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Garrett Speaks to Sensible Sentencing Trust

Victims Fight Back

Speech to Sensible Sentencing Trust Conference
Parliament Buildings, Wellington
ACT New Zealand MP David Garrett
Wednesday, August 25 2010

I want to thank you for inviting me to speak today.

You people here are the reason I went into politics; securing a better deal for victims, and preventing the victimisation of others is what has driven me since I entered Parliament nearly two years ago.

I am pleased to say there has been progress made on both fronts; progress which would never have happened without a change of government, and more specifically, progress which would never have happened without the ACT Party.

I am proud to say that in the 14 years ACT has been in Parliament, the biggest policy victory yet was the passing of our ‘Three Strikes’ law. And make no mistake about it – whatever the National Party now say, ‘Three Strikes’ would never have happened without the ACT Party as part of the government.

It is a law that, had it been in place earlier, would have saved lives. Countless more victims wouldn’t have been robbed, raped or beaten if their attackers had been where they should’ve been – behind bars.

Getting ‘Three Strikes’ in was not an easy task. The Confidence and Supply Agreement we signed with National only promised to take it to the select committee stage. There were some in National who hoped that would be enough to keep us happy.

We were never going to accept just that. Public submissions were overwhelmingly in favour of three strikes. 97 percent of submissions were in favour of the policy, at least in principle. People had clearly had enough of failed, soft on crime policies.

So, we negotiated, and we reasoned, and sometimes argued. But in the end we succeeded. It is something we could never have done without the support of victims and their families who campaigned for sensible justice policies that actually work.

Yes, in places we had to compromise and make changes. We couldn’t get a 25 year to life sentence on the third strike. What we have instead however – three strikes and the max without parole – means our worst criminals will still be behind bars for a very long time.

Murderers, of course, can get life without parole at the second and third strike stage.

What the new law means, beyond a doubt, is that over time we won’t have the crazy situation of violent criminals on the streets with 50 or 100 convictions like we have now.

People like William Bell, who you are all familiar with. Not only is he someone who should never be let out, he is someone who shouldn’t have been out in the first place.

From now on, it’s three strikes and the max. Not 100 strikes and out on bail next time.

Ministry of Justice statistics show just how much tougher justice policies are needed. Since ‘Three Strikes’ came into effect at the start of June, four ‘strike’ offences per day have been reported to police.

A quick look at the police media releases shows what kind of crimes these are: robberies at knifepoint, deliberately running people over, home invasions, and far too many murders.

Recently I blogged about Dunedin’s first ‘strike’ conviction. It involved – quite unusually – a 19 year old woman. While trying to escape paying a taxi fare, she hit the 61 year old driver twice in the head with a hammer and stole $150 from his shirt pocket.

Thanks to ‘Three Strikes’, she now clearly knows what will happen if she does not turn her life around. Strike two will be a sentence without parole. A third strike and she gets the maximum sentence – 14 years if that’s another aggravated robbery – with no parole.

Opponents of ‘Three Strikes’ ask how it can cause thugs to think twice before offending when they often don’t even think once.

Well consider the above example: the young lady decided consciously not to pay the fare. She decided to attack the driver with a hammer. Then she decided to steal his earnings. Finally she decided to make a run for it.
It was, as with many crimes, a series of deliberate steps. Now with her first strike under her belt she may decide to not risk a second.

And if she decides to reoffend, there’ll be no parole and she’ll have even more time to figure out where she went wrong. If nothing else, at least with her in prison the streets will be that much safer.

She has been officially warned. As have 26 other first strike recipients as of the start of this month.

The previous government’s soft parole, sentencing and bail policies have cost many lives and livelihoods. How Phil Goff and Clayton Cosgrove, both former Justice Ministers, can sit in Parliament with their consciences clear is beyond my comprehension.

92 percent of respondents to a 1999 referendum wanted tougher sentences for violent criminals. In 2008 Rosita Chow and 7076 others signed a petition asking the Government to ‘introduce tougher penalties for offenders, including no bail, parole or home detention provisions for violent or repeat offenders, and truth in sentencing.’

Yet there are some people who make careers out of ignoring the will of the people. Kim Workman is one of those.

Just last week he sought to put words in your mouths. Most victims don’t want their attackers to go to prison, he said in a press release. Victims would rather their assailants worked their debt off in the community, he stated. Victims’ rights groups misrepresent the views of victims, he proclaimed.

The last sentence of his spiel was most amusing. His exact words: ‘we should… develop policy on the back of evidence and research, rather than rely on media hype and empty public noise.’

