Labour are currently considering a repeal of three strikes laws. Garth McVicar and National are up in arms. No surprises there, they have been trading on misinformed slogans like three strikes for years. This particular slogan was imported, a symbol of our mindless mimicking of American prison policy. The importers did not even think about it long enough to change the name – a baseball metaphor that doesn’t make sense in New Zealand.
Three strikes replaces thoughtful decision-making with blind punitiveness. When a person is convicted of a third ‘strikeable’ offence, the sentencing judge is forced to impose the maximum prison term no matter the circumstances. Without three strikes, they could still hand down the same sentence, but would only do so if careful review of evidence showed it warranted. Three strikes simply forces the maximum regardless of what makes sense in a particular case.
The first New Zealander to be convicted of a third strike was Raven Campbell. He got a seven-year sentence for pinching the bottom of a female guard at Waikeria, where he was already imprisoned. I do not want to excuse his actions. Too many women know what it is like to experience this kind of sexual harassment and assault. Yet any rational review of the case would show the sentence to be a travesty. The judge explicitly said it was unreasonable, but was forced to impose it anyway. Informed decision-making was trumped by the blind logic of a baseball slogan. Continue reading Three Strikes – Prison Policy by Baseball Slogan→
What a short memory this government has. This week NZ Justice Minister Amy Adams has unveiled a “serious young offenders” policy that resorts to the age-old chestnuts of militarized boot camps, targeting of parents and negative labelling of children and young people. All of these strategies fit squarely within a “tough on crime” agenda of popular punitiveness – hardly surprising in an election year, but flying in the face of both international research about what works and international standards to which New Zealand is accountable.
The “new” policy is targeted at a purported group of around 150 “serious young offenders” and will allow judges to send up to 50 of them to a boot camp at Waiouru for up to a year. Sound familiar? The National government rolled out the same rhetoric and similar initiatives with its Fresh Start policy for serious young offenders in 2009, including the Military Activity Camps, Court-Supervised Camps and Community Youth Programmes. An evaluation of the Military Activity Camps in 2012 showed a 61% reoffending rate within six months of attending the camp, with 10 offenders committing 126 crimes between them within that six month period. Young people referred to rehabilitation programmes had a 72% six month reoffending rate. There is no local or international evidence that boot camp interventions work, and a lot of evidence that they do not. Continue reading Ignoring Evidence, Rights and Safety→
Has Bill English forgotten that we are signatories of the United Nations Convention for the Rights of the Child (UNCRC)? The National Party’s Youth Justice Policy Announcement, released on 13 August 2017, appears to indicate so.
While the focus has so far been on the plan to dispatch young offenders off to boot camp (and that is a dumb idea, mostly because all the international evidence shows that it does not work), I want to call attention to the various ways the policy will remove several basic human rights for young people coming into contact with criminal justice agents, as well as worsen the disproportionality of young Maori in our youth justice system.
In other words, I want to highlight the extraordinary injustices this policy will bring about, using the Government’s own “three strikes” policy as a framework. And why not, given the Government will be an offender in the eyes of international law, if indeed National is the government after September’s election and this policy is put into effect. Continue reading Forgetting Our Rights Obligations?→
The final video from the VUW public criminology symposium is now available on our Facebook page here. This is Ian Loader, professor of criminology at the University of Oxford. He reflects on the main themes of the book he wrote with Richard Sparks, ‘Public Criminology?‘, and talks about how some of the issues have developed since the book was published.
But the knee-jerk response of bail reform will not deal with the structural and systemic problems that give rise to incidents of violence, particularly since the bail system already works in ways that pre-emptively remand people by virtue of the risk they pose. As with the parole reforms that came about after Adrian Bayley’s offending, reform developed in response to individual and exceptional events will only increase the number of significantly disadvantaged people on remand. Increased rates of imprisonment will create social, economic and human costs for the community, not make it safer. These punitive law changes highlight the inadequacies of the systems we have in place to respond to family violence and support people with acute mental health needs. Continue reading Why Aussie Bail Reform Won’t Work→
The Prime Minister Bill English equipped himself admirably to well-trodden law and order election politics last week, as he bolstered police ranks by another 1100 officers. This Safer Communities package was dovetailed with strong messages, not least that the world doesn’t owe anyone ‘a living’. Instead, families and communities must ‘continuously adapt’ and resiliently engage in ‘quiet heroism’ as a response to increasing economic precariousness. The expectation is that everyone – including those with health or disability issues – ‘can live independently’.
We are also entering, it appears, a new era of state interventions. Mirroring practices from the late 1950s to the early 1980s – the horrific experiences and legacies of which largely remain shielded from public view – the government is targeting ‘problem’ children and their families for processing. We will deal, once and for all, with the ‘regulars in the government system’. Welfare dependents had better look out, as might our new economic risks: the thousand or so five year olds whose sorry lives are each destined to cost us well over quarter a million dollars. Continue reading Lock ‘Em Up and Throw Away the Solutions→
Penal populism is a much discussed characteristic of punishment. Many commentators reflect upon penal populism in relation to localized events, presuming that they may be diagnosed, theorised and exorcised there.
In this article, John Pratt (Professor in Criminology at Victoria University of Wellington) and Michelle Miao (Assistant Professor of Law at the Chinese University of Hong Kong) demonstrate that penal populism has provided the base for a much more extensive populism through modern societies. Penal populism has provided a springboard for wider populist forces to flourish in mainstream society, so much so that, in the early 21st Century, populism has ‘burst out of the constraints of the penal zone and pervade[d] the whole social body’. Continue reading Penal Populism: The End of Reason→