by David Clendon
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.