Sunday, September 17, 2017

Garth McVicar: Labour weakness on bail law a dangerous back-flip

The Sensible Sentencing Trust is deeply concerned at statements made by Labour Deputy Leader Kelvin Davis on Three's The Nation programme today that they may 'review' the Bail Amendment Act 2013.

The changes to bail brought in by the Bail Amendment Act 2013 simply 'reset' the bail law to a standard the public expect - and that should have already been in place.  For many years, the New Zealand public had repeatedly expressed their outrage and deep concern at the extent of crime committed by offenders on bail.  The fact the remand population has increased so significantly reflects just how lax the law used to be.  We now have a new normal, and that is a good thing.

Between 2006 and 2010, 23 people were murdered by an offender out on bail. A further 21 were killed in a 'homicide-related' offence in that period.  The 2012 murder of North Shore teenager Christie Marceau,by a man out on bail charged with kidnapping and sexually assaulting her, was the final straw in public consciousness.  It was a case that embodied much of what was wrong with the system.

A petition to Parliament entitled "Christie's Law" was signed by about 58,000 people - ordinary New Zealanders - calling for Parliament to tighten the lax bail criteria that had been operating for many years.  The public had had enough of offender-friendly bail laws that had played their part in countless and avoidable murders and other serious crimes committed by offenders on bail - most of whom were facing serious charges or with multiple prior convictions for violence or sexual offending.  Submissions to the select committee were strongly in favour of tightening bail laws.

Finally parliament listened to public concern - to their great credit.  The Bail Amendment Act 2013 had broad Parliamentary support.  It was not divisive.  Labour, National, NZ First, ACT and United Future all supported the changes - at all stages of the Bill.  Members from both major parties spoke eloquently at all stages of the Bill in support, acknowledging the need to tighten up in this crucial area of our justice system.

The public deserves better than to have a major party back-flip barely four years after it was passed.   The fact that the prison and remand population has now exceeded 10,000 is largely a reflection of the bail, sentencing and parole standards the public reasonably expect.  Labour are treading down a dangerous path if they pursue a loosening of the bail law.  Frankly, they will end up with blood on their hands if they pursue this path.  Public safety doesn't come cheap, and the public are more than willing to pay the price to keep dangerous and recidivist offenders in prison awaiting trial.

Figures SST has obtained from Corrections shows that remand prisoners have on average 44 prior convictions - an extraordinary record of offending.  So Judges are not lightly remanding accused persons with unblemished records.  Those denied bail are hard core recidivists or those facing very serious charges.

The way to reduce the prison population without compromising public safety is to prevent offending, not reduce imprisonment.  Any idiot can let 30% of the prison population out to save money.  That's not smart on crime. That's reckless and stupid on crime.  There are no silver bullets to reducing offending.

The challenge to all political parties is to redouble their efforts to address the drivers of criminal offending which include drug and alcohol addictions, mental health problems, poor educational achievement, dysfunctional upbringings, and all too often an inflated sense of entitlement on the part of offenders.  That's smart on crime.  And it is costly.  But New Zealanders are willing to pay the price for both strong prison policy and strong rehabilitation policy.  It's not an either-either choice.

Garth McVicar is the founder of the Sensible Sentencing Trust.

1 comment:

Empathic said...
Reply To This Comment

Mr McVicar's views here are somewhat sensible. However, issues of such importance to human rights as bail laws deserve to be evaluated and reconsidered frequently. It is a grave matter for the state to imprison someone before conviction, treating accused as guilty before the matter of guilt has been determined or on the basis of crystal ball gazing about future possible offending.

Our bail laws include some provisions that may not be justified. Bail is restricted for those charged with 'Male Assaults Female' but not for an equal assault committed against a male or by a female. That isn't equal justice. Bail is also restricted for those charged with breaching a 'protection' order. Most such breaches are totally non-violent in intent and behaviour, instead involving things like attempting to leave a birthday present in a child's letterbox, waving at one's children as they pass by in a car, or being entrapped by the 'protected' person to a meeting which she then redefines as a breach. It is deeply unjust and bad for our society to imprison people (read 'men') for these fake offences at all, much more so before those fake offences have been proven. A significant, safe reduction in imprisonment would be achieved simply by changing bail laws regarding allegations of 'protection' order breaches where no evidence of violent behaviour or intent was involved or could reasonably be inferred.

Certainly, reducing offending is one of the best ways of reducing imprisonment. The factor shown by research to have by far the most impact on offending rates is 'risk of detection'. Increasing imprisonment or harshness of punishment has almost no impact on the related offending rates. The list Mr McVicar provided of claimed criminogenic factors included some relevant factors but others that have little or no relevance to criminality, such as mental illness and educational achievement. Criminal attitudes and offence-supportive beliefs are held by people whether they are educated, employed, depressed or wealthy.

Mr McVicar appears not to recognize the importance to offending rates of encouraging pro-social, law-abiding beliefs. This will only be achieved by treating people including accused and convicted people with impeccable fairness, strict but reasonable justice including a good degree of compassion. His Trust advocates draconian treatment usually based on knee-jerk reaction to particular sensational cases and the exploitation of grieving relatives to spread their hate speech. However, if we follow their advice, we will find an ever-increasing number of people who feel alienated by and resentful towards their society, with little interest in contributing to its welfare or lawfuless.

Our 'protection' order regime and police management of domestic call-outs are a major problem in this regard, being a travesty of justice that treats people, mainly men, as if they are guilty on the basis of nothing but unproven allegations and finally on an inadequate standard of proof. The family-destroying impact of our family law (as opposed to support and healing of families) can only increase violence and criminality.

Current bail and imprisonment rates and policies may provide some temporary protection to society from increasingly alienated people while they are locked up (though their mates on the outside can still do their bidding) but will not reduce offending or make society safer overall.

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