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.

Three strikes law on its third strike

Minister of Justice Andrew Little has announced his intention to scrap the notorious “Three Strikes” legislation in New Zealand that was introduced by the previous National-led Government. The law change, which is intended to address the soaring rate of incarceration in New Zealand, has been met with a guarded response with some wondering what would replace it; others bemoaning its impending demise; still more quietly welcoming it.

And almost immediately, the National Party announced that it would immediately reinstate any such laws, immediately showing a classic case of reactionary politics, whilst failing to supply an adequate explanation.

I personally support the repeal. When I first heard about it just before the 2008 election, I thought such sentencing power would make prisoners think twice for committing their offences. A decade later and I have swung 180Âș and concluded that it needs to go.

For example let us suppose a person was involved in a car jacking and then an armed robbery, within a short space of time. Several years later during which time no other criminal activity happens Person A is caught breaking into a car. Because of his prior offences Person A is immediately sentenced to 25 years jail. Such a case happened one time a couple of decades ago in Washington State, where

Whilst on the count of two violent crimes and a lesser crime Person A should have already gone to jail, sending Person A to jail for 25 years using the third crime as a trigger is disproportionately severe. Why? Because thousands of cars are stolen every year and many of the perpetrators are not caught. But also a relatively minor crime does not justify occupying a prison cell for 25 years – save that for a murderer, or some other serious offender. Reparation to the victim, plus paying for any damage repairs and a month in home detention should be adequate.

At the other end of the scale, one might argue that due to a well noted inability and/or unwillingness of the judges of New Zealand to send criminals to jail and having a Parole Board that often makes incorrect decisions, does not assist the course of justice. New Zealand judges are notorious for making weak judgements in cases where either a top of the range fine and/or a lengthy spell in prison was the expectation of the New Zealand public when they examine the case.

There are good reasons to replace the Three Strikes law in New Zealand.

  1. The evidence from overseas is that it does not work – assaults in some places have increased because prisoners doing mandatory life prison time for serious offences know they are going to be in jail for the rest of their lives, so what do they have to lose from attacking a police officer or prison warden?
  2. The judge is supposed to be the one exercising discretion in the court house – how is making them hand down a mandatory life sentence for a third serious offence when reasonable law might justify only 10 years jail?
  3. Why are we copying the United States? Since when did American criminal law work effectively in New Zealand – Three Strikes is a quintessential American law. What is so hard about New Zealand law written by and for New Zealanders?
  4. The cost! We cannot afford a multi-billion dollar mega prison when the way the law is currently structured the rate of jailing is at an all time high.

So, I welcome Mr Little’s announcement. However I think I fit in best with the group of New Zealanders wondering what would replace it. Simply repealing it because it is an A.C.T. Party piece of legislation  is not enough and smacks of ideology. But will Mr Little enact the necessary wider ranging reform that is needed? It remains to be seen.

Meth houses not so methed up as New Zealand thinks

A report into how New Zealand houses are tested for methamphetamine has delivered some stunning results. For years it has been thought that a house contaminated with methamphetamine would need to be gutted and everything in it thrown out. But, with the report suggesting that those in the methamphetamine testing and clean up industry knowing that the houses were safe all along, it is either game over for the industry or time for a complete overhaul of how it works.

The results are stunning. The Government Chief Scientist Peter Gluckman’s report has found no evidence that there is any third hand risk to tenants in houses where methamphetamine has been consumed. In the years that this has been known, but not admitted, possibly several thousand houses in New Zealand that could have been used for housing some of our neediest and most vulnerable people have been unnecessarily off limits, pending gutting or complete demolition. It has been suggested that there may be as many as 670 houses that are actually not contaminated by methamphetamine in the perceived way that led to them being shut down.

Not suprisingly advocates for tenants evicted as a result of the methamphetamine are insisting on compensation. Their reasoning stems from the fact that the tenants would have lost their possessions in being forced to move out from contaminated property and are therefore justified in seeking some sort of reparation.

The financial cost of getting a house tested is just the start. A basic test to determine whether methamphetamine has used in the house might set one back $200. Depending on the materials used in the houses construction and decoration it might cost anywhere between $7,500 and $40,000 to get the methamphetamine removed from any suspect houses.

But from whom will this reparation come? The Government has already suggested that it will not be offering any – a standpoint that I think may be challenged in a court of law in good time. The methamphetamine testing industry may have suffered a fatal blow with this report, which insiders admitted they knew was going to come sooner or later and that many were aware that the testing regime had set a very low threshhold.

So, who is to blame for the lack of oversight that might have prevented this happening in the first place? Judith Collins, National spokesperson for Housing says that the previous Government was acting on advice from experts familiar with methamphetamine. Yet when interviewed on Breakfast by Jack Tame, Ms Collins said she did not know who these experts were. Ms Collins also said that many agencies used the information supplied to make decisions and the decisions made at the time were justified on the basis that if one supposed that it had been ignored and risk turned out to be true, then the conversation would be about negligence.

Negligence or not, the testing industry needs to be held to account before it can be trusted to do any more work.


