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Three Strikes Legislation on its Way Out in USA

Three Strikes Legislation on its Way Out in USA

The cost of maintaining ‘three strikes’ legislation is financially crippling those American states that have introduced it, said Kim Workman, Project Leader for the Rethinking Crime and Punishment Project. He was commenting on recent support by the Sensible Sentencing Trust for the introduction of such a law in New Zealand. "Eight states are currently trying to extricate themselves from the legislation, or modify it – California, Connecticut, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Nevada and New York. There are two main reasons – firstly, they can’t afford the cost of maintaining a high prison population. Secondly, they can’t find people willing to staff prisons that are inhumane and overcrowded.”

They have had to resort to granting administrative release to prisoners well before their due release date, reduced prison terms for some classes of prisoners, increased parole eligibility, decreased mandatory minimum sentences, and deferring the building of new prisons. All states are keen to exit or modify the three strikes legislation.

“The impact of such legislation if introduced to New Zealand, would double our prison population, from around 8000 to 16,000. Each prisoner costs the taxpayer around $76,000 a year. That is money that most New Zealanders would rather see spent on education, health, employment, climate change and social services.

“The advantage of the New Zealand criminal justice system, is that it currently lags behind the rest of the world in its introduction of innovative measures to prevent crime and reduce re-offending. It can learn from both the achievements and the mistakes of other jurisdictions. Three strikes legislation, however drafted, has been a failure.

The 5-7% of offenders who are psychopathic and seriously violent, can be adequately dealt with under existing legislation. The problem with ‘three strikes’ is that the judiciary are unable to exercise discretion on a case by case basis. As an ex-policeman I am aware of numerous cases in which charges of a serious nature are laid, but where the judiciary are able to look at alternatives which are likely to bring about a better result for the victim and the offender, without resorting to imprisonment. The hard truth is that the Department of Corrections can’t recruit sufficient staff now – it would be impossible to cope with double the numbers.

“We would be better served looking at such alternatives as Drug Courts, Residential Work Centres, and community based treatment for those with drug dependency issues and mental illness.”

“In August 2006, the Prime Minister declared that the current rates of imprisonment were “socially and economically unsustainable”. What has changed?”


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