Tackling crime in New Zealand


We have seen the news on the television often enough – a dairy being held up by touths who make off with cash and cigarettes; methamphetamine making businesses busted; someone murdered. We have had our moment of rage at the offender – and possibly the justice system for other reasons – sympathized with the family of the victims. Some of us might have gone on to social media and vented. But having released our anger and shown appropriate sympathy, what do we as New Zealanders do next to tackle crime?

For a lot of people it ends there. They change the subject, or go find something constructive to do like help their kid with homework or put the washing on the line and why not?

But not for all. I am one. For me if it is the latest in a string of incidents, it might inspire me to write a blog article such as this one about tackling crime. Or if there is public law changes open for submission on something related to reducing criminal offending, I will look at the documents available at the Parliament submissions web page and see if it is something I am interested in making a submission to.

My reasoning is simple: to make New Zealand as good as it can be I need to have an active involvement in the available processes that allow public input into policy making.

I think New Zealanders are not where either National or Labour would want to place them on justice and criminal offending.I see a number of separate groupings of people in terms of the approach New Zealand should take in dealing with crime:

  1. There is a significant portion of the population that want tighter sentencing. They look to people like National leader Simon Bridges or Sensible Sentencing Trust spokesperson Garth McVicar for leadership, expecting them to advocate for tougher sentencing laws. I am not in that group. This group would have supported the proposed large prison at Waikeria, southwest of Te Awamutu.
  2. There is another group built around Labour and the Greens, which advocate for reform. They want to see the number of prisoners decrease, which I think most New Zealanders probably do, but taking a softly-softly approach on prisoners by looking at their mental health and backgrounds. I am not in this group, though some of their ideas are good.
  3. I think I belong to a third group that wants to examine whether current “system” – prisons, justice, and Police – are working as they should. My impression is that the justice system is failing to make full use of the range of sentencing ordnance it has at its disposal; that a lot of crime would stop if we permitted medicinal cannabis and banned synthetic cannabis.

But how do we tackle crime? A lot of the existing crime in New Zealand is for a purpose – serious crimes such as stealing cigarettes to order for the black market or drug smuggling, manufacturing to pay bills and/or drug debts can be put down to filling a need. Vandalism, attacks on people might be for the thrill of attacking in a violent or destructive way.

An ambulance at the bottom of the cliff approach is only helpful in dealing with all those already in prison (9,000 plus) is the best way of describing the current mentality in terms of constructing prisons here.. It fails to deal with those who might be out of prison, are otherwise clean and are trying to deal with the next phase in life – re-establishing oneself as a person. This group are particularly vulnerable as they might have lost their social networks, will be out of a job and not be likely to have much if any money. They are also potentially the most dangerous because a failure to catch quickly means a reversion back to their criminal past might be more likely than people will admit.

Per the idea of an ambulance being best at the top of the cliff, the gains for society by identifying those with criminal pasts and seeking to address the issues that made them start committing crime in the first place is a major deal. Some might come from broken families where no respect for the law was instilled in people. Others might might have come from backgrounds involving narcotics and dabbled in it, found it too powerful to ignore and got dragged under.

Whatever the case, examining how such circumstances can lead to criminal offending and seeking to address them using research based policy is the way forward. If we stop deluding ourselves about how well the “system” works – or does not work.

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