Simon says

Written By: - Date published: 10:28 am, July 17th, 2009 - 61 comments
Categories: law and "order" - Tags: , , ,

eliasChief Justice Dame Sian Elias has kicked off a debate on whether our justice policy is working [PDF  link]. Her view is that the frequent failure of punitive sanctions demands a rethink.

Her analysis is supported by over 40 years experience in the criminal justice system and in the TV3 clip (below), her views seem to be supported by prison staff who say she’s the only one “brave enough” to raise the issue in New Zealand.

Strange then that Justice Minister Simon Power is scathingly dismissive of the Chief Justice’s ideas. He’s a member of a party whose solutions to the problem of prison overcrowding amount to double bunking and container cells. You could be forgiven for thinking that they might welcome some expert input on more effective, longer term solutions to a burgeoning prison population.

But no. Instead, Power’s defensive response demonstrates short-term thinking and a fear of genuine engagement on a difficult issue. The Chief Justice’s statements are an opportunity for the government to talk meaningfully with New Zealanders about this tricky issue. But instead of joining the conversation, the government has clearly decided it’s easier just to shut down the debate.

For a government that sold itself as one that would be tolerant of different views and eager to listen, this is a terrible look.

61 comments on “Simon says”

  1. Maynard J 1

    Irony: Elias castigates the knee-jerk attitude of law-makers in New Zealand, while Simon Power dismisses her ideas out of hand in the bloody airport on his way home. Whatsit called again when someone makes a response without giving the idea any rational consideration? What a tool.

    He has decided the “tough on law and order” bullshit meme is the way to go and will entertain no debate about it, not to mention throwing in a “Know your place” message to anyone who dares not toe the line. Really, what a tool.

  2. Bright Red 2

    In an otherwise very good blog on the issue, Colin Espiner writes “And Dame Sian will be quietly replaced, probably within the next year.”

    That’s not possible is it? I thought judges couldn’t be sacked by the government except in extraordinary circumstances, like if they are convicted of a crime

    • cocamc 2.1

      I think Dame Elias can stay in position till at least 70 (retirement age)

      • gobsmacked 2.1.1

        She could not be “quietly” replaced, because that would be a huge political scandal, and New Zealand’s ever-vigilant media would raise hell. The uproar would be loud and long.

        Nah, just kidding. There’d be a few op-ed pieces from academics and lawyers slamming the disgraceful attack on the constitution, but the press gallery would call it a “beltway issue”, and tell us (the public) that we (the public) didn’t care. Key could probably appoint himself Chief Justice and the fan club would call it “decisive”.

  3. BLiP 3

    The trouble with Dame Sian’s proposal is that it is a practical, common sense and humane solution to a situation which has become usurped by politicians for use in manipulating the poplace. The proposal would require that our leaders put aside their craven venality and forsake the money and power their manipulations bring to them.

    Its like drugs – the solution is simple, what lacking is the courage of our leaders.

    Then again, we get the leaders we deserve I suppose. Wouldn’t it be nice if the citizenry could put aside their promordial emotional response to the crime situation and take up thinking.

    ” . . imagine all the people . . . ” J. Lennon.

  4. Pat 4

    I agree that it is good to have the debate, and good on Elias for raising it.

    But honestly, neither National or Labour are going to head into the next election on a platform of letting prisoners out.

    • Bright Red 4.1

      Yeah but that’s only a fraction of what she’s talking about. It’s the fraction that the wowsers who pass for reporters in this country picked up of course.

  5. I thought the most interesting thing in last night’s news bulletin was the report the secretly many MPs on both sides of the house though that what Sian Elias says makes a crap load of sense, but it’s politically unacceptable.

    Nice to know the law & order rednecks are running the show now 🙁

    • Ari 5.1

      I think the essential problem here is that Labour wants to get the “rednecks” onside by convincing them they’re not threatening to their “get tough on crime” mantra, rather than by trying to convince them that they’ll be welcome if they actually support trying to solve the issues with our justice system.

      And because they do that we have this ridiculous one-sided “debate” among the old parties about which of them is tougher on crime instead of some actual debate on how to solve the real issues facing us, like ballooning incarceration, the need for faster and better rehabilitation, and the racism inherent in the justice system as it is.

    • Craig Glen Eden 5.2

      Yes and thats our problem jarbury, quite frankly I am sick of hearing what Garth McDicker has to say on the issue. We need a proper debate on this matter. I also agree that Power made himself look like a tool.

