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Safer communities, more effective punishments

Safer communities, more effective punishments: aim of new justice initiatives

Significant new justice measures unveiled by the Prime Minister will help build safer communities and provide for more effective ways that offenders can serve their debt to society, Justice Minister Mark Burton said today.

"This Government's goal is to continue addressing crime with policy that reduces its incidence, helps victims and targets hardcore and dangerous criminals and their activity."

The package announced by the Prime Minister today contains four key elements:

· Measures to help further reduce the rate of crime through targeted interventions to prevent people, especially the young, coming into the criminal justice system;

· Measures to reduce the rate of re-offending by improving employment, rehabilitation and reintegration programmes for prisoners, to give them a chance to construct useful lives beyond the prison gate once their sentences are completed;

· A revamp of the sentencing system so that there is more transparent, consistent so that there is more transparent, consistent and standardised approach, which will include the setting up of a Sentencing Council and parole reform;

· Smarter use of prisons by reforming the home detention and community-based sentencing regime, so that prisons are for serious offenders and a more effective range of punishments exist for other offenders.

"Improvements made since 1999 to justice legislation have tightened up penalties facing dangerous criminals. The Sentencing Act 2002 is delivering longer sentences across the board, as well as the longest sentences ever for the most serious crimes. The impact of these changes is the lowest crime rate since the early 1980s."

"The measures announced today will build on the positive impacts of these changes to further reduce the crime rate, but will also address New Zealand's growing prison population.

"New Zealand's prison population has increased over the last decade and is forecast to increase further over the next five years. By 30 June this year the number of inmates had climbed to 7,700 compared to 4,530 a decade ago – an increase of 41.2 per cent.

"We now have one of the highest per capita imprisonment rates in the western world though this growth does not reflect an increase in crime and has significant impacts on New Zealand families and communities."

Some of the key elements of the package are as follows:

· Crime prevention – for example: early intervention; working to reduce the flow of youth offenders into the criminal justice system; and inter-agency group to tackle persistent and prolific offenders; and situational crime prevention (i.e. reducing opportunities to crime);

· Minor changes to the Bail Act to improve consistency in judicial decision-making;

· Expanding the availability of restorative justice processes;

· A proposed new sentencing structure and hierarchy, including new tier of community-based sentences;

· Further consideration to be given to aspects of community work, and issues relating to disqualification from driving penalties;

· Establishing home detention as a sentence in its own right;

· Establishing a Sentencing Council, to produce sentencing and parole guidelines, and to consider reform of parole guidelines to better align the time served in prison with the court imposed sentence;

· Expanding rehabilitative and re-integrative services, including increased funding for community-based treatment programmes;

· Looking carefully at issues around Maori and Pacific peoples' involvement in the criminal justice system.

"New Zealanders are right to be sickened when they hear of horrendous and violent crimes committed in our communities and the Police must be acknowledged for their response to these incidents."

"Let me be clear for serious repeat offenders and hardened criminals, from whom the public must be protected, there is no other option than imprisonment. Though for some others, the use of non-custodial sanctions may be a more effective way to punish offenders and ultimately result in safer communities across the country."

"We continue to look for ways to meet the needs of victims of crime. The use of restorative justice has shown success in meeting the needs of many victims of crime. Labour is the only party to have ever passed legislation enshrining victims' rights - in 1987 and again 2002. This focus will continue as part of this package," Mark Burton said.

ENDS

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