Addressing crime in New Zealand


My previous article explored some of the reasons for crime happening in New Zealand. This article explores how to address it.

The idea of what constitutes justice in New Zealand is one that has been controversial since the country was founded. Equally controversial is how sentencing regime under which judges hand down sentences is administered. The question of whether to jail or not is hotly debated as New Zealand often looks to the United States or overseas for ideas instead of coming up with our own.

But jail is just one tool that can be used in New Zealand, and nor is it – as we shall see below – necessarily the best sentence for many convicts. Jailing is expensive and resource consuming. Some prisoners for the first time in their lives might be experiencing order – a clean bed, shower, regular meals and supervision. It is indeed sad and quite wrong that a place of state imposed punishment somehow becomes the preferred accommodation of prisoners. And we as a nation have to look at how it came to be that.

But jail is at risk of being the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, when solutions are needed to stop people falling down that cliff.

In thinking of how we might address our jail population, I envisage only those who pose a direct and immediate threat to society being imprisoned. I am thinking of Malcolm Rewa, Steven Williams. For offences such as drunk driving an overhaul of how the demerit point system works to enable “residual points” that accumulate if more than one such offence is committed might be better, with harsher sentencing such as jail being restricted to those offences that kill, injure or damage property. When those residual points reach a national limit, that person has to permanently surrender their driver licence.

In many instances it is not the jails or the police that are at fault. Rather it is the courts, whose interpretation of the law, has become archaic. The police are the ones who look for the offender, bring them to trial and collect the evidence. The courts are where the trial is held and the accused is found not/guilty, as well as sentenced. It is this last part of the courts role and responsibilities where the New Zealand justice system fails the public on the issue of sentencing. Judges fail to jail that small percentage of criminals who are simply too dangerous to stay in society, and many of the ones that are there in their place, might not be best suited to jail.

In the first instance, I would be happy if there were considerably expanded community programmes where prisoners are put to work in the community. Some will call it abuse of labour, but when prisoners are released from prison they will be expected to somehow live outside of the institution that released them. That means finding somewhere to live; finding a job with an income that can sustain them in terms of the basic necessities, such as food, clothing, any medical assistance, power, rent and transport. In preparation for life on the outside would it not be best to have them in some sort of prison based preparatory programme?

Many prisoners are quite skilled. They might have been in another time before they derailed builders, farmers, tradespeople and maybe forestry workers. New Zealand is screaming for more trades people and labourers. The safer ones who are not going to behave like Mr Williams, the man who murdered Coral Burrowes, and try to harm their fellow inmates, might appreciate that someone thinks enough of them to provide them an opportunity for redemption. Prison might be their night-time lock up, but during the day, they could be helping the communities that they damaged.

A second idea would be to look at Finland, where authorities have adopted a quite radical approach to jail. Not being able to envisage this myself, I do have questions such as how well would such ideas work here? Would the New Zealand public accept such a radical change in philosophy, and how well conditioned for post-jail life would it leave the prisoners?

A third idea would be to either legalize or decriminalize cannabis. I have not seriously discussed the legalization or decriminalization of cannabis here, but it needs to be made clear now that there is a difference between the two:

  1. Decriminalization in this instance is the removal or loosening of criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of cannabis – it has the effect of telling the authorities to look the other way
  2. Legalization is the removal of laws that criminalize the possession and/or personal use of cannabis; the authorities treat it is as a substance that can be regulated and taxed

Both have their merits and both have their downsides. The legalization of cannabis might be the best move, but it would involve substantial preparation – the criminal laws, the medical framework for treating such addictions and their social, medical, legal and economic consequences would all need to be revisited. The judicial, court and police systems would need to be reoriented. Before that, it is possible we may see a move to decriminalize cannabis.

 

Causes of crime in New Zealand


It is quite fair to say that the New Zealand sentencing laws have multiple flaws to them that undermine not only the course of justice, but in some respects actually cause new injustices to occur. The cracks in the social net designed to keep people out of crime are so numerous that systemic failure is a real possibility and would occur when a critical mass of issues comes to a head causing a large scale collapse of services and functions.

