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Garrett’s Claims Well off the Mark

Garrett’s Claims Well off the Mark – Rethinking Crime and Punishment

“David Garrett’s claims that the western countries are starting to accept that punitive penal policies have the potential to reduce violent offending is demonstrably untrue,” says Kim Workman, Director, Rethinking Crime and Punishment. “In fact, both the USA and UK already have punitive policies, and are now seriously questioninῧ the benefit `f long term sentences.

“In the UK, the prison population has been rising steadily, so much so that there are now more than 80,000 behind bars in Wales and England – nearly double the 1993 figure. Successive Ministers have encouraged judges to hand down longer sentences yet offending rates remain high, prisons are bursting at the seams and maintaining tῨe system costs billions each year. There is a debate going on at present, with both Scotland and the UK opting for shorter sentences and t`ugh community sentences for non violent offenders.

“In the US, Congress last month requested the US Sentencing Commission to conduct a review of mandatory-minimum sentences, including three strikes legislation, to consider alternatives. Congress in the 1980s began passing mandatory-minimum laws, which dictate the minimum sentence a judge must hand out for a particular crime. Am`ng the results were longer sentences, increased prison populations and ballooning budgets. Amid cost concerns in recent years, states have tried to reverse the trend. At least 26 states have cut corrections spending recently and at least 17 are closing prisons or reducing their inmate populations.

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One factor is cost. The inmate population in federal prisons has risen from 24,000 in 1980 to 209,000. Over the same period, the federal Bureau of Prisons staff has grown from 10,000 to about 36,000 employees. While they can feed prisoners for $2.80 a day, (around the same as in New Zealand) , it is costing $12.40 per prisoner a day for medical care, due to the high proportion of aging prisoners in the system.

“The Commission will also examine the effects of mandatory minimums on plea agreements. Critics of the system say the threat of such sentences is used to coerce plea bargains. That is certainly the case with three strikes – evidence shows that the Police prosecute under three strikes law, but will invoke a lesser charge if the acΰused pleads guilty.

“In 1991 there were only 60 mandatory-minimum laws on the books in the USA. Now there are about 170. It is a timely warning for New Zealand - while our judiciary will make the occasional mistake in either direction, it is far safer to rely on the judiciary to exercise discretion, than to pass that power on to the Police.”

“David Garrett needs to compare the USA with Canada. Both have had significant reductions in crime over the last decade, and yet Canada has an imprisonment rate which as at least a quarter that of the United States. Internationally, there is no significant relationship between crime rates and imprisonment rates.”


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