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Labour's bail restrictions worth the price

Labour
2000 web siteLabour will pass legislation to reverse the onus of proof in bail hearings for hard-core repeat offenders who treat bail as a licence to re-offend, despite National Government objections that the $4 to $8 million cost is too high, Labour justice spokesperson Phil Goff said today.

Mr Goff outlined the policy in a speech to the Police Association Annual Conference in Wellington.

"Ministry of Justice data on offending while on bail clearly identifies a hard core of repeat offenders who have already received 14 or more prior custodial sentences. In 1994 there were a total of 2058 of these people.

"According to the Ministry of Justice, 43 per cent of these offenders are later caught and convicted of offending again while on bail. But if we are only clearing 11 per cent of burglary offences, the actual rate of offending by this group while on bail is likely to be over 90 per cent.

"Labour will reverse the onus of persuasion in bail hearings for these hard core offenders. Defendants on serious charges who have substantial previous custodial sentences and a record of breaching bail will have to persuade the Judge that bail should be granted, rather than police having to persuade the Judge that it shouldn't be granted."

The Ministry of Justice reported that Mr Goff's policy would lead to an average 150-280 more inmates being locked up on remand, meaning increased operational costs of $4.3 to $8 million a year to the justice system, and initial capital costs involved in expanding remand capacity.

Mr Goff rejected the National Government view that the expenditure is not warranted.

"Getting the hard core of repeat offenders off the street is the key to making big inroads into offending. Police currently experience the frustration of arresting career criminals, knowing that within hours of their first court appearance they will back 'on the job'.

"These measures will reduce the attraction of burglary as a criminal career, where currently the gains outweigh by far the odds of getting caught and being locked up. The economic benefits from preventing and deterring crime and the benefits in terms of security for ordinary New Zealanders makes this a worthwhile investment.

"The cost will also be significantly lower if home detention is considered as an option to prison for some of those on remand, as I believe it should be.

"In its flurry of activity under urgency last week, National chose not to progress the Bail Bill, because of I had tabled an amendment to the Bill that is similar to the policy I have announced today. National knew that a majority of Parliament would agree that it is worth the price to take up to 300 of the worst and most habitual offenders out of circulation.

"National did not want to be subjected to the embarrassment of trying to vote down measures to tighten up its own inadequate legislation, while they are trying to erase nine years of inaction with an election-year 'get tough' image.

"Urgent action is needed to get the hard core of repeat offenders out of circulation. Those offenders who are caught but regard bail as a licence to continue to offend will be the first targets of a Labour Government," Phil Goff said.

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