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.

 

Asian “El Chapo” drug syndicate on the rise in New Zealand


Meet Tse Chi Lop. The Chinese Canadian man is known as an Asian El Chapo. He is a billionaire who has done exceptionally well out of the drug trade in ketamine, methamphetamine and other Class A drugs. Tse Chi Lop is the boss of a giant criminal network called Sam Gor. It operates in a dozen countries. The drugs, which mules have taken much risk to ship into countries as diverse as New Zealand, Canada, Taiwan, Japan and Myanmar have given fleeting albeit distinct looks into the life of a drug baron considered to be the most wanted man in Asia.

One such mule is Cai Jeng Ze, who was caught at Yangon Airport by Myanmar authorities, his cellphone yielded a plethora of data – it showed what happened to people who did not comply with the syndicate; all the normal data such as contacts, names and social media messages describing activities.

When New Zealand Police intercepted a shipment of methamphetamine earlier this year, it was probably not loss to Tse Chi Lop whose empire would simply ship another consignment over. 1,500 kilogrammes of methamphetamine was intercepted by New Zealand authorities in the first part of 2019, which is just part of a flood of crystal methamphetamine arriving.

How New Zealand is going to manage this burgeoning flood I am not sure. Certainly our customs and police need a long term budget increase to do the kind of work that will be necessary to help their international colleagues to locate Tse Chi Lop and bring him to justice. But of significant concern is that the United Nations representative on the U.N. Agency for Drugs and Crime suggested that the war on drugs paradigm is going to have to change significantly as this is too big to be out policed.

But will political parties come on board with the need to change the paradigm towards what the United Nations representative is suggesting? I am not sure that National and A.C.T. would.

Ending a discriminatory and improper policy


It has been announced that the Government is about to wind up a policy instituted by National in 2009, which meant that refugees north African and Middle East origin were not encouraged to settle in New Zealand. As a consequence New Zealand struggled to meet its refugee quota which earned numerous rebukes including at least one from the United Nations.

As an Amnesty International member I welcome the ending of this policy. Racist, discriminatory and ultimately not beneficial to New Zealand, it makes me wonder how many more we might have been able to take had their origins not been brought into question.

It was also richly hypocritical. American foreign policy implemented by client states such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Israel has displaced millions of people across the Middle East through wars. Saudi Arabian bombing of Yemen was made possible by aircraft and munitions supplied by the United States and Britain. Turkish offensives against Kurds in Kurdistan were made possible through the same mechanisms. And the New Zealand National Party thought America was doing right.

The hypocrisy lies in whilst thinking of New Zealand as a humanitarian country that does its best to help refugees and make them feel welcome, refugees from an entire geographic region were being blocked. Despite them having fled war and persecution by state actors that America helped to arm and being separated from family, apparently settling in New Zealand and having safety often for the first time ever, was a total no-no. A country with a party that thought American foreign policy was on the right track was refusing to accept the consequences of that not so right foreign policy. By refusing to accept that by being in countries like Afghanistan in wars we should have had no role in, New Zealand was being part of the problem and not the solution.

So, now, with this racist, discriminatory and hypocritical policy on the way out, hopefully future New Zealand National Party-led Governments will see the wrongs of their ways.

 

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 monumental District Health Board data hack


As many as 913,000 patients may have had their records accessed in a massive data breach of New Zealand District Health Boards. The hack, which is thought to have also affected Public Health Organizations, was concentrated on the Tu Ora Compass’s computer system. As officials try to contain the damage, it raises – yet again – some damaging questions about the cyber security of Government agencies in New Zealand.

I have long thought that New Zealand has been too slack with data security in Government agencies. It is a recurring problem that has at some point or another affected Inland Revenue Department, Accident Compensation Corporation, Department of Work and Income, to name just a few. All of these agencies have been breached in the last decade, with some of the breaches involving thousands of files being misused or misplaced.

But back to what I think might be one of the biggest data hacks in all New Zealand history. Whilst it is good that the Chief Executive has apologized, it is not enough and there are major failings. Glaring questions need to be rapidly answered by the Ministry, the Chief Executive and those responsible for the maintenance of the data. Very quickly the Chief Executive must find out what steps can be immediately taken to tighten up the security of M.o.H. systems and equally quickly the M.o.H. system administrators must action those recommendations.

The breach appears to affect the lower North Island, particularly people in Wellington, Kapiti CoastĀ  and Wairarapa. 648,000 are thought to be affected, but given the data goes back over a decade and includes people who have deceased, the number of affected patients might be close to 1 million people.

Ministry of Health have to own this incident. If they cannot, Chief Executive Martin Hefford should hand his resignation in, for it was his responsibility to make sure M.o.H. had the correct procedures and personnel.

New Zealanders should be short onĀ  patience with Government agencies treating cyber security so poorly as to let this happen. But I have the feeling that after a brief burst of indignation, people will merely shrug their shoulders and life will carry own as if it never happened. The agencies will heave a sigh of relief and say “we got through that one – I am sure we will be fine in the future”, instead of holding those who failed in their roles to account.

It is this kind of resigned behaviour, touched with a bit of “She’ll be right”, implying things will sort themselves out instead of New Zealanders ensuring that the situation before them improves that prevents this nation getting better. We can be a lot better at these issues, but until we start dragging officials over the coals for indiscretions there will not be any progress.