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23 Bail Murders survey reveals lack of early intervention

23 Bail Murders survey reveals lack of early intervention for vulnerable offenders

“A survey of 20 of the 23 offenders who committed murder while on bail since 2006 showed that most of the offenders presented a number of unresolved background issues which if dealt with earlier through the criminal justice system, could have prevented the offence” says Kim Workman of Rethinking Crime and Punishment. Rethinking has carried out a study of the Judge’s notes in 20 of the 23 cases, to determine whether there was any clear offending patterns or trends which could potentially reduce the number of murders.

“These cases do not suggest a failure in the bail system, although there was not sufficient information to make that assessment. If there was a failure, it was the lack of early intervention for people likely to re-offend.”

“The one recurring theme was the problematic background of many of the offenders. In 15 of the cases there were drug or alcohol abuse issues, ten of the offenders grew up in difficult family environments, nine offenders had some form of psychological issue, six were involved with gangs, three had limited formal education and one was a refugee. Some pundits would argue that these issues seem to suggest a pattern that could be examined in order to tighten up bail laws and prevent future offending of this nature. However, these issues are pervasive throughout the New Zealand criminal justice system. Around 80% of all prisoners have drug and alcohol issues, around 90% have literacy issues, and at least 40% have diagnosable mental health issues. Greater restrictions around bail in relation to these would affect such a large number of offenders that the cost and resources required would outweigh any benefits. It could be counter-productive, in that the experience of imprisonment is known to increase the likelihood of reoffending.

There were no clear patterns around the circumstances which led to the murder. . There were 4 murders with no apparent reason, 3 that were gang related, 3 involving theft and 3 that involved historic disputes, while there was an assortment of reasons for the remaining offences. This suggests that there were not any issues, such as ongoing domestic disputes, that were being neglected in the bail decisions.

In contrast to this there were also 2-4 offenders with very minor criminal records and 5 offenders who were 20 years old or younger. While this is comparatively small proportion of offenders, it is still concerning given the speed at which their offending escalated. In fact, there were some cases where the judges specifically commented on the rapid escalation in offending, from relatively minor offences to violent offences and, finally, to murder in a short space of time.

There is a clear message here. Our prisons have become de facto institutions for the mentally ill, the illiterate, and those with serious drug and alcohol issues. Increased investment in early intervention, community based treatment for drug and alcohol addiction, and the rapid expansion of problem solving courts, could reduce serious crime. Increasing imprisonment levels just defers the problem, and causes more crime.


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