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→
Why are amounts received from begging not income for tax purposes but are income for the purposes of income testing welfare benefits?
On 20th February 2017, Frank Lovich was convicted of fraud for begging while receiving a benefit. Among other charges, Mr Lovich was convicted under section 15 of the Summary Offences Act 1981. Under this legislation, a person is ‘liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 months or a fine not exceeding $1,000 who solicits, gathers, or collects alms, subscriptions, or contributions by means of any false pretence’.
While the Police have indicated they are not going to commence prosecution proceedings against all welfare recipients who may engage in begging activity, an important question arises from this situation: Are we, yet again, treating people on welfare differently from other people in society? Continue reading Begging and Benefits: When Is Income ‘Income’?→
At a time when the media is reporting different outcomes in the justice system depending on the job, family or position in society of the convicted individual, it becomes time to question the transparency of the outcomes in the justice system. If the penalty for a crime was determined solely on factors that are legally permitted to be considered in determining the appropriate punishment – then why the outcry? If the penalty can be defended – why isn’t it? Perhaps it is time for judges to be given the opportunity to explain their decisions and the factors that contribute to the outcomes under question.
My research suggests different outcomes in the justice system for different “types” of people – and by “types” I mean people receiving welfare benefits and other financial offenders (Marriott, 2016a). Welfare beneficiaries are more likely to be investigated than (for example) tax evaders and they are also more likely to be prosecuted than tax evaders for an equivalent level of offending. These two crimes – and they are both crimes – are conceptually identical: they are both deliberate financial offending; they have the same victim; and they result in the same outcome: less resources for the government. Perhaps the key difference is in the economic significance of the two crimes. Typically, welfare fraud is around $30 million per annum, whereas detected tax evasion is usually around $1 billion. Undetected (and therefore uncollected) tax evasion is forecast to be at least $5 billion per annum. To put this into context – that is more than the Ministry of Social Development annual budget for working-age benefit payments. Continue reading Are We All Equal in NZ?→