      • Daveski 5.2.1

        God help me, but I’m now agreeing with Craig Glen Eden (but not Zet!).

        Is there no better example of an oxymoron than the “Sensible Sentencing Trust”?

  6. Ianmac 6

    A MP questionaire: What would you choose?
    -to give Herceptin,
    -or taxcuts,
    -or less red tape (?),
    -or an upgrade of resources for rehabilitation of criminals,
    -or increase sentences?
    Please choose just the easy ones and the ones that please the people. (Marks off for any that are difficult or unpopular.)

  7. Pete 7

    Both major parties have a poor record on this particular issue, and of course ACT is leading the charge in the media on this issue (with the backing of the highly overexposed interest groups that claim to be supporting victims of crime by making broad assertions and placing labels on the parts of NZ society that suit their message).

    Of course Sian Elias is quite correct in all her obeservations, it’s just a shame that doing a little research and making evidence-based decisions on difficult issues seems politically untenable.

    Just look at any right-ish blog or the Herald’s ‘your views’ to see how blinkered and ‘knee-jerk’ people are. There have been some fine comments such as “THEY should only be let out of prison in coffins”. Of course it is always THEY, it would never happen to me or anyone like me…

    Rationality save us…

    • indiana 7.1

      …people who reply THEY, consider themselves to be law abiding citizen or if they commit a crime are prepared to do the time…but your right rationality save us!

  8. grumpy 8

    We had an election – remember?

    National has overwhelming support in an electoral mandate for stronger sentances.

    Elias is entitled to her opinion and Power has reacted as the electorate expect him to. Whether Elias can now objectively apply Government policy in sentencing situations is the real issue.

    As for the Corrections Association – it’s a bit like Secondary School Teachers wanting kids out of school by age 14 to reduce classroom overcrowding – self interest.

    • Maynard J 8.1

      That was ACT, and they sure got the votes in eh?

      “As for the Corrections Association it’s a bit like Secondary School Teachers wanting kids out of school by age 14 to reduce classroom overcrowding self interest.”

      No, unless you think that a) teachers think kids would be better educated by being kicked out at 14, and b) you think that if you fail at life you get sent back to secondary school. Does not quite happen that way…

      If such a measure was likely to lead to more crime and worse reoffending, then I can not see them supporting it.

      • grumpy 8.1.1

        So you think that the Corrections Association have the welfare of the prisoners at heart? They certainly don’t have much concern for the community.

        This issue is all about current and future overcrowding. If crime increases and sentences are going to get tougher, then there will be more prisoners – hardly rocket science.

        NZ already has one of the lowest length of sentence in the developed world, less than australia, UK, Canada, USA etc. – and higher crime rates!

        • Draco T Bastard 8.1.1.1

          Hey Grumpy, do you want to pay for those longer sentences?

          Actually, I believe our incarceration rate is second only the US and our crime rate is far lower.

          • grumpy 8.1.1.1.1

            I don’t think there is an alternative. Our incarceration rate is high because our crime rate is high. sentances are low compared to other countries.
            If we have to pay to keep them locked up then that is the price for years of failed social policy.

            • Draco T Bastard 8.1.1.1.1.1

              That’s just it grumpy, our crime rate isn’t high – it’s been dropping over the last few years due to those social policies. It went up before that due to the failed neo-liberal policies of the Fourth Labour and National governments. It’s one of the lowest in the world but our incarceration is the second highest because our sentencing is so long.

              It’s costing a huge amount and it’s not working.

  9. Sian Elias is a compassionate, thinking person, who sees clearly that we cannot continue on our incarcerate-at-any-cost approach to justice. She deserves strong and unequivoval support for her right to comment and the substance of that comment. The Labour Party needs, also, to be unequivocal on this.There are times when you hve to take a high road, even if the fruit loops become testy.

    • Maynard J 9.1

      Hear, hear. I do not think it would be political suicide at all – just to consider the ideas mentioned here (and by folk like Kim Workman and Peter Williams). We will lose out if we pander to the nutters all the time, and yes, they are noisy. But that could be a good priority for Labour. Differentiate on law and order, and try to find a way to get the smart message across.

    • And where is Lianne Dalziel on this issue, or, indeed, anyone from the parliamentary Labour Party? Not a peep all day.

