Why New Zealand is so violent
Jim Anderton MP Sun Aug 22 1999
New Zealand will keep its place as the most violent country in the developed world after South Africa until we get full employment, a victim-centred justice system and a vastly improved mental health system, Alliance leader Jim Anderton says.
He's pointing to the small North Island town of Mangakino, where 38-year old police constable Murray Stretch was killed this year, as a tragic example of what happens when unemployment swells. Mangakino has an unemployment rate of 28%, compared with a national unemployment rate of 7.7%.
A British Home Office survey shows New Zealand trails only South Africa for the highest crime rate in the developed world. Jim Anderton says the problem will get worse until the Government invests in jobs.
'The Government just keeps building more prisons. When they double the number of people in jail, then they also double the number of victims. They are admitting failure. If they invested the same money in jobs, they wouldn't need the extra prisons.
'Some of the problem lies in the loss of basic values which hold a community together, such as respect, honesty, selflessness, compassion and tolerance. The government can provide leadership, but it can't legislate for values.
'There isn't one simple answer, but if there was one single magic wand I could wave to reduce crime and violence, it would be full employment. That doesn't make unemployment an excuse for crime, but I am certain that if we halved the rate of joblessness, we would halve the rate of crime and halve the rate of violence.
'Unemployment won't come down and we will remain a violent society for as long as New Zealand is run by New Right economic policies.'
With only 41% of assaults by a stranger being reported to police, Jim Anderton said a victim-centred justice system was long overdue.
'Violence is not reported when victims feel powerless. If the justice system was made more responsive to the needs of victims then the perpetrators of violence would have to face up to their behaviour and reform themselves.'
Improving the mental health system would mean that potentially violent individuals received the care they needed, reducing their propensity to harm themselves and others.
'It's a common mistake to say everyone who is mentally ill could become violent. But what we do have to acknowledge is that a distrubingly high proportion of prison inmates are former psychiatric patients. We would do far more for victims and for the prisoners themselves if people could get mental health care, instead of waiting until they have harmed someone and then throwing them in jail,' Jim Anderton said.