Revising terror laws for jihadis


Meet Mark Taylor. Mr Taylor is a Kiwi jihadi who went to Syria to fight for Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (I.S.I.S.). For years he . Now, with I.S.I.S. largely defeated, Mr Taylor has been abandoned by them in a part of the world he knows not much about. He has no proper documentation, or the means to get such documentation, with the nearest consulate office where he could go being in Turkey.

Mr Taylor is known as the “bumbling jihadi”. He is apparently someone not really able to think for themselves, easily influenced and wanting a sense of belonging say people who used to know him when he was in the Army.

But at the same time, how do you survive in a war zone like Syria or Iraq for so long, especially in a disorganization militant environment with no clear command structure, logistical capacity or leadership? Mr Taylor managed to do that with no food or money and that basic services were non-existent, which points to a degree of resourcefulness.

At the end of the day though, I side completely with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on this. Mr Taylor should face the full force of the law if he makes it back to New Zealand, for several reasons:

  1. He is a member of a terrorist/militant group banned under New Zealand law
  2. In being a member he would have associated with other members, possibly received or given logistical or material support to other members
  3. He has not recanted any of his views, based on which one can assume he still believes in them
  4. Whilst not participating in actions, he boasts of being on guard duty whilst with I.S.I.S., which means that although he was not involved in combat he was enabling other militants to be by relieving them of being guards

That said the legal situation he finds himself in, as do the Police working to establish grounds for prosecution and the Government working out how the new laws should look, is complex. What the “full force of the law” might look like is not immediately clear, though the strongest path to conviction appears to be the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002, because he joined a group internationally recognized as a terrorist organization.

The Green Party, not surprisingly do not believe in tightening up the legislation. They believe his human rights will be breached, which the Government deny. National support the legislation as far as the Select Committee, at which point they will be asking for amendments. New Zealand First are likely to support the legislation as well to ensure it reaches the Select Committee at least.

But how “bumbling” was this guy really? With Kurdistan now under full attack by Turkey and struggling to guard the jails holding jihadi like Mr Taylor, we have to be ready for the prospect that they will be let go or attempt an escape. Some argue that Mr Taylor in the Middle East is more dangerous to New Zealand and the world than if he were released and allowed to return to New Zealand.

Whether we like it or not, as the situation in Kurdistan deteriorates and the Kurds struggle for survival, they might well have no choice but to let Mr Taylor go. What happens then? I do not know, but if he comes to New Zealand the public need to be protected from him and any ideological influences he brought with him. The Police need to be sure he is not going to commit an attack or promote violence. And that most certainly will involve jail time.

National’s gang policy fails to understand gangs


A few days ago two announcements about gangs in New Zealand came out that concerned me. One was that the Mongrel Mob had just announced its first all female chapter. The second one was a National Party announcement that it will massively crack down on gangs should it be returned to power in 2020.

I agree that the development of an all female chapter in a gang is a worrying turn. No questions about that. It means that whilst those women might feel like they have a bit of family structure that in a past life they may have never had, the violence, the drugs and the likelihood of Child Youth and Family being after any children they have whilst in the gang becomes very real.

It is perhaps the National Party announcement that causes me the greater concern, because National are once again turning to methods that have been tried, but not proven.

I am concerned that in pursuit of political points so that National may return to power in 2020, it has forgotten the how and why of gangs like the Mongrel Mob and Black Power existing. Or perhaps it has not forgotten these two important factors, so much as it does want to acknowledge them point blank.

If the latter is the case, the policy is potentially setting up to fail before it has even been implemented. Gangs do not exist simply because someone woke up and said “I’m gonna start a gang today”. Often they form out of people who have been marginalized by society or come from dysfunctional families. The reasons for membership may include anything from getting hold of luxury goods or services, but also a family structure that they might have never known otherwise.

Mr Bridges may have forgotten that a former National Party leader – none other than Robert Muldoon – once had a whisky with a gang, which earnt him their respect, especially when nearing the end of his drink he threw it at them. I am certainly not suggesting he try that. I am sure that things have gotten less safe than when Mr Muldoon decided that actually meeting 20-30 Black Power face to face and trying to understand how they worked and why, was better than rounding them all up. But perhaps Mr Muldoon understood something about gangs that we and Mr Bridges do not.

It is not that I am hugely sympathetic to gangs. I am not – the whole culture around them I find very disconcerting, but if we are going to lessen the issues around gangs we should look at the how and why of their existence.