This from a man who claimed to all and sundry that prison numbers would triple under ‘Three Strikes’.

The Sensible Sentencing Trust has always promoted evidence-based solutions. Before advocating for ‘Three Strikes’ for New Zealand, Garth and I travelled to the United States on a fact-finding mission. We wanted to know how it worked, and indeed if it worked.

Later this year I’ll be returning to the US for another research trip, this time into zero tolerance policing, better known as ‘broken windows’.

ACT’s “Three Strikes’ law targets the worst of the worst. But if a society is incapable of controlling vandalism and graffiti, they stand no chance with more serious offences.

This is what zero tolerance is about. If you target offenders at the lower end, you stop them from descending down the road to more serious crimes.
New York is the leading case study of zero tolerance in action. From 1984 there was a concerted and successful effort to clean up graffiti and stop turnstile jumping in the subways. This zero tolerance policy was extended citywide by Mayor Giuliani in the 1990s.

In November I will travel to New York and see for myself exactly how it works. One thing we already know is that it does work.

With minor offences properly policed and order maintained, something else happened: violent crime plummeted. In 1990 2,245 people were murdered in New York City. Last year, the number was 461 – the lowest since records began in 1963.

By focussing more on so-called ‘minor crimes’ and putting extra resources into problem areas, New York has officially become the safest ‘big city’ in the United States.

Just as we tailored and implemented a “Three Strikes’ law for New Zealand conditions, I will be working extremely hard to persuade the government to introduce a kiwi zero tolerance policy after the next election.

Another policy that will keep our communities safer and prevent more potential victims is an end to the nonsense that is concurrent sentencing.
Last year I had the dubious honour of meeting Graeme Burton in Päremoremo, just days after he was convicted of attempted murder of a fellow inmate.

This is a man who should never have been let out of prison for his 1992 murder conviction. But once out on parole he promptly, as is too often the case, breached it, killed Karl Kuchenbecker, and was sentenced to 26 years minimum.
For his latest attempted murder – committed in jail - he was sentenced to ten years preventive detention, which is to be served concurrently. Burton will still be eligible for parole at the same time as before his last conviction.

Basically, as I said to the prison boss, Burton has committed a ‘free crime’. The governor could not promise me Burton would stay in prison for the rest of his life. Until some Judge has the courage to use the LWOP provision now available, this nonsense will continue.
If he had been required to serve all his various sentences consecutively, the only way Burton would leave prison would be in a box. That is as it should be.

The same goes for Liam Reid. For murdering Emma Agnew, he received a 23 year jail term. For her rape, and the rape of a Dunedin woman shortly after, he received ten years each – to be served concurrently.

And yet, he is still eligible for parole after only the murder sentence has been served.

Why shouldn’t someone convicted for murder and rape serve both sentences, one after the other? Tragically, under the current system, if you do both we’ll sentence you for murder and throw in the rape for free.

Not a pleasant thought, but it’s the truth. Reid should be in jail for at least 20 years longer than he is facing.

Again this is not about locking everyone up forever. What consecutive sentencing will do is hold violent thugs to account for each of their sins.
For victims to achieve closure, it is crucial their assailants are held accountable for each of their crimes. This isn’t happening at present.

As well as zero tolerance I – and the ACT Party – will be pushing hard for the introduction of truth in sentencing. Prior to ‘Three Strikes’, no sentence handed down in NZ – except minimum parole periods for murder – meant what they said. Under ‘Three Strikes’, criminals will serve the full judge given sentence at stage two, and the maximum prescribed in law at stage three.

As I have said, the law now allows judges to impose LWOP for the worst cases of murder – even if the murderer has no prior history. The 18 year minimum sentence handed down to Clayton Weatherston suggests it is unlikely judges will use the power we have given them any time soon.

These policies are not about revenge, as Kim Workman would claim. They are about ensuring that justice is done, and that justice is seen to be done. And they are about stopping future victims from being created, so they don’t have to go through what you do.

To keep our communities safe the government must listen to those who have suffered the harsh realities of crime – not those who stand in lecture halls and preach about something they’ve never had to deal with.

For too long victims’ voices were ignored. The fact of the matter is, if National had only the Maori Party to rely on in Parliament, there wouldn’t be ‘Three Strikes’, there wouldn’t be the crackdown on gangs and P dealers, and there wouldn’t be the tighter restrictions on parole.

If all National has to rely on after the next election is the Maori Party, then zero tolerance and truth in sentencing will have no chance of succeeding. That is why I joined ACT and became an MP – to ensure your voices are heard at the highest level.

We have much left to do, but your continuing support will help ensure we succeed.

ENDS

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