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Marc My Words: Where is the Victim in all this?

Marc My Words…
18 August 2006
Political comment
Marc Alexander

Where is the Victim in all this?

The recent announcement from Labour's Law and Order troika, Clark, Burton and O'Connor, have blitzed the public with a barrage of media releases, declarations and statements of intent. And just to underscore how serious they want us to believe they are, even a Prime Ministerial speech. All of which comes at a convenient time to grab headline space and deflect attention from the deplorable cull from hospital waiting lists, the nasty taint surrounding the Taito Phillip-Field issue and the Election overspend.

Now after seven years of miss-managing the criminal justice debate Labour wants us to give credibility for their newfound enthusiasm. Fat chance. Few of the policies promoted will have any effect other than lower prison musters - which is the real intent. It’s a numbers game that embarrasses Labour because it reflects on how badly they have micro-managed our lives - a blight on the socialist's social indicators scorecard. A high prison population reminds them of their failure to legislate 'niceness' into people. So, in typical Labour fashion, they are now attempting to cull prison numbers the same way they culled hospital waiting lists. In other words - bury the problem.

The lies and deceits are piling up faster than the number of Labour PR campaigns can be launched. Here's a few: Helen Clark prefaces her spin with the line that these new initiatives are directed towards making communities safer. But it's really about the costs of keeping so many criminals in the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed. So much so in fact, that Corrections operational policy and planning manager Heather Mackie (July 2004) confirmed that 13 inmates wanted to go back to prison! And why wouldn't they? Rolleston prison has a gymnasium, pool table, table tennis table, 29" TV, basketball court, tennis and volleyball court. No swimming pool? Well, not yet, that's probably Labour's plan B.

Burton (Minister of Justice) wants to raise the non-parole portion of a sentence back up to two-thirds (where it was prior to their Election win in 1999) but, to compensate for being tougher, they'll reduce sentences by 25%. All of which means that apart from the really short sentences (two years or less); most criminals won't be in for any longer. The average sentence today is barely six months longer than it was prior to the 2002 Sentencing Act. And this they now call truth in sentencing?

And to underscore just how precious Labour is about their sleight of hand in distorting reality into their ideological flights of fancy, Annette King, Police Minister, has an interesting take on the whopping rise of domestic abuse call-outs and arrests. She says it's because more people are reporting it rather than there being more of it. Now, hands up who believes that. Thought so.

Meanwhile Corrections Minister Damien O'Connor's bold new scheme to introduce 'Open Prisons' has now been surpassed by a newer bold plan to have some criminals not go to prison at all. This wooly initiative will masquerade as Home Detention which will be a sentence in itself. Oh yeah that'll work. I'm sure that the bunch of 14 and 16 year old girls who recently assaulted a bus driver, beating and kicking him while shouting "kill him" or the thug who punched a judge in the Nelson District Court, or Brian Alan Bolt who has amassed his 636th criminal offence (while on parole no less) will be quaking in their boots over the prospect of being told to stay at home.

Rehabilitation in prison has been a joke for a long time with a massive eighty-six per cent of inmates re-offending within five years of release, 70 per cent of whom have more than ten convictions. Does Helen Clark et al really believe that putting some of these back into their homes is going to improve the success rate? Where's the evidence? It is madness to promote a system so that fewer criminals go to prison, or if they do for only a portion of their sentence simply to make room for the next lot.

More effort in drug and alcohol rehab programmes? Yes good, but they had the ability to do that years ago if only they actually meant it. It doesn't inspire confidence to now restate an old strategy that has never been properly put to work. Labour has had seven years and only now they realise they have a problem? Pleeeeease.

It is what happens (or doesn't happen) in prison which is responsible for the spectacular failure to affect a positive outcome in rehabilitation. Those that do turn their lives around do so inspite of the system not because of it. Part of the problem is that we've lost sight of the positive role punishment can provide. We also need to start looking at how sentencing affects behaviour and ask what incentives do they give? For a start why do we give sentencing discounts for the more offences criminals are incarcerated for? And why parole in lieu of part of a sentence because of good behaviour? A sentence is supposed to reflect the gravity of the crime not any self-serving contrition after the fact. All those factors the Parole Board considers as part of the calculation of whether or not a criminal would put the public at risk should be for the purposes of ascertaining the severity of post-release supervision - rather than to mitigate a sentence. Just how many chances are we supposed to give criminals who give none to their victims?

But obviously that's too much to ask for.

I suppose we really can't be too surprised that this Labour government ostensibly sides with criminals rather than victims. How else can anyone explain the total lack of respect for the rule of law given that each time some member of the government seemingly breaks it, they quickly introduce retrospective legislation to nullify its consequences - think Harry's Law and the Election campaign overspend? Why then, would anyone imagine that this government would do anything uncharacteristic by doing the right thing?

And what would that be? For a start, punishment and rehabilitation are not mutually exclusive concepts. The Labour elite may not like the idea of punishment but a severe and proportionate penalty does deter. So too does shame for doing the wrong thing. We used to call that the exercise of conscience. The trendy left not un-naturally have a problem with that so they have done the exact opposite by blaming something nefarious and ill-defined like the social culture; and they have opted for the idea of replacing personal responsibility with personal entitlement. Unfortunately it doesn't work. Neither does a prison regime which foists expensive counselling sessions and get-in-touch with your feelings programs. Where's the motivation?

What we do need is drug and alcohol rehab programs from day one - not haphazard schemes that get implemented with a roulette wheel probability. We need good old fashioned hard work every day to inculcate a work ethic and to remind criminals of what we expect as normal societal contributions from the law-abiding. Put simply, if we really wanted to cut down our prison numbers then we could make prison a place that offenders will not want to return to. It should be unpleasant, just as victims find the crimes these criminals choose to commit on them at the very least unpleasant.

Labour and the fraternity of criminal advocates are dead wrong about the efficacy of prison. The facts may be inconvenient but higher rates of imprisonment does halt a rising crime rate as the US experience has shown (with a consequent drop in the crime rate of 50% in some cities). In New Zealand the reverse has occurred with predictable result: the number of reported crimes per 1000 in the population rose between1950 and 1995, while the number of incarcerations per 1000 crimes declined over that same period. Labours initiatives will accelerate that. The end result: more crime more victims.

We need to discourage crime and the next generation of convicts but there's no chance of that if we treat criminals as if we're the ones who are guilty. We're paying for their club like sporting facilities and group hug therapies but we don't extend the same courtesy to their victims. What message does that send?

This new Labour charade of dealing with crime will be as useful in furthering the interests of justice as a colander is in bailing water from a sinking dinghy. It is a cynical manipulation of prison numbers calibrated to foster the appearance of falling crime and save government money (which will in effect be a transfer of crime costs onto victims of crime). The real winners will be the human rights advocates for criminals, Labour ideologues, and offenders.

And to be fair, it's getting harder to tell them apart.


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