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Maxim Institute - real issues - No. 118


Maxim Institute - real issues - No. 118

Contents: * Is prison the answer to law and order?

* My Oath

* Civil Society the primary concern

* Evidence now available

Is prison the answer to law and order policy?

National leader, Don Brash, released details of the party's law and order policy in an address to the Sensible Sentencing Trust last Sunday. He wants to dump the current parole system (meaning more people staying in prison and for longer), boost police resources and target organised crime. Abolishing parole, however, could mean an extra $1billion is needed for more prisons and $300m per year to run them.

While the way we as a country deal with the problem of violent offending is important, we also need to consider what factors are contributing to this societal dysfunction, resulting in so much societal pain. Since the mid-1970s, policy has generally failed to understand the critical importance of family form and function. Crime prevention tends to be a secondary concern in law and order debates. Discussing things like marriage and family are part of a long-term strategy that is less likely to grab the headlines.

But we have to start somewhere. Research into youth offending in Christchurch, for example, clearly shows the importance of live-in fathers as a preventative factor. In a 2000 report (Kids in Trouble) police records revealed that 65 percent of youth offenders did not live with their fathers. Policy supporting the commitment of marriage and the roles of mums and dads makes good sense in preventing criminal behaviour.

Will keeping more people in prison and for longer be a solution to improving law and order? High rates of recidivism suggest that prison is ineffective in reforming criminals. A better way would be to ask how we can produce good citizens.

A copy of Dr Brash's address can be accessed at: http://www.scoop.co.nz/mason/stories/PA0407/S00080.htm

Discuss this article in our on-line discussion forum: http://www.maxim.org.nz/discuss/?topic=118.1

My Oath

Oaths and affirmations have recently been reviewed by the Ministry of Justice. Most senior public officials are required to take an oath or affirmation, eg. the Governor-General, Ministers, MPs, Judges, etc. Less well-known is that members of the Land Valuation Tribunal and the Customs Appeal Authority are also required to take an oath, as are registered motor vehicle assessors. Members of the police and armed forces also take specific oaths of service.

The review refers to oaths as being "outdated", "inconsistent" and "old-fashioned" implying that change is necessary. But there is no indication of what, exactly, constitutes "outdated". The desire to "modernise" in this area is part of a wider effort to replace a number of traditional practices. Just because something is old, however, doesn't mean it needs replacing.

Our present oaths reflect a sound understanding of constitutional authority and accountability. They were inherited with the Westminster system and English common law based on centuries of hard-won democratic progress. The monarch long ago lost his or her "divine right" to rule, and power has proper checks and balances, whereas Parliament, through its elected representatives, makes new law and runs the country. The language may seem "old-fashioned" but the history behind it is instructive. "The religious element" causes obvious problems for some people today, with many oaths finishing with, "So help me God."

Someone taking an oath need not hold a personal religious belief to make it valid; he or she is simply acknowledging a particular history and responsibility to an authority higher than themselves. And, if that makes them uncomfortable, there's always the option of a "non religious" affirmation. Whatever else an oath contains, it needs to acknowledge some authority higher than the person taking it. Will any new proposed oath do this?

Submissions on this review have now closed, but the paper can be viewed at: http://www.justice.govt.nz/pubs/reports/2004/oaths-review/purpose.htm

Discuss this article in our on-line discussion forum: http://www.maxim.org.nz/discuss/?topic=118.2

Civil Society the primary concern

When Maxim was launched in November 2001 the aim was to promote the principles that inform and sustain democracy. The framework and virtues required to make civil society work in a liberal democracy remain primary. We do explore philosophical and political issues, but the overriding concerns are social order and understanding intergenerational connections.

Maxim's profile has been raised by our contribution to public debate and policy on emotive issues such as prostitution law reform, euthanasia and now the Civil Union Bills. These are among the big issues of our times and any discussion of them will generate strong emotion, but whatever the outcome in Parliament, the need to contend for social order will continue. Despite the media exposure, the flashpoint issues do not define the core of Maxim's work: understanding the role of family and parenting, acknowledging the critical importance of education in determining a nation's direction, and examining the role of the state in our lives. In a pluralist society, Maxim is one voice among many. What we want to see (long-term) is an improvement in the quality of public policy debates.

Discuss this article in our on-line discussion forum: http://www.maxim.org.nz/discuss/?topic=118.3

Evidence now available

The importance of family and how it is defined are key themes in the current issue of Evidence, Maxim's quarterly journal. Articles include a report on the World Congress of Families in Mexico earlier this year, and an article by Boston Anthropologist Peter Wood, asking how far marriage can bend before it breaks (very important in light of the current Civil Union debate). There's also a moving story about the impact of divorce. Evidence is available in bookshops nationwide or by becoming a Maxim partner. For more information visit: www.maxim.org.nz/main_pages/publication_page/publications.html#1 or call Mary on Tel. (09) 627 3261.

THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK - Aristotle

Law is order, and good law is good order.

To subscribe send a blank email to: realissues@maxim.org.nz

Real Issues is a weekly email newsletter from the Maxim Institute. The focus is current New Zealand events with an attempt to provide insight into critical issues beyond what is usually presented in the media. This service is provided free of charge, although a donation to Maxim is appreciated. Items may be used for other purposes, such as teaching, research or civic action. If items are published elsewhere, Maxim should be acknowledged.

Key principles - The Building Blocks of Civil Society http://www.maxim.org.nz/main_pages/about_page/about_keyprinciples.html

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