  10. Any credibility her speech had was lost, when she suggested that victims have too much say.

    • Ianmac 10.1

      Trouble is Brett, that most victims wish that the crim be sentenced for life, and get 40,000 lashes. Natural enough I guess but on some occasions I have heard grieving relatives say that they forgive the perpetrator and have no concerns about the length of a sentence. “It won’t bring her back.” This seems to be a much healthier response for the victims but sadly the call for vengeance sounds better and is encouraged by you know who. Thus victims for life. Sad.

    • Anthony Karinski 10.2

      If you read the speech you would find that she actually is concerned about the victim and whether they are re-victimised by the system meant to help them.

      There is no question of going back to the days when victims were largely irrelevant in criminal proceedings. They were not well treated. But we need to consider how much further we can go without undermining basic values and whether indeed we may have gone too far in this respect already.

      What are we trying to achieve. Perhaps direct assistance to victims may be of more help than a sense of ownership of the criminal justice processes. I do not know whether this is right. But I would like to see some serious assessment of whether the emotional and financial cost of keeping victims in thrall to the criminal justice processes (through trial, sentencing and on to parole hearings) does help their recovery from the damage they have suffered or whether they are re-victimised through these processes. The answer may not be to force further change on our accusatory methods of trial as is proposed from time to time. It may be to reassess how we respond to victims of crime.

      • Ianmac 10.2.1

        Anthony quoted “I do not know whether this is right. But I would like to see some serious assessment of whether the emotional and financial cost of keeping victims in thrall to the criminal justice processes (through trial, sentencing and on to parole hearings) does help their recovery from the damage they have suffered or whether they are re-victimised through these processes.”
        That is the point that I was making clumsily. If you are not careful the victim can be further victimised by the very system meant to help them. What would help victims “get over it”? Constantly revisiting the crime? Feeling vengeful for ever? Being coached by McVicar? Taking part in Parole hearings?

        • killinginthenameof 10.2.1.1

          Revicitimisation is certainly a good thing for Garth mc Vicar as is higher crime rates.

        • Swampy 10.2.1.2

          How about a sense that a fair and reasonable sentence has been imposed. I fully support those victims whose family members have been murdered who point out with considerable justification that a murderer will serve a so called “life” sentence that usually amounts to around 10 years, and then have the rest of their life ahead of them, while the victim’s family is deprived of the company of their victim. Bring back hanging, I think

          The fact is that retribution has been a historical basis of our justice system for centuries and it is still a reasonable concept to say that a criminal has caused a debt to society and they have to pay it back. All the liberals have seized upon “restorative justice” when it is a soft option and shouldn’t even be considered where the perpetrator shows no remorse or insight into their offending, or where it is clearly a soft option, or where the offender has a track record of recidivism (and therefore can’t be trusted to reform).

          Retribution is based on the entirely reasonable concept that there are minimum standards of behaviour in society and that it is reasonable to ask people to adhere to them, the lefties are all apologists full of excurses as to why crims shouldn’t have to meet these standards or all the excuses under the sun.

          • Noko 10.2.1.2.1

            Retribution doesn’t help anyone.
            That’s why it’s bad.

            IT. DOES. NOT. HELP. ANYONE.

  11. Anthony Karinski 11

    This is great. Dame Elias gives a thoughtful and well researched speech looking at the background facts. Then every man and his dog decides to shoot it down without even bothering to read the transcript.

    Reminds me of the evolution vs. creationist debacle. Only difference is that the public seems to favour the ignorant blabber mouths over the expert opinion. What fossil record? My great grand father rode dinosaurs to work regularly!

    If anything it is in itself damning proof that we’re not rational entities able to discern right from wrong. Prison queues will likely get longer and longer…

  12. gobsmacked 12

    Headline on Stuff (Dom Post):

    “Call for Chief Justice to resign”.

    Who’s calling? Attorney-General? Leader of the Opposition? Head of Law Society? Corrections Chief Executive?

    No prizes for guessing that it’s none of the above, but Garth McVicar, who is the well-qualified, duly elected or publicly appointed head of … nothing.

    I hereby call on Simon Power to resign.

    Ooh, look … Dom-Post breaking news: “There has been a call for the Justice Minster to resign …”

  13. Draco T Bastard 13

    Just tell them that they can have longer sentences but that the top tax rate will have to go up to 60% to pay for them (it really does) and I’m pretty sure those that are loudest about being tough on crime will quietly fade away. Of course, NACT won’t do that because they seem to think that holding people in prison doesn’t cost anything.