Among these problems are:

  • A failing of the socio-economic conditions necessary to discourage criminal activity in the first place
  • A failure of the justice system to punish convicted offenders appropriately
  • Offenders occur because it suits the lifestyle that they have become accustomed to
  • Massive growth in the market for illegal substances – a seller can make $4,000 a week selling illegal substances in Whangarei
  • Break down of the family unit and a lack of role models for boys
  • Underfunding/scrapping of social welfare programmes causing them to fail or be wound up
  • Systemic underfunding and resourcing of the mental health sector

So how do these factors cause the sentencing regime to fail? There are numerous reasons.

  1. Whilst most New Zealanders are working, tax paying, law abiding people, there is a section of society that have no empathy with or understanding of societal norms. They come from broken families that have no had proper jobs, or have been involved with drugs or criminal elements – to them the law and the people who enforce it are suspect
  2. Despite legislation passing through Parliament in 2010 called the Truth in Sentencing Act, which was designed to make offenders do the full sentence handed down, sentences are becoming increasingly erratic and are rarely suitable for the crime/s committed
  3. It is obvious that the War on Drug has failed when drug dealers can make more money in a week than many New Zealanders do in a month – flow on effects from drug use can include being not suitable for a wide range of jobs
  4. A lack of role models for children with absentee parents or from a family where education and work are low priorities. They might be constantly working, or disinterested in their children’s development
  5. Welfare programmes have suffered from funding not keeping pace with inflation, but also constantly tightened criteria to eligible for assistance in the first place, with the result being more people are either getting cut off or finding the proverbial goal posts have shifted
  6. Mental health issues create highly unstable people whose symptoms may range from acute stress to being prone to physical violence or even killing – several cases have occurred in the last few years where either people not being treated have turned violent; caregiver gone to jail for mercy killing

New Zealand is going to have to address these issues collectively and individually in the near future or risk this nation becoming something other than the tourist friendly paradise many non New Zealanders believe us to be. Soon there could be significant costs to tax payers and companies alike fixing a problem that in some respects everyone is partially to blame for, but which nobody wants to come up with a comprehensive solution.

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.

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. Recruiting 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.

 

Ihumatao occupation: A skate on thin ice


Ihumatao. An area near Mangere with a rich volcanic history as part of the Auckland volcanic field and overlain with an equally rich human history, bearing evidence of both Maori inhabitation as well as early European inhabitation.

As New Zealand struggles with its shortage of housing stock Ihumatao has become a flash point. Protesters are wanting to protect the land and Fletchers Construction who own it and want to commence construction of a subdivision, are reaching what will probably be the climax of a three year occupation. Police have been asked to clear the occupied land, but in doing so have attracted the attention of activists, who have further delayed the ending of the occupation.

The older activists might remember back to a time at Bastion Point where Police and the New Zealand Army were instructed to clear land of occupiers following an occupation that lasted 507 days. The occupation was the climax in a long running saga of grievances, questionable occupations and confiscations by the Crown that dated back to the 1800’s. It was finally handed back to Ngati Whatua in the 1980’s with compensation for the past wrongs committed as part of the Treaty of Waitangi settlements process.

Ihumatao has significant archaeological and geological importance in telling the story of the Auckland volcanic field and the inhabitation of the land by Maori prior to European settlement. It features Maori stone gardens, sections of original forest and land whose use by Maori and Europeans for farming helps to determine the chronology of human arrival. Ihumatao was farmed privately for 150 years before being sold to Fletchers for the development of the subdivision that has caused the current stand off to occur.

Fletchers say that they have spent considerable time trying to talk to Save Our Unique Landscape (SOUL)about reaching some sort of agreement over use of the land. SOUL have occupied it since 2016 in order to stop the development of the 480 house subdivision. It is noted that Iwi have been involved with Fletchers in planning the development, which suggests to me a degree of understanding has been reached between them. How much of this protest then is actually driven by Maoridom as opposed to activists?

Thus far the Police have acted with restraint. The spokesperson for the Police at the protest has said that on the whole protesters have been very good and only a very small number have been problematic. Small factions of activists however have tried more radical, disruptive action to which the Police can only reasonably respond to by arresting for moving on those involved. Such actions have included blocking part of a motorway, and chaining themselves to vehicles. Such actions are not going to help the overall protest or the achievement of the bigger goal of bringing this to a peaceful resolution.

Some people have incorrectly considered the presence of Amnesty International staff at the protest to be an indicator of Amnesty support for the protest. That is not the case. Amnesty staff are there in a neutral capacity to ensure that due process between Police and protesters is followed by both.