Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The consequences of tougher sentences

For the past five years, the "hang 'em high" brigade has been baying for tougher criminal sentences, and the government has responded. This has caused pressure on our prisons, with the Department of Corrections being forced to hold prisoners in police cells for long periods in conditions that would result in prosecution if they were applied to animals, simply because they have nowhere else to put them. But now, prison overcrowding has reached its nadir, with prisoners being held in vans parked on the street in order to escape prison muster limits. The prisoners are then taken back inside once the head-count is done (thus keeping the prison technically within its capacity), or forced to wait for extended periods until a cell becomes available.

This isn't just inhumane - it is also unsafe. Prison vans are not meant for this sort of accomodation, and the conditions are even worse than those in police cells. There is also an increased danger of escape, and in the overcrowded prisons, of assaults on prison guards. But Corrections' management gets to pretend their prisons aren't overcrowded, which is clearly all that matters.


Come on. What would you have them do? Just let the prisoners off the charges? Reduce the sentences for criminals? Send more out for home detention? Get real.

Gaol is the only place for these people. They break the law, they do the time. Its that simple.

Not enough beds in prisons? Then either stop them committing the crime in the first place, or build bigger prisons. Those are your only two realistic alternatives. Putting convicted criminals back in to the community is just nancy bull5h!7. How about we put them in your own community so you can teach them how to live a better life? Or is it okay for them to be out of prison, as long as its not in your back yard?

Posted by Steve : 10/25/2005 02:08:00 PM

Actually, yes, I'd suggest that locking people up in shitty conditions for longer and longer isn't the answer, and that in many cases home detention may be more appropriate. That's certainly far better than the riot Corrections seems to be planning - but that just doesn't slake your bloodlust, does it?

I would also suggest that the Department of Corrections do its fucking job and plan properly for the expected numbers. They have known for three years they would face an accomodation crisis due to tougher sentences and reduced access to bail; they've been dumping people in police cells in violation of their own policies, international law, and the animal welfare code for at least one year. They have had plenty of warning and yet have done precisely nothing to prevent this, instead relying on dodges around the law which endanger both prisoners and their staff, as we see above. This is not good enough, and if these people are not capable of properly managing their department, then heads should roll until we find someone who is.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 10/25/2005 03:04:00 PM

I'd like to point out the the Government has been building new prisons.

In the 1990s, no new prisons were opened. Between 2000 and 2008 we'll have seen five.

And it's still not enough - according to estimates I've had from Corrections all new capacity will be filled as soon as it comes on line.

It's not entirely the fault of Corrections. The Ministry of Justice predicted more inmates, but undershot the influence of 2002 legislative reform.

Hence, there's been an extra 500 prisoners in the system that no one can find space for.

Posted by Matt : 10/25/2005 04:28:00 PM

"I would also suggest that the Department of Corrections do its fucking job and plan properly for the expected numbers."

You voted for the current and 2 previous Governments. Are you suggesting that they're not capable of leading from the top? :-)

The only way to sort this problem out will be to reduce the number of people committing crime. Which means more front line police actually working on arresting criminals instead of trying to catch revenue on the motorway. Employing young kids fresh out of school is not the answer. They just do not have the life skills to handle many of the situations they'll be expected to face.

Could you imagine some 18yo kid in uniform attending the brawl in Otara on Sunday morning? What about a family domestic? Think they'll be standing up for themselves against seasoned gang members?

I'll give Ms King a chance to prove herself, but George Hawkins has a lot to answer for over his terms as Minister of Police.

Bring back the cane at schools I say. Discipline is whats missing in this country and the parents don't seem to care or be dealing with the problem themselves. That leaves the schools.

Posted by Steve : 10/25/2005 06:39:00 PM

Steve, you might be interested to know that our highest violent crime rates occured in the period mid 80's through early 90's - when most offenders would have received the cane at school. Since then violent crime rates have dropped.

Stopping crime is about changing the attitudes of offenders towards their victims, society, and even themselves. That is what reform means. Long sentences, corporal punishement and hard labour very rarely acheive those aims.

Posted by GeorgeDarroch : 10/25/2005 08:16:00 PM

"Stopping crime is about changing the attitudes of offenders towards their victims, society, and even themselves. That is what reform means. Long sentences, corporal punishement and hard labour very rarely acheive those aims."

