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Nat policy on sentencing and bail smoke, mirrors

Hon Phil Goff
Minister of Corrections

22 October 2008
Media statement

National’s policy on sentencing and bail smoke and mirrors – Goff

National’s latest release on law and order is purely rhetoric, will have no impact on community safety and much of John Key’s statement is deliberately dishonest, Corrections Minister Phil Goff said.

“National’s claims that Labour is ‘saving prison beds’ is patently incorrect. Since 2004, Labour has added nearly 2500 prison beds, many of them in four new prisons.” Phil Goff said.

“That came at a cost of around $1 billion in capital expenditure and between $130 million and $150 million a year in operating costs. Extra prisoner numbers were an inevitable consequence of much tougher bail, parole and sentencing laws, which have vastly extended the time serious offenders spend in prison.

“They are also the result of a more effective police response, with 2500 additional police staff, after years of earlier National governments’ cutting of police budgets and numbers.

“Public safety is already given the utmost priority. It is the main consideration before judges sentence offenders to home detention. No judge will sentence to home detention someone considered by him or her to present a risk to community safety.

“With regard to penalties against those who kill and abuse children, the Sentencing Act 2002 already makes the vulnerability of the victim an aggravating factor in sentencing for murder, automatically extending the minimum period before parole from 10 years to 17 years.

“It is deliberately misleading and deceitful for John Key to pretend that the maximum sentence for assaulting a child is two years. That applies to lesser offences only. For more serious attacks other charges would be brought such as cruelty to a child where a more serious penalty of up to five years imprisonment applies.

“With regard to life without parole for some murders becoming an option for judges, under the 2002 Sentencing Act there is no limit on the period before parole is able to be considered that can be imposed by a judge for aggravated murder.

“William Bell for example is currently serving a sentence of 33 years before parole can even be considered and he is not likely even at that point to be released.

“The law on preventive detention, which is a sentence of indefinite imprisonment, was changed in 2002 only to widen those against whom it might be applied.

“This meant that the age where it could be imposed was dropped from 20 to 18, while a lower minimum period of five years was put in place on advice from the Ministry of Justice that this would result in a wider use of the sentence by judges. Indeed, in the five and a half years after it was introduced, the use of preventive detention increased to 95 sentences compared with only 65 in the previous five and a half years.

“In regard to requiring prison managers to participate in all parole hearings, managers where relevant can do this now. Making it compulsory in all cases will divert managers from their important job of managing prisons for up to six days every month while hearings are held.

“In effect, this policy by National is purely about political rhetoric and would have no meaningful impact at all in improving public safety,” Phil Goff said.


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