Truly sensible sentencing

Written By: - Date published: 3:17 pm, January 12th, 2009 - 16 comments
Categories: crime - Tags: , ,

“I’m not one for ideological stances; I support what works”, said John Key  in a speech to the Salvation Army in early 2007. Well now the challenge is on.

Steve posted earlier today calling for a “truce on the sentencing bidding war”, echoing the recent sentiment of Kim Workman, director of the Rethinking Crime and Punishment project. Mr Workman was responding to Judith Collins’ typically hard line view on punitive criminal “justice” in saying:

…it was understandable that the new Government wanted to make good on its law and order promises in the first 90 days of office.

But the growing view among public servants, the judiciary, and criminal justice advisers and providers, was that it was now time to “get smart” rather than “get tough”.

So will Key really “support what works” as he’s claimed so many times, or merely pander to the likes of Collins and McVicar?

16 comments on “Truly sensible sentencing”

  1. Time has come to protect the public.

    IMHO that is smart thinking.

    Time has come to hold parole boards responsible.

  2. Rex Widerstrom 2

    The Parole Board does its best… I’m sure they don’t sit there going “clearly this bloke is gonna murder someone if we let him out, but to hell with it, let’s do it anyway”. Trouble is, they’re denied important information that would help them reach a decision… just the way juries often are.

    To cite but one example, as dad4justice has said elsewhere, and I’m in full agreement, prison officers are the ones who spend most time with an inmate when the latter’s guard is down and they’re acting ‘naturally’. But they’re given no input into the parole process. Instead some dopey prison administrator – who could barely recognise the prisoner, usually – writes a report and a psychologist forms an impression through observation over a fraction of the time prison officers do, and with the prisoner on their best behaviour.

    We’ve all heard of the cases where a psychopath has been released because they’ve fooled the board, but the corollary is that many people serve longer sentences than is necessary because the board are too scared of making an error based on the information they have.

    So, for instance, I’m working on the case of a girl whom the Court of Appeal said should be released last August. However that means she still has to make parole. But since one person in the prison hierarchy has said she should do a course on alcohol – a course he had nearly three years to put her on but didn’t; a course for which the waiting list is ridiculously long because not enough places are funded; a course which is available on the outside and could be made a condition of parole – she’s still locked up five months later.

    The time has come to overhaul parole, yes. But like sentencing, let’s approach it from the perspective of what works best for the wider community and not from the point of view of punishing someone (in this case the Parole Board) for the system’s failures.

    And yes, a_y_b, this will be a true test of Key’s character. Let’s see if he has a spine.

  3. QoT 3

    Darn right, Brett. Longer prison sentences for parole board members! And jurors! And defence counsel! Heck, let’s imprison the entire judicial system while we’re at it.

  4. Peter Burns 4

    That’s not the answer silly QoT, but as Justice John Hansen said at a Otago Uni Conference – “the administration of justice needs a radical rethink” is totally appropriate for this day and age in New Zealand.

  5. Peter Burns 5

    Moderation now? What for?? This will be interesting???

    [lprent: You jumped back on one of the Internet ranges targeting a known pain (I wonder who that was) 😈 ]

  6. Billy 6

    I doubt you will find anyone arguing get less smart. Only gap I am seeing here is: what is the smart alternative these geniuses are proposing?

  7. What does “get smart’ specifically mean in realtion to sentencing?

  8. @ work 8

    I doubt you will find anyone arguing get less smart.

    Thats basically what the sensible sentancing trust are arguing. They advocate ignoring all the research on the topic as it is done by ivory tower liberals, and that we need to get back too the good old days, and use “common sense” and populisim to decide policies on crime. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with democracy, I just wouldn’t fly on a plane built using it.

  9. Whero 9

    National will do what’s good for business – and what’s good for business is transferring the responsibilities of the State to the private sector and allowing businessmen to lock up our citizens and then charge – just another of the many examples of how private enterprise specialises in profiting from the misery of others.

    Expect longer sentences and more jails.

  10. Rex Widerstrom 10


    Read any of my comments on this issue and you’ll see I’m no fan of the present system or the SST. I also acknowledge that operators of private prisons such as Wackenhutt are abominable – indeed some of their practises should see them on the other side of the razor wire.

