the offenders who have harmed them before they are released. The victims will have a chance to allay some of their fears and to agree ways that they can feel safe, even in small communities where it is likely that the offender will cross their path in the future. The fourth proposal is a cornerstone for the expansion of restorative justice, and would provide a performance framework to ensure safe and high quality practice that meets the needs of the criminal justice system, victims, and offenders. These four proposals will increase significantly the opportunity for victims to have a real say in the criminal justice system and into outcomes for those who have harmed them through criminal offending. They will also put much more emphasis on requiring offenders to take responsibility and be held accountable for their actions. New Zealand has long been regarded as a world leader in its development of restorative justice in both the youth and adult criminal justice systems. New Zealand was also one of the first jurisdictions worldwide to formally recognise victims as central in the criminal justice system through legislation. The use of restorative justice is a key element to this Government's focus on meeting the needs of the victims of crime in the criminal justice process.

I will be speaking more about restorative justice at a seminar hosted by the New Zealand Centre for Public Law in Wellington tomorrow.

Remand in Custody

Remand in Custody is another area addressed by the Effective Interventions package.

The number of defendants remanded in custody has been steadily increasing since 1996. There are two current initiatives that are expected to have a significant impact on the number of defendants held on remand.

First, the police will roll out electronic monitoring as a condition of bail and second, the Ministry of Justice and other agencies are working on ways to make pre-trial court processes more efficient.

Another proposal in today's package aimed at improving the system is an amendment to the Bail Act 2000 to promote consistency in decision-making in this area. The amendments would clarify the threshold for remand in custody, and the relevance of breaches of bail conditions to the decision whether to remand. This will promote greater consistency in decision-making.

Summary

To summarise, while prison will always be the most appropriate place for repeat offenders and hardened violent criminals, the initiatives outlined today will allow the government to reduce offending and re-offending and to further build community safety.

Today's announcements represent a commitment by this government to build on the successful strategies of recent years which have resulted in the lowest crime rate in New Zealand in a generation.

But clearly the Government will not and cannot progress these initiatives working alone. The actions of many from across the community will be more important than ever. As will continued debate on the issues, the impacts and the solutions.

I'll now ask my colleague Damien O'Connor, Minister of Corrections, to talk about the initiatives being taken by his department to reduce re-offending.

ENDS

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