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Stats confirm offenders being jailed, for longer

Stats confirm more offenders being jailed, for longer

Conviction and sentencing statistics confirm that the Sentencing Act 2002 is having the intended result of more recidivist and serious offenders being imprisoned, and for longer terms, says Justice Minister Phil Goff.

Mr Goff today released the Ministry of Justice report 'Conviction and sentencing of offenders in New Zealand: 1994 to 2003', which is the thirteenth in an annual series. This year's report covers the first full calendar year of the operation of Sentencing Act 2002.

"This comprehensive set of statistics reinforces the findings of other reports this year by showing that serious offenders and career criminals are receiving stiffer penalties under the Sentencing Act 2002," Mr Goff said.

"Despite the crime rate being at its lowest level in 20 years, more offenders were imprisoned in 2003 than in any other year in the survey period, and the average length of sentence was 16 months – up from 12.9 months in 1994.

"As demanded by the public in the 1999 referendum on law and order, New Zealand's most serious offenders are being hit hard by new Act.

"The average non-parole period imposed with life sentences in 2003 was 13.5 years – three years longer than the average prior to the Sentencing Act 2002. For the first time, over half of life sentences had a longer non-parole period than the standard minimum of 10 years.

"Under the Act, 23 per cent of convicted violent offenders were sent to jail last year to serve an average sentence of 29.7 months. Both those figures are the highest recorded in the survey's 10-year period.

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"Forty-three per cent of burglars were imprisoned in 2003 – the highest level recorded in the survey. The average length of their sentence was also five months longer than it was in 1994.

"Bail laws were also tightened in 2000 to better protect the community, and the survey found that the number of remand prisoners in 2003 was nearly double that of 1994."

Other highlights from the report include:

Increasing crime resolution rates by Police resulted in the highest number of prosecutions (274,627 charges) in 2003 since 1996, despite the crime rate having dropped 13.8 per cent in that period. In 2003, 15 per cent of property offence cases resulted in custodial sentences – up from 13 per cent between 1997 and 2001. The average length of sentence was 12.5 months – up from 8.9 months in 1994.

The Sentencing Act's greater emphasis on reparation forming part of a sentence saw reparation of $18.8 million imposed in 2003 – the highest figure in the decade.

The total prison population averaged 6086 in 2003 – the highest ever. Sentenced inmates accounted for 82 per cent of the population, and 18 per cent were remand inmates.

The proportion of convictions resulting in community sentences dropped to a low of 25 per cent in 2003, after peaking at 30 per cent in 1998. The message on drink-driving seems to be getting through, with an average 21,500 convictions since 2000 – well down on the 25,100 average between 1995 and 1998.

Note: A copy of the full report is available at http://www.justice.govt.nz

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