Ghahraman not misleading public

Today it has emerged that Green List Member of Parliament Golriz Ghahraman allegedly defended suspected participants in the Rwandan Genocide. It also emerged that in the reaction to this news, there are a frighteningly large number of people who either cannot or will not understand that defendants in court cases – big or small – have a right to a fair trial just like anyone else.

Not surprisingly the right-leaning commentators are jumping up and down. On articles on Facebook about this story, there have been people calling for Ms Ghahraman to resign. Others have suggested she should go back to Iran. Many of them I think have a thinly disguised contempt for an Iranian-New Zealand woman who has fled persecution and managed to build a successful life in New Zealand and established herself as a respectable person in the legal circuit. The accusations that she cleaned her Wikipedia article are not surprising in the least as anyone can try to amend it and sometimes information is put up that is not from a verified source. If Ms Ghahraman actually did do that, she did it at her own discretion and would have known full well the ramifications just like any other educated person attempting such an act.

The outrage that has been spouting on Facebook seems rather misplaced as well. It is almost as if it is some sort of unpardonable offence to be on the defence team for person accused of activities of a genocidal nature. It is almost as if ensuring that the accused bad guys are somehow not entitled by the reckoning of these commentators to a fair trial like any other human being is.

Where is the justice if for the victims if the accused are not put to trial so they can defend themselves and let the jury in a court of law determine whether or not they are guilty? Would these people prefer that an innocent person is found guilty by flimsy association whilst the ones who carried the mass murders, the rapes, the mutilation and everything else that went on continues on their not so merry way?

Ms Ghahraman would have seen injustice in her time in Iran and possibly in New Zealand as well. She might have seen criminals getting off free and continuing their crimes because the victims were too scared to come forward, particularly if the perpetrator was in some sort of position of power at the time of the offences. Who wins then? Not the victims. But nor do they win if an innocent person is tried, convicted and punished for something they did not do.

Sometimes third world countries are not suitable locations to have the trials of suspected war criminals or genocide participants. It may be because the country is still too unstable and a trial might open up wounds that are just starting to heal. It might be that the local judiciary is not in a position to carry out its responsibilities or not.

But does that mean Ms Ghahraman should be ashamed of defending a person who was later convicted? No. As a lawyer involved in a trial if you are not on the prosecution you will be on the defence. It would have been good experience for her and as long as she does the job to the honest best of her ability, conducts herself in a professional manner and complies with any court protocols, then I have two words and two words only: WELL DONE.

Is the Harvey Weinstein case the catalyst needed for abuse survivors?

Angelina Jolie. Anna Paquin. Allegedly sexually abused at the hands of Harvey Weinstein. The Hollywood producer best known for a range of films such as Kill Bill Vol. 3 and Teaching Mrs Tingle has been accused of abusing actors working with him on films.

Mr Weinstein is finished. Even if he is found to be totally innocent and that all of these ladies who have come forward and said he molested them are shown to be wrong, it will destroy him and his career. His company has fired him, which tells me they are taking the allegations seriously. Mr Weinstein is being investigated for 5 separate allegations of sexual misconduct and has now got a total of 40 accusers arrayed against him.

But here is the thing. Granted nothing has yet been proven the number of ladies from Hollywood and elsewhere coming forward and saying that Harvey Weinstein harassed them whilst working with him, are too many and too credible to be dismissed. None of these ladies as far as I can gather is out for money or revenge. They are simply coming forward because a social change is happening – the New York Times expose has done the job it was intended to do. It has shone a light into one of Hollywoods darkest spots and women are coming forward. A threshhold where women are simply standing up and saying “no more – he hurt me, like he hurt others and I am not standing for it”.

We need to give these ladies a fair chance to prove their allegations. We need a fair chance for any others who have been abused to come forward and say so, to tell the police – if they are prepared to go that far – and let the world know the real scale of Mr Weinstein’s offending.

But there are two huge flaws here. Mr Weinstein has completely denied all of the allegations. He has checked himself into his own luxury rehabilitation unit, which is not a good sign as it most probably has none of the parameters of a successful unit. And he is likely to be using his own money to fund it, meaning he has a degree of control over what he does and does not do in terms of recommended treatment. He could even simply pay off the employees.

Will Harvey Weinstein’s troubles be the catalyst for women across all professions to come forward and say they were abused? As horrible as the suggestion is, lets hope so. Lets get a true measure of the magnitude of the problem. Let us stop denying this goes on. We know it does

But let us go one step further. Men have been abused as well. Their numbers are unknown at this this point and this may have to do with the extreme stigma attached with coming forward and the lack of social assistance dealing with the mental consequences – it might have happened decades ago, but the memories might as clear as if the offending had just happened.

Let us stop beating about the bush. We have a sexual abuse crisis in New Zealand as well and we need to acknowledge it. We need to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice. If there are perpetrators of the dastardly types of crimes that Mr Weinstein has been accused of in New Zealand industries, they need to be ferreted out and brought to justice. The abuse survivors who had the horror of working with these people deserve nothing less.