Perhaps the best thing we can be doing is putting the markets for nasty drugs such as synthetic cannabis, heroin, crack and methamphetamine out of business. No good has ever come of these drugs, and they are hugely destructive, but the war on drugs as led by the United States is a complete failure. The need to start treating drug use a mental health issue has never ever been greater or more immediate and it is only going to get worse if nothing is done.

In New Zealand synthetic cannabis and methamphetamine are causing the most damage. In some small impoverished towns the highest earning jobs are actually on the black market peddling one or both of these two to the local dealers. As medical cannabis should be legalized, rather than penalizing the people who try to make a life out of drugs, having the knowledge they probably do to grow high quality cannabis, perhaps enabling a small number of them to grow cannabis that gets converted to medicine would be a solution.

But would Mr Bridges and his law and order gang see it that way? I am not wholly sure that they would.

 

 

The case for a cannabis referendum


I personally support a referendum. I think it would be too divisive to pass legislation without first knowing whether that is even what New Zealanders want. And given the propensity of New Zealand politicians for partisan politics, I might reasonably hazard a guess that if such legislation DID get passed through any backlash would be seized upon as New Zealanders objecting to cannabis.

And here would be where the politics start. Let us suppose that that is what happened: a law gets passed through Parliament, catching most people unawares, someone finds out and goes to the media full of indignation about it. The legislation itself might be perfectly fine, but the fact that a party is attempting to force it through Parliament without going to “we the people” has suddenly caused a major ruckus. Being a small country, within a short time the whole of New Zealand knows that cannabis laws are being pushed through Parliament. One major party or the other is demanding a referendum to force the issue into the open where everyone can see it.

Before the referendum, we would need to have a formal debate about it where someone speaks for those who support cannabis and someone to speak for those who are against it. A medical practitioner, legal practitioner, a police officer and a Member of Parliament would would be my preferred composition of the panel to talk about the issues that society might be faced with.

The referendum would need to address some thorny issues, such as what forms of cannabis are going to be voted on. What will the question be? Will it be a simple majority of 51% vs 49% or will there need to be a super majority to ensure the vote is clear of any obstacles?

Some people might question the timing of a cannabis referendum. I do not. It is very clear to me that the “War on Drugs” both here and abroad has failed to achieve its goals and that the only responsible thing to do is to wind it up. It is also clear to me that the support for medical cannabis has swung substantially in favour of allowing its use for purely medical reasons. In saying that, we need to acknowledge the hugely damaging consequences of synthetic cannabis which is causing major problems both in New Zealand and abroad.

But the movement in New Zealand is growing. I personally am not sure whether legalization or decriminalization is better and to what extent it should happen. In the United States the number of people going to jail for being in possession of small amounts of cannabis has led to a burgeoning jail population. Minor criminals end up meeting major league players and becoming hardened criminals, some with a vendetta against society who come out more dangerous than they went in.

Video clips on Youtube of people who have been destroyed by synthetics show zombie like beings in weird postures, completely oblivious to what is happening around them, are disturbing. Sure there is a growing problem with synthetics in New Zealand as well, but for someone completely trashed on synthetic cannabis, a jail cell or – as would potentially happen in Singapore – execution is not the answer. A rehab clinic is. There is no place for executing people and the jail cells should be spared for the chemists (the ones who make the synthetics), the importers, the dealers.

But if we agree that a referendum on cannabis should only deal with low powered product that might induce a brief high, but nothing else, then I see a case for a referendum around it.

The corrective challenge facing Corrections


As we watch the latest violent crimes in New Zealand, no doubt there will be – justified – calls for prisoners to be locked up indefinitely and the key thrown away. There will be calls for cold showers and little or no leisure time. Why give them things that many people outside of jail cannot afford say the proponents?

Umm…. perhaps because sooner or later, with the exception of the very worst, most are going to be released. When they are released the public are going to need to know and be assured that the Joe Prisoner who went in four years ago for aggravated assault now no longer poses a threat, has learnt his lesson and wants to become an actively contributing member of society.

But for that to happen, they must be in a prison environment that acknowledges them as humans who have made a mistake. The ones who are open, honest and show genuine remorse are likely to be out at some point and we need to know that they are ready for release – that they can go and live somewhere and be able to cook their own food, find a job and so on. Locking them up and throwing away the key; degrading them with abuse and demeaning punishments will not achieve that. It will make them worse.

The last thing New Zealand needs is for our court system to wind up like the United States, where privatized prisons are common. These for profit businesses are no way to manage criminals and their pursuit of the almighty dollar over and above being a facility where prisoners do their time and hopefully learn from their wrongs.

