Gordon Campbell | Parliament TV | Parliament Today | News Video | Crime | Employers | Housing | Immigration | Legal | Local Govt. | Maori | Welfare | Unions | Youth | Search

 

On The Left - Justice Gained, Not Denied

Crime and justice is probably one of the worst areas of public debate this country has. While there are plenty of areas where nobody actually knows what they're talking about, justice is probably the area where they say it loudest, and say the most stupid things. Talk back radio is a perfect example - you can't go ten minutes without hearing someone moaning about the crime rate, and how bringing back the death penalty would solve the nation's problems. Such people, by and large, are inevitably white middle class males aged over fifty. So are some of the talk back hosts. But that's another argument.

There are two pretty different views of justice which are floating around in the community's collective mind. One is a deeply conservative view that we've been following for almost all of this country's history. This view holds that the way to solve crime is to make the punishment harsher. It's probably best described as a `punitive' justice system, and appears to me to be based on the Old Testament injunction of `an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' People who follow this line generally blame rising crime rates on weaker sentences, on being soft on criminals, on the lack of the death penalty, on the lack of hard labour in prisons.

It's interesting to look at the results of such a conservative view on crime and justice. We now suffer 90% more violent crime than we did in 1990. The rate of repeat offending for former prisoners is 80%. Borrowing from Matt Robson, "the Crimes Amendment Act 1993 increased the maximum penalty for both rape and unlawful sexual connection from 14 years to 20 years. And yet conviction for violent sex offences including rape tripled in number between 1988 and 1996."

Those three facts alone should make people think twice about where criminal justice is heading. Yet, they aren't. The fear those vast increases in crime has caused was the reason Norm Withers' referendum on crime last year got such a huge vote. Never mind that the referendum question meant whatever anyone voted for it wanted it to. Anyone concerned about crime voted yes in that referendum, from those seeking restorative justice to those who want tougher crimes, and probably the death penalty to boot.

The alternative view to a punitive approach to criminal justice is a restorative justice approach. The basis restorative justice operates on is to seek to provide a proper resolution for victims by making criminals face the consequences of their actions. It is also about rehabilitating offenders, and perhaps more than anything else is about making sure that victims' needs are met in the resolution of a criminal offence.

I want to look at these in a little more depth, because they are important. A criminal who commits, say, an armed robbery can currently go through the justice system without facing the reality of what they have done to the lives of their victims. That has to stop. One of the most powerful shocks the state can deliver to a criminal is simply to make them face what they have done. To make them face the victims of the crime. Often this isn't appropriate, for example in serious cases of assault and other violent crimes, but where it is appropriate, then crims should face their victims. They need to know they have injured real people, not just nobody.

Rehabilitation is the second priority. Anybody who pretends that locking someone down in a cell for 22 hours a day is going to make them all sweetness and light when they re-emerge from prison is simply stupid. And anybody who thinks that the solution to that particular problem is simply to lock people up for even longer periods of time probably needs to go to prison themselves for a few days. I'd imagine that spending 48 hours in Mt. Eden remand prison would shock a few people's viewpoints a bit. Prison shouldn't be a cruisy place, I'm not arguing it should. It should keep inmates busy, rehabilitate them and train them for life on the outside. That is what a sane justice system would aim for. The last thing prison should be is some dank university of crime, where people who have made a mistake (which is most criminals apart, generally, from repeat or serious offenders) come out as trained and hardened sociopaths.

Finally, the role of victims in the criminal justice system needs to be looked at again. Victims are often totally powerless. Their views are ignored, whether they want harsher or more lenient treatment of a criminal, because there is no way for their views to be heard. The family group conference system used for young offenders is one example of how involving victims in the punishment of offenders can actually work. You can't say that we have a successful criminal justice system when, as now, too many victims feel that justice has not been done.

As is probably evident by now, there's a huge difference between these two approaches. The restorative justice ideal is more optimistic about human nature than a conservative viewpoint, and in this case I think it's the more accurate way to theorise justice. There has to be something wrong with a society which would call for more of the same when the same has demonstrably totally and utterly failed to work.

There are wider ethical issues too. Human rights demand that we treat people as people. A restorative justice system treats all those involved in a crime as people, and attempts as far as possible to resolve the problem caused. A conservative system treats victims as passive recipients of justice over which they have no control, treats criminals as dumb animals for whom the only solution is perpetual imprisonment, and treats the prison system as part of the punishment, rather than part of the solution to ensure the offender doesn't repeat their crimes when they get out.

