Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Draconian and barbaric

That is the only way to describe United Future's proposed "law and order" policy. Though alternatively, it could be called a wishlist for the "hang 'em high" brigade. The policy includes

  • abolishing distinctions between different classes of drugs;
  • making drug dealers accomplices to the crimes of their customers;
  • specialist drug courts (the implication being different rules of procedure and lower standards of evidence);
  • scrapping concurrent sentencing;
  • mandatory life imprisonment for "heinous" crimes;
  • mandatory prison terms for repeat drug offenders;
  • allowing victims to appeal parole board decisions;
  • lowering the age of criminal responsibility to 12;
  • "voluntary chemical castration for sex offenders as a pre-condition of parole".

According to Marc Alexander, these moves are justified because otherwise "we'll keep building prisons." Which is a rather curious justification, given that the effect of the dramatically increased sentences and mandatory life imprisonment proposed will be more people in jail. Our prison system is already struggling due to the imposition of longer sentences - yet Alexander thinks that making them even longer will result in us building fewer jails? Crazy.

"Dealer liability" - or rather its target - is also curious. Sure, methamphetamine has been implicated in a couple of high-profile murders in the past few years - but alcohol contributed to 141 deaths and 555 serious injuries in 2003 through drink-driving alone. Overall, it is implicated in 60% of all incidents reported to police, 77% of street disorder and fighting offences, and 40% of serious assaults. By any sensible measure, Alexander is after the wrong dealers.

Further lowering the age of criminal responsibility means putting more children in prison. It's not just barbaric, it effectively writes people off for the rest of their lives. But the worst idea is chemical castration. Quite apart from the Orwellian phrasing of "voluntary... as a pre-condition of parole" (which implies that people who "choose" to hand over their wallets to muggers do so "voluntarily... as a condition of not being beaten"), this is simply a monstrous violation of human rights that treats people like animals, based on the crude belief that the root cause of sexual offending is nothing more than an over-active sex-drive. It's a simple solution for simple minds, whose aim is more to humiliate than cure - which in fact describes United Future's crime policies to a T. They are not interested in actually solving the problem, only in showing how vicious they can be. Unfortunately, that's par for the course from our politicians, and no doubt National, NZFirst, ACT and Phil Goff will all try to outbid United Future by being even more savage.

The problem with this bidding war is that it is predicated on a lie. The "need" for tougher sentences and harsher penalties is driven by the belief that crime is "out of control" and that nothing is being done about it. This is nothing more than dishonest fearmongering. Our crime statistics show that even in the middle of a P-epidemic crime rates have dropped, while clearance rates - the number of crimes solved by police - have increased. But what has increased is the reporting of crime in the media - which has led to (to quote a Ministry of Justice report) "an inaccurate and negative view of crime statistics". It has also led to policies which target this created media fantasy, rather than reality - which cannot be good in the long-term.

But perhaps what's most offensive is that all this viciousness won't work. A 1997 report into predicting trends in crime rates found that severity of punishment had "no significant deterrent effect", and that

No relationship was found between the changes in the number of prison inmates and recorded crime rates. The size of the prison population was not significant in any model... the size of the prison population does not significantly reduce the number of potential offenders

In other words, having harsher sentences in order to "keep criminals off the streets" doesn't reduce crime one iota. But it does allow politicians to gain votes by playing to the public's thirst for vengeance. I guess that's what's really important in criminal justice policy.


"abolishing distinctions between different classes of drugs"

So will they be criminalizing alchohol? tea? coffee?

I bet they won't. They only fear what they do not know.

And yes, agreed most of the rest is dreadful and short sighted too.

I think the media bears a lot of the blame for the way any even casual news reader is constantly bombarded with stories of violent crime. Its easy to see why people are afraid and frightened people are not the most rational decision makers.

Posted by Amanda : 1/04/2005 10:15:00 PM

* making drug dealers accomplices to the crimes of their customers;

If I ate ETA peanut butter and it drove me insane and made me want to kill someone presumably ETA would be in trouble (particularly if they knew it would do that). Surely the same should be true for drugs no?

The fact that we have been unable to ban alcohol for various reasons (attempts to do so generally resulted in serious damage to the system) does not mean we should never ban anything. This is a common but blatantly false argument to put what is being said clearly the argument is as below.

"Alcohol kills millions per year (worldwide) and we don’t ban that" therefore "we should not ban anything that kills less than millions per year".
And yet people always use it... why?

* Specialist drug courts

There could be other benefits to having such courts besides changing the standards - won’t they have to pass the laws to allow a lower standard of evidence anyway?

* lowering the age of criminal responsibility to 12;

Why not? Why have a point or responsibility at all? Why not just test the person to see if the are "responsible" (whatever we mean by that) or not? The same way we deal with mental patients.
Personally I see the differentiation between a 15.9yr old and a 16.1 yr old (or whatever the age is that you set the difference at) as a breach of one of their human rights.

* "voluntary chemical castration for sex offenders as a pre-condition of parole".

Well if a sex offender was willing to properly castrate himself I might well let him out tomorrow without parole (depending on the case). After-all he may well have been completely rehabilitated - in which case why keep him?

The rest just seems to be an attempt to make sentences longer as you noted.

Posted by Genius : 1/05/2005 12:07:00 AM