Giving the criminals reason to reconsider commiting the crime in the first place would make a major change in their thinking. For example, the kid before the courts at the moment for the attempted murder of the two youths in Otara has no fear of the court system. They're not afraid to go to gaol. They don't feel any remorse about what they've done.

A lack of discipline in the youths of our society today has led to the massive increase in youth crime today. Gangs are seen as "cool" and something to aspire to. Going to gaol is like a right of passage for them. Inside they'll make the connections and graduate into a world in which there is still no fear of the law.

Hell, I got spanked when I was a kid. I got a leather strap when I was a kid. Did it hurt me? No, it taught me that if I was naughty or broke the rules, there were consequences I wasn't going to like. If I didn't want the punishment, I didn't break the rules.

Do I now hit people because of it? Not a chance. I'm one of the most passive people alive. I also learnt a respect for the law as a result because breaking the law was going to give me serious consequences far worse than the strap or a spanking.

We now live in a society where discipline is frowned upon. Making a kid sit on the "naughty step" is meaningless. It also drags the punishment out. A spanking is fast, its effective and its over with immediately. The kid learns their lesson and the matter is dropped.

Do I agree with beating a child? No. Absolutely not. But there is a real and tangible difference between discipline and abuse.

Our prisons are over crowded because for the last 20 odd years we've lived in a society that has tried to get in touch with our feelings. Thats bull. A criminal gets in front of the parole board, pretends they're sorry, says all the right things and then carries on with their life again. Even a sociopath knows how to act and behave in a situation.

If we were harsher on criminals in this country, they'd not want to go back to prison. I'm not saying take away their human rights, but I am saying make prison a really uncomfortable and unenjoyable place that no one wants to spend time in. Repeat offenders want to go back? Then keep them there longer. I'm happy to pay more taxes to fund the prisons if its going to help make the streets safer for me to walk on in the evenings. As long as thats truly where those extra taxes end up.

We need to make criminals in this country afraid to walk the streets. We need them to fear the police again and, even more so, make them fear spending time in gaol.

This whole garbage about getting them in touch with their feelings and trying to change their attitudes about themselves and their victims is just PC nonsense that we've been getting forced fed to us for 20+ years now.

Bring back the chain gangs. Put the prisoners to work in quarries again. Home detention? Mandatory military service would be far better. Give them skills they could actually use. Send them to the army or navy to get a trade cert or just to teach them discipline.

Put the fear of prison back in to them so they don't do the crime that will put them in there. Then we won't have an issue with crowded prisons or convicts being kept in vans while there is a head count.

Do you feel my emotions on this? Does it resonant within your psyche that I'm annoyed at how limp wristed our police and judiciary systems have become? Would you like me to write you a song about it so you can play it on your guitar in front of the bonfire on Nov 5?

Changing attitudes isn't going to work for the majority of criminals that are just going to bluff their way through it because they've had a cushy tax free life on the inside and can just get back out and do whatever it was they were doing before all over agian.

Bring back discipline (not abuse) in our schools and you'll truly change attitudes in the current generation. Bring back discipline in our prisons and gaols and people won't want to go there. Bring down real and serious repurcussions in our judiciary system and people will shake when they stand in the dock before a judge.

Keep on singing Kumbyah in prison group therapy for an hour a day and things will only get worse.

Posted by Steve : 10/25/2005 11:16:00 PM


Sentence lengths have been increasing since the late 80s, and such policies don't appear to have reduced either crime or recidivism rates.

Far from being "limp wristed", a scientific and psychological approach to prison and rehabilitation can work.

Check out the Te Piriti centre for child-sex offenders at Auckland prison. Reoffending rates were cut from 20% to 4%.


There's a place for prison, but not if it leads society in a vicious circle.

Posted by Matt : 10/26/2005 09:01:00 AM

The US has long implemented an approach favoured by the likes of Steve - tough sentences, a judicial system based on vengeance rather than rehabilitation, yet crime remains high (by Western standards) despite their extremely high incarceration rate, partly fuelled by their failed 'war on drugs'.

Increasing sentences in a knee-jerk fashion makes the public feel better and makes politicians feel great, but does little to actually address crime. The idea that merely making sentences more punitive correspondingly reduces crime is justifiably rejected by forensic psychologists and criminologists.

Posted by Anonymous : 10/26/2005 08:15:00 PM