What is saddest about the whole debate is that things don't get discussed calmly and with reflection. Instead hysteria, wilful ignorance of the facts and attempts to paint the opposing viewpoint as the devil incarnate seem to be the tone that's taken more often than not. I hope that more intelligent comment might perhaps arise, with some sensible contributions to the debate. Matt Robson as associate Justice minister is the first person to have really put restorative justice on the agenda. It's up to interested parties to test the ideas and make sure something good comes of the opportunity.


© Scoop Media

 
 
 
Parliament Headlines | Politics Headlines | Regional Headlines

Gordon Campbell: On The Clark Exit, Convention Centres, And The Killing Of Hachalu Hundessa


Goodbye, David Clark. In the end, the outgoing Health Minister decided that in the midst of a pandemic the best thing he could do for New Zealand would be to no longer be there – given that being there had involved hiving off on his mountain bike during a lockdown, and throwing the country’s most beloved Health bureaucrat under a bus. As Clark indicated so memorably at last week’s press conference, when it comes to managing public health risks at the border the buck stops with…that guy over there! In the aftermath of that debacle, Clark reached the same conclusion the nation had reached some time ago, that leadership just wasn’t his thing. Once again, he got on his bike.... More>>
 

Government: New Investment Creates Over 2000 Jobs To Clean Up Waterways

A package of 23 projects across the country will clean up waterways and deliver over 2000 jobs Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Environment Minister David Parker announced today. The $162 million dollar package will see 22 water clean-up projects ... More>>

ALSO:

Government: David Clark Resigns As Health Minister

The Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has accepted David Clark’s resignation as Health Minister. More>>

ALSO:

Election 2020: Green Party Unveils Income Policy

The Green Party is today unveiling its Poverty Action Plan, which includes a Guaranteed Minimum Income to ensure people have enough to live with dignity. The scheme resets income support payments to ensure everyone not in full-time paid work gets at least ... More>>

ALSO:


Conservation: New Protection For Dolphins

Extensive new protections are being put in place as part of an updated plan to look after New Zealand’s native Hector’s and Māui dolphins, announced Minister of Fisheries Stuart Nash and Minister of Conservation Eugenie Sage today. More>>

ALSO:

Auckland: Water Consent Referred To Board Of Inquiry

Environment Minister David Parker has today “called in” Auckland’s application to the Waikato Regional Council to take an extra 200 million litres of water a day from the lower reaches of the Waikato River for Auckland drinking water and other municipal uses... More>>

ALSO:

Gun Law: A New Firearms System Focused On Safety

Tougher gun laws will begin to take effect from next week following the passage of new firearms legislation through Parliament today. The Minister of Police says the Third Reading of the Arms Legislation Bill is an historic milestone for community ... More>>

ALSO:


PM: Labour Will Extend Loan Scheme 'lifeline' For Small Business

Labour has announced its plans to extend the Small Business Loan Cashflow Scheme and spend $162 million on a waterway clean-up package. More>>

ALSO:

RNZ: Details Of Active Covid-19 Cases Leaked In Privacy Breach

The State Services Commission has been called in to make sure a 'thorough investigation' is held. More>>

ALSO:

Biosecurity: Winston Peters On EU Travel: 'We're Not Going To Compromise Our Country's Health'

Foreign Minister Winston Peters says New Zealanders who head to Europe on holiday should pay for their two weeks' hotel quarantine when they return. More>>

Economy: Infrastructure Investment To Create Jobs, Kick-Start COVID Rebuild

A new package of infrastructure investments will help kick-start the post-COVID rebuild by creating more than 20,000 jobs and unlocking more than $5 billion of projects up and down New Zealand. Finance Minister Grant Robertson and Infrastructure Minister ... More>>

ALSO:

Covid-19: Isolation System To Be Beefed Up After Stress

A range of improvements are already underway to address issues identified in the rapid review of the Managed Isolation and Quarantine system released today, Housing Minister Megan Woods said. The review was commissioned just over a week ago to identify ... More>>

ALSO:

Election 2020: Parties Get Into Gear

ACT has today announced its list for the 2020 General Election. “The calibre and experience of our candidates will impress voters of every persuasion. We have candidates from all walks of life. People who have built their homes, families and businesses ... More>>

ALSO:

 
 
 
 
 

LATEST HEADLINES

  • PARLIAMENT
  • POLITICS
  • REGIONAL
 


 

InfoPages News Channels