Never mind the facts, give us an opinion!

It seems the Far-From-Sensible Sentencing Trust is getting set to launch into another round of tub-thumping about how we are all too soft on crime; let’s lock ‘em up and throw away the key before we’re all murdered in our beds; it’s a jungle out there; etc, etc.

Apparently they commissioned some research in May “…on a range of issues pertinent to the Trust”, and have now sent a letter to all MPs because ” …[the Trust] now have a poll about crime in New Zealand and are interested in [MP's] opinions”.

The first question asks if prison sentences for violent crimes in NZ are too short, about right, or too long.  Now I’m not sure how many MPs keep a careful track of what sentences are being handed down for violent crimes, the circumstances of each case, and read the full judgement, but I would have thought that level of detailed understanding would be necessary to form a view.  But I guess we can all have ‘an opinion’  based on what we hear on talkback radio or at parties.

The next question asks if the level of violent crime in NZ is getting worse, about the same, or getting better.  Putting aside niggly queries like whether they are  asking about frequency or intensity,  the ‘level’ of crime of any sort is a matter of fact rather than of opinion.  The police and the courts do record such things, after all.  There is also the point that an increase in reported crime, violent or otherwise, can sometimes be a good thing, indicating that people are less inclined to turn a blind eye.

We are asked for an opinion as to whether ‘…punishments given for Youth Offending such as graffiti, vandalism and petty theft [are] too soft, about right, or too hard’.  Again, this assumes a level of knowledge and an associated ability to make informed judgements,  as per their first question.

We are also asked for an opinion as to whether multiple sentences should be cumulative or served consecutively, and whether ‘DNA [should] be recorded for any person arrested for a crime’.  I assume they mean ‘every’ person, though I’m not sure what value there would be in taking a DNA sample from an accountant charged with fraudulent use of a document, or a company director responsible for an illegal prospectus.

You’ve probably worked out by now that I won’t be responding to the Trust’s questionnaire.  It is a foolish piece of pseudo – research, and no doubt the conclusions / headlines they endeavour to extract from it will be equally foolish.

If you want to read some useful and well founded research into the causes of crime in New Zealand, and some practical and thoughtful proposals about how to make our communities safer by reducing the incidence of crime and recidivism, have a look at Robson Hanan Trust,  the Prison Fellowship NZ , or even the Ministry of Justice

The causes of crime are complex and multi-faceted, and need to be addressed on many fronts by  public and community agencies working in a coordinated fashion.  Cheap slogans and uninformed ‘opinions’ offer nothing of value or substance, and should be treated accordingly.

7 thoughts on “Never mind the facts, give us an opinion!

  1. I’m not sure what value there would be in taking a DNA sample from an accountant charged with fraudulent use of a document

    But for a lawyer charged with passport fraud, it might be useful to make sure they don’t spring up again as a member of the SST and ACT MP.

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  2. I think we need to simplify the justice system with set punishments (make them public and televise them, eventually people will think twice before commiting crimes).

    Here is a taster.

    Murder (public hanging)
    Rape (1st offence remove balls, 2nd remove the bat)
    Assault (public flogging)
    Fraud (public flogging)
    Drink Driving (public flogging)
    Theft, Grafitti, Burglary (cut off finger 1st offence, hand for 2nd)

    Seriously lets get brutal to the point where committing a crime would be unthinkable, and if people choose to keep doing it then its to their own peril.

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  3. If length of incarceration is decided on the impact to victims or the number of victims of a crime, then we would have the likes of the Bridgecorp Director, Rod Petricevic, jailed for eternity. He is still attempting to get legal aid http://m.nbr.co.nz/article/petricevic-trial-bridgecorp-ja-p-96982 and is appearing in court unshaven. Considering the extent of the damage and lives wrecked caused by white collar crime I would have thought the Sensible Sentencing Trust should be concentrating on these criminals instead of going after the already disadvantaged in society. I wonder how many are in prison now for victimless crimes or crime caused through poverty or lack of support when young?

    Rod Petricevic committed his crimes in a callous, planned and calculated way and there are many people like him who have amassed millions through defrauding innocent, ordinary New Zealanders. Most have not had to pay at all for their crimes and are continuing to survive using similar practices. Meanwhile because of a lack of education, sensible alcohol legislation and well paid jobs we have to pay $91,000 a year to have large numbers of angry young people locked away.

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  4. If this Govt. was serious about ‘sensible sentencing’ they would at least have read the Law Comm. drug review prior to announcing “no drug law reform”. Instead they continue legislation that may still see people locked up for cannabis possession or medicinal use.
    I wonder whether its just part of their plans to privatize the prison system ? More prisoners.. MORE PROFITS !! Kia-ora

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  5. The SST want ‘ACTION!’ – which is good. Something has got to change in our society/ culture re crime. BUT the future result of actions they seek don’t address the root of offending or preventative/ corrective measures to reduce future offending.

    Yes typically a victim’s family want to avenge serious crime with the locking up/ throwing key scenario. But that’s no solution.

    If we aren’t trying to mend broken people and restore the potential they were born with, then the consequence alone (punishment) is wasted. (And ultimately their lives.)

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  6. @nzmr2guy
    Your list is fine, but you missed an important endorsement.
    In the case of a wrongful conviction the judge, prosecutors and lawyers will receive the same punishment as was handed down to the (falsely) convicted.

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