    OTOH, until a couple of years ago a private prison in WA used to be run by AIMS and it too was a mess. The government was, however, able to respond to that situation by cancelling their contract and issuing it to Serco. That same prison is now one of the best in the country (and quite possibly the world), has one of the best atmospheres inside – and hence has a queue of prisoners seeking to be transferred there from state-run prisons – and, because it’s paid on a number of results including reduced recidivism by prisoners released from it, has been extremely successful in reducing repeat offending, thus protecting the community. This latter measure is, in fact, something Serco apparently offers to include in all its prison contracts.

    It’s not a matter of rejecting private prisons out of hand, it’s a matter of choosing the right company to run them, and being intelligent about what goals you set them and how you pay them.


    A comprehensive answer to your question would require more space than a comment should take. Input from prison officers (who observe the prisoner in their unguarded moments and over a lengthy period, rather than on their best behaviour) is but one obvious low-cost idea that’s not taken up. Other things, such as a pro-active investigation of the support available to the prisoner when and if they’re released, rather than just taking the wordof them and their supporters, would be another, but costly, option. There’s much more… hopefully The Standard will keep debating this whole issue.

  11. mike 11

    Im a simple bloke and Ive always sort of felt that if a thief is in prison then he cant be on the street breaking into houses – so in this respect prison works – its stop him theiving.

    Prison would be much less populated if it was a place where no one ever wanted to return to….

    so get rid of the TV,s and other forms of entertainment. Make the food seriously uninteresting (but still good for ones health), and remove visiting all together, etc, etc.

    Then the prison population would really drop

  12. Mr Magoo 12

    Im a simple bloke and Ive always sort of felt…

    I am sorry, do you have a reference for that study?

    Oh, wait….

  13. schrodigerscat 13

    I was impressed to watch Criminal Justice on TV1 Monday, it goes some way to show that TV … is not going to make being in there ok.

    There are the people you are in there with, the almost complete lack of control over your life that you have, the disconnection with your normal life outside.

    This shown so far in the context of remand, where conviction has not occurred.

    It is a pretty sad indictment of our society if you think people want to return to prison.

  14. Matthew Pilott 14

    mike, you are indeed simple if you think “Prison would be much less populated if it was a place where no one ever wanted to return to “. Prisioners go back because they are unreformed, meaning they have not changed their criminal ways despite being caught and punished in the past.

    What you’re suggesting is that if prison was really bad, people would not reoffend. There’s very little to back this theory up (the very use of the death penalty being a fairly stark reminder of this point). What those who study this sort of thing are saying is that if we rehabilitate prisoners (drug and alcohol, anger management, employment, education or craft/apprenticeship-type experience), they won’t go back, not because they are scared of prison, but because they don’t wanna commit crime no more.

    An added benefit of the latter is that there will be less crime and fewer criminals, not the same level of crime with the same number of criminals simply more desperate to avoid being caught.

    I just very much doubt that your gulags will make anyone the slightest bit safer.

  15. Rex Widerstrom 15

    mike suggests:

    …remove visiting all together, etc, etc.

    Yes, because those damned elderly parents who’ve perhaps struggled all their lives to turn their child away from crime, the women (and a few men) struggling on their own now their partner is in prison, the kids that wonder why dad (or occasionally mum) isn’t with them any more… they’re the ones that really deserve to be punished, right?

    …if a thief is in prison then he cant be on the street breaking into houses…

    Because of course everyone who’s ever stolen anything is going to keep on doing so ad infinitum even if we were to improve his life so he had enough money and something to work for and strive towards…

    schrodigerscat notes:

    This shown so far in the context of remand, where conviction has not occurred.

    Oh come on, we’ll have none of this namby-pamby “innocent till proven guilty” bullshit thank you. I’m sure if mike is wrongfully arrested and imprisoned indefinitely whilst waiting for a crowded court calendar to find time for some underpaid, barely competent legal aid alwyer to plead his case he’ll be only too happy to consort with murderers and rapists, eat s**t food, not see his family and of course will turn down the chance to watch TV.

    Because it’s a well known fact (because Mr McVicar says so) that everyone in our prisons is guilty… that’s why “simple blokes” feel okay about treating them like something less than human.

    And hey, at least while mike’s inside his house will be perfectly safe because all those damned thieves will be locked up on indefinite detention in there with him, so every cloud has a silver lining and that…

  16. schrodigerscat 16

    Should really put a link in here
    More sense than McVicar and co.

    Yes Rex some good points for simple folk to consider.

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