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Call for Independent Review before Tightening Bail Laws

Call for Independent Review before Tightening Bail Laws

“Prime Minister John Keys proposal to tighten bail laws should be preceded by an independent investigation into how bail legislation is currently implemented” says Kim Workman, Rethinking Crime and Punishment

“Over the last ten years the sentenced population increased by 33.7%, while the remand population increased by 116%. That is a huge increase, and doesn’t square with the relatively stable crime rate over that period. Why are so many offenders being declined bail, when there is no matching increase in the number of serious criminal offenders? Are these offenders a genuine threat to public safety, or are we becoming increasingly risk averse, to the point of silliness? “

“I have no doubt that the group of elderly Kapiti pensioners would have responded warmly to the idea that murders, rapists and P addicts would find it more difficult to be released. But a closer look at the way the bail laws are implemented suggest that it would first be useful to look at the larger picture.”

“The other statistic of concern is that while Maori are four times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Maori, they are 11 times more likely to be refused bail. Is this because they are 11 times more dangerous than non-Maori, or is it evidence of structural discrimination within the Court system? Rethinking is aware that there are significant regional differences in sentencing practises throughout New Zealand around granting bail, and in some areas, Maori seem to be getting a different deal than non-Maori. There is also a view that Justices of the Peace take a different approach than Judges.”

John Key points out that Labour had overseen a 150% rise in the number of defendants failing to report for bail. That may have something to do with the bail conditions being unrealistic. Many of those on bail live in abject poverty, They have no car, no money for public transport, and often have to choose between leaving their children unsupervised to comply with over-stringent bail conditions. As a result they end up committing new offences, for what the Ministry of Justice calls an “administrative breach”. Breach of parole and bail conditions has been a major factor in increasing imprisonment levels in the USA – and there is currently a lot of work being put into getting those numbers down.

Of particular concern, is the proposal to deal with young people differently. The last thing we need is more young people in prison. Prisons are themselves drivers of crime, and those that are remanded in prison are much more likely to reoffend on release than those who have been released on bail. That a young person has previously been in prison, is not of itself, a reason for refusing bail.

“The recent decline in imprisonment levels is a positive step. The larger problem we have is that if the government decides to build Wiri Prison, we will have significant spare capacity. What we know is that when government’s build prisons, they are tempted to find ways of filling them.

Kim Workman Director Rethinking Crime and Punishment

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