    • Spectator 13.1

      Good idea; almost referendum-worthy. “Should criminals be required to serve the full length of their sentences, without possibility of parole, with the added cost to the Crown funded by a rise of the top tax rate to 60 cents in the dollar?”

  14. Borisk Klarov 14

    Just tell them that they can have longer sentences but that the top tax rate will have to go up to 60% to pay for them (it really does) and I’m pretty sure those that are loudest about being tough on crime will quietly fade away.

    Actually the top tax rate doesn’t need to increase – we simply need to disestablish the rampant welfarism that’s blighted NZ for so long.

    It’s user pays – the Labour electorate commits crime, therefor their welfare gets cut to pay for criminal justice. Decent New Zealand wins both ways.

    • Draco T Bastard 14.1

      Delusional, absolutely, totally, delusional. Do that and you’ll get even more crime.

  15. Pat 15

    I have a great idea to reduce the prison population and to raise money for Ministry of Corrections to boot. Brng back Gladiators. A 10 foot high razor wire fence around the Eden Park pitch is all that is required. The place would have a full house (ticket sales to MoC) TV rights (proceeds to MoC) and people can text in if they think the winner deserves to be set free (99c – proceeds to MoC).

    The winners that are set free – reduces prison population.
    The losers that are, well, dead – reduces prison population.

    Too bad Bain is already out. Could have put him up against Weatherston.

  16. Zepher 16

    Simon grasps at straws. Meanwhile, resentment continues to build in public servants as their opinions are disrespected and legs cut off.

  17. lyndon 17

    It’s been put to John Key that more punishment is not the solution. He says he has a mandate and that’s all there is to it.

    • Ianmac 17.1

      Always wonder about mandates. When I vote for a party does my vote give a mandate to everything that they stand for, or just some of the things? Or do I just vote for my own perceived benefit? I wonder if the general population does give a mandate for tougher sentences at an election?

    • Swampy 17.2

      Would you advocate less punishment?

      I see that is exactly what the 4thLG brought in when they abolished many custodial sentences and replaced them with PD and community work. These are all soft options, the main motivation being liberal handwringing.

  18. Rex Widerstrom 18

    At the risk of repeating myself… okay most definitely repeating myself, this is an issue which must be led from the left.

    As Ianmac so rightly points out above, given the other options into which taxpayers’ money can be poured, effective crime prevention (which of course includes effective prevention of recidivism through rehabilitation) isn’t an easy sell.

    There are, however, people who could do a damn good job of putting up the argument. I know of one crime victim whom the media would fall all over – female, pretty, the victim of repeated attacks by an ex-partner with whom she then had to remain in contact to deal with issues around their daughter – and who presents an intelligent and balanced call for a mix of retribution and rehabilitation that is utterly compelling. I know of former prisoners who can talk equally compellingly about their lives and what works and what doesn’t work. I even know prison officers who will readily agree with the Garrotte that some inmates are absolute scum – but then turn around and talk about the many who aren’t, and how they’ve been surprised at the humanity and goodness of some prisoners.

    If a party said they were prepared to stop the law and order auction I think they’d be surprised at the level of support they’d receive – not just from within NZ but internationally. There are groups everywhere – from prison officers’ unions to penal reform groups to victims’ groups – who want change and are desperate for a working political party to try new ideas in a real world environment.

    The right won’t do it because the conservatives will always resist the liberals on any such move. But the left could. And if its MPs won’t, then it’s up to their support base to make it clear that they will accept nothing less, or will withdraw their support.

    [As an aside, I’ve ensured a media release has gone out Australia-wide via Justice Action (their website seems to have collapsed temporarily but the full text is here) supporting Dame Sian’s stance and calling on Australian Attorneys-General to consider such an option. Will be interesting to see if Australians are any more enlightened].

  19. Maggie 19

    Dame Sian deserves to he listened to and her opinions debated carefully and thoughtfully. That’s a big ask in this country.

    Politicians are too scared of public opinion. The media is largely too obsessed with trivialities though this morning’s Herald editorial calling on Power to think again is encouraging.

    Grumpy talks about “years of failed social policy”. So does Sian Elias. The difference between them is that she believes we need to find better policies, not just deal with the failure by building more and more prisons.

    • grumpy 19.1

      You know the left is struggling with an argument when they start trying to up the status of those they support by using the “symbol of imperial repression” titles like “Dame”.

      Labour had 9 years to make a difference and only made things worse. The electrorate is tired of namby pamby do-gooder ideals and wants action.

