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Christmas 'Get Out Of Free' Card

Christmas 'Get Out Of Free' Card

"Drink up and be merry' is our Justice Minister's Christmas present to Invercargill drink driving offender Jason Mann" says ACT Justice spokesman Stephen Franks. Invercargill prison released Jason Mann the same day he turned up for his one-month prison sentence effectively over-ruling the Court, and telling the Police they neednt have bothered.

This Christmas present was planned in April this year, when the new Parole Act was passed.

It highlights the ousting of courts and judges in the Government's scheme for criminals.

"Mr Goff's new Parole Act makes the court process a masquerade. The effective sentence is actually decided by Corrections' officials and the Parole Board, but this mask disguises nothing when a one month sentence is turned to zero at the whim of a prison that would rather not even pretend to carry out the sentence.

"Section 52(3) of the Parole Act 2002 passed shortly before the election, provides that:

"The Chief Executive may direct that an offender whose statutory release date falls within the period commencing on 15 December in one year and ending on 5 January in the next year is to be released on a date that is not earlier than 1 December immediately preceding the offender's statutory release date."

In this case Judge Eric Anderson in the Invercargill District Court sentenced Jason Mann, on a second drunk driving offence, to one month's jail and one year's disqualification. When he presented himself to serve his prison sentence the prison effectively told him not to bother.

"Given the message this sends about the law and the authority of courts and judges, and the value placed on police efforts to catch and deter drunk driving Mr Mann could be forgiven for feeling he was encouraged to go out and commit his next offence.

"This is simply a particular and telling example of a principle embedded in the Parole Act. It was deliberately intended to ensure that officials could secretly undo the "toughening up" claimed in the Sentencing Act.

The Parole Act tells the Parole Board it must release prisoners as soon as they reach one third of their sentence if they are not considered a danger to the community. They cannot even take into account the judges' reasons for sentencing, to the extent they relate to matters other than the safety of the community. For example, a judge may set a sentence to denounce the crime, or to deter others. ACT moved amendments to allow the Parole Board to take into account the nature of the crime, the victim's expectation that a price would be paid, the reasoning of the judge etc. But all these were rejected. The Government has deliberately eliminated the word "punishment" from the legislation.

The consitutional notion of justice under the control of courts independent or the politicians is gutted. A Court trial and a prison sentence is a charade, when they do not actually mean that a convict will spend any time in prison", Stephen Franks said.


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