But National thought in its nine year tenure that such a model was indeed acceptable practice for managing prisons. Thus we wound up with Mt Eden Fight Club where staff and prisoners regularly duelled and prisoners would encourage fights that would get recorded on camera. And the defenders of such a wayward model seemed to think that prisoners do not deserve better, which suggests to me that the management of prisons then were not serious about the welfare of the prisoners.

This is where one can argue that prisons at that point risk becoming an environment where the inmates develop a festering hatred or anger towards society that they do not know how to keep in check. Thus when a prisoner has done his/her time and is ready for release, the authorities are not so much releasing a prisoner determined to make amends for their wrongs, but a prisoner who is a ticking time bomb likely to commit in the very near future a serious offence .

Has the Labour-led Government learnt from the disastrous experience of having Serco, a multinational that has prison contracts for a host of countries including Australia, run our prisons? Has it learnt from the Mt Eden Fight Club videos that were leaked to media, and made the then Minister for Corrections go into hiding?

I am not sure what the current Minister for Corrections, Kelvin Davis has learnt.

Maybe Mr Davis should look to other countries with different management models than the United States. Finland for example has prisons where there are no guards or gates. One can do a university degree. They can learn to do manual labour and .

It was not always like this in Finland. In the 1960’s it and its Nordic neighbours had some of the highest incarceration rates in the world. The authorities, trying to figure out how to bring them down, started looking at the conditions that the prisoners were imprisoned in. They found that if one imprisons them and then starts to gradually but progressively reimmerse them in normal civilian life, a marked drop in reoffending rates occur.

Similarly Norway has found that its prisoner population is much less prone to recidivism. Prisoners and prison officers mingle interactively. The macho culture of the 1960’s where prisoners were locked up, given little in the way of opportunities to reform, to understand right from wrong and recidivism rates of 60-70% were banished.

Serco might be gone from the New Zealand prison system, but its legacy lingers on. The legacy is that New Zealanders have seen how a profits first prisoners second model can lead to significantly worsened management. They have seen how a dangerously toxic environment where recidivism rates remain high can see prisoners are released in a worse mental than that they went in with.

But will the Government have the courage to do something bold, or will it continue to copy an obviously failed model?

 

 

Police right to savage “volunteer” constabulary in rural N.Z.


When one joins the Police force they know that there might be a moment when someone high on drugs or armed, or otherwise dangerous tries to put the officer attempting to arrest them in grave danger. The 9,000+ sworn officers on duty understand this and have been trained to do deal with such instances. They have families or partners that they want to go home to at the end of their shift; friends that they want to see again and a Police force that needs the expertise they bring.

Which is why I am loss to understand the rationale behind a New Zealand First proposal that got savaged by the Police for the introduction of a volunteer rural constabulary. Being a rural Police officer is risky enough. Being one who is there because s/he volunteered to be a rural officer is in my opinion plain nuts.

Whilst the rural communities were right to be concerned about rustling of stock, which has been on the rise in recent years as well as security of property from vandalism, the theft of honey, this was not an appropriate way to address it. New Zealand First’s significant rural membership might have proposed this by way of remitry at the Party convention that year and if so, it must have survived the vote at the end of the remit. However that does not change the fact that it was not properly thought through and raised as many questions as it managed to answer.

Minister of Police, Stuart Nash, received a briefing paper that he refused to release. Stuff, and National M.P. and shadow spokesperson for Police Chris Bishop also requested a copy. Both were turned down.

The Police rebuttal of this idea went along the lines of:

“Police does not recommend introducing a Special Constabulary in New Zealand.┬áRecruiting volunteers to undertake policing operations and apply police powers comes with a range of significant risks for the community and the volunteers,”

The Police said that it would be perceived as policing on the cheap, with risks exacerbated in the community without proper constabulary support. Concerns were raised about the sort of training that they would be given, the support that would be available in complex situations and what kind of resourcing they would be given.

I further imagine that complex concerns in terms of access to appropriate vehicles, weapons training, understanding and interpretation of their rights and responsibilities as volunteers would also arise. What type of hold would constitute reasonable force if they were confronted by an aggressive person? Would they have access to the digitized police radio channels and if not, who would pass the message on in an emergency?

It would also raise ethical questions. To be a member of the Police force is not a minor thing. It means one has made it through a significant period of training, but also has attributes and mental stamina that a lot of people would struggle with. Is it fit and proper to be developing a voluntary force of officers whose interpretation of their job is not as precise as what would be expected of a sworn officer? I am not sure that it is.