      Who better to deliver than “Crusher” and her trusty side-kick “Power Man”.

      • Walter 19.1.1

        Grumpy

        You’re talking arse.

        Changes to the sentencing and parole structure implemented by the Labour government in 2002 are by far the largest cause of rising prison numbers, and if the changes to parole passed in 2007 had been implemented, the situation would be even worse. 2000 extra prisoners in 6 years should be a source of eternal shame to Phil Goff and Annette King.

        None of the changes implemented by the National government in the last nine months will change prison numbers in the slightest.

        w

  20. Borisk Klarkov 20

    Dame Sian deserves to he listened to and her opinions debated carefully and thoughtfully

    No they don’t. She’s just another Labour-appointed socialist who disbelieves in personal responsibility and accountability.

    We’ve heard it all before – after a decade of the Clark regime ignoring crime to focus the entirety of law enforcement on speeding tickets, creating a culture of entitlement and impunity amongst the criminal element*.

    Decent New Zealand is tired of crime, tired of crime being ignored by the justice system and tired of mealy-mouthed socialists justifying crime.

    (*) The Labour electorate.

  21. Anthony Karinski 21

    The more I read Elias’ speech the more I like it. If anything she just doesn’t take the last natural step and call for the abolishment of retributive justice altogether.

    Let’s face it, I have never heard anyone make a coherent argument that justifies retribution. Elias speaks of blameless babes turning into criminals due to societal and personal factors. The fact of the matter is that no one can be held responsible for the way they are born. Likewise, it’s hard to blame someone for having an alcoholic or abusive father, being ignored by child services or born into the wrong socioeconomic group. The whole case for retribution hinges on belief that we possess free will. A concept which no one even knows what is or can even begin to explain how works. Faith in the flying spaghetti monster is an infinite more sound position as it at least resides in the realm of possibility and thus can be said to be within reason.

    Hence we have a justice system built on irrational dogmatic faith in a concept no one can explain. This leaves us with only one option; concede that containment to minimise harm to self and others and rehabilitation are the only justifiable reasons for locking someone up.

    • Swampy 21.1

      No one can be held responsible for being born into an alcoholic family, you say? So anything goes? There are plenty of people around in such backgrounds who are law abiding citizens who have never offended. Why should such a defence be acceptable when such simplistic justifications are created for it.

      The fact is that failed social policy, most liberalism by do gooder handwringers, has helped to create far more dysfunctional families. At some point someone in that family or someone who is commiting crime must take responsibility for their situation and be prepared to change it.

      There was a court case recently for some huge fat guy who had committed massive fraud, his lawyer was arguing for the soft option of keeping him out of prison. The reasons he should be in prison is that the crap food will cause him to lose a big pile of weight, and so result in lower health costs to the taxpayer in years to come.

      By saying no one should be locked up unless they are a physical threat is to whitewash fraud and other white collar crime and devalue its significant and serious harm, I suspect this has more to do with a secret belief that all the people who get ripped off by pyramid schemes and investment fraud must be rolling in it and really deserve what they get for being too greedy, etc.

      • Anthony Karinski 21.1.1

        Ok, so you clearly believe we have free will and the ability to make different choices in any given situation. Just explain to me what free will is and how it works and I’m all with you.

    • Swampy 21.2

      “born into the wrong socioeconomic group.”

      Which means what exactly? Justification to steal, what for exactly?

      As someone who has lived on the poverty line for half my adult life I don’t buy that line at all.

      You must really believe that the poor have a right to steal off the rich to put out stuff like that.

  22. Ianmac 22

    Interesting. On the Waiata News at 4:45 Nat Radio Peta Sharples is calling for a review of Sentencing. “There are so many people in prison who should not be there.”

    • Tigger 22.1

      Yes, they have a presser out saying they agree with Elias’ comments.

      So Simon, your thoughts, comments?

  23. ak 23

    Absolutely, spondificatingly, dead-set on the button Rex. And the timing’s right: vengance-bigots dazed and confused – (along with race, nanny statism and tory financial supremacy-nutters). It’s Dame Sian et al and a multitude of long-serving screws up against Garth Vader and the increasingly passe helenhate beerpot mob.

    Impossible for Phil to lead the charge but: too much history on the wrong team. Yet another reason to pass that ball early and let those flash backs shine.

  24. Sting 24

    I thought the Dame might give a speech on the gangs recruitment drive in our local primary schools.

    She is a mad hatter corrupt socialist slut who lives in a birdcage.

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