Three Strikes Debate

The Herald reports:

The Government’s revised “” bill is estimated to cover more than five times as many criminals as the original legislation, significantly widening it from the original target of the “worst of the worst” offenders.

The issue was highlighted in a Maxim Institute-sponsored lecture at Victoria University in Wellington by Auckland University professor Warren Brookbanks and law lecturer Richard Ekins.

It’s good to have debate on this, as people should be aware of what the law will do.

For my part it would be nice to have a focus on how many victims would have not been killed, raped, assaulted or robbed if this law had been in force for the last decade, not just a focus on how many offenders will have been affected.

The Sentencing and Parole Reform Bill, now before Parliament, would set up a warning and sentencing system for anyone convicted for one of 40 qualifying offences deemed to be serious violent or sexual crimes.

Strike one would be a normal sentence and a warning; strike two would be a sentence without parole; strike three would be the maximum sentence for that offence, without parole.

The original bill held that a conviction counted as a strike for a violent offence where the sentence was five years or more.

The initial proposal called for an extra 132 prison beds in the next 50 years; the new one is estimated to require 725 beds.

Personally I’m comfortable with that. The original proposal would have affected well less than a dozen criminals a year.

I don’t think we have a high number of criminals in this country. We just have a number of criminals, who commit a high number of crimes each. And having a rotating door policy where they are in and out of prison after not just their third serious offence, but sometimes their 100th offence needs to come to an end.

Professor Brookbanks said that “qualifying offences” was a much lower test, as it applied to convictions for certain offences regardless of how serious or trivial they were.

“The shift from qualifying sentence to qualifying conviction radically widens the scope, bringing far more offenders into the scheme,” he said.

Yes it does, deliberately. The old scheme would have had little deterrence value in my opinion. The good feature of this new scheme is certainty (and remember certainty of being caught is one of the biggest deterrences to crime) of sentence.

If you have had two previous strikes, you have had a Judge in court tell you to your face that if you commit another serious offence, you will get the maximum sentence for that crime with no parole. There is basically no chance of getting 12 months jail, and out in six. You will get a sentence of (generally) at least seven years with no parole for your next serious offence.

He said that with no incentive to plead guilty to a strike-three charge, there would be more trials and appeals, which would be more stressful for victims and see court costs rise – a point raised by Labour critics.

A fair point, but how many defendants facing a third serious criminal charge, do plead guilty? Give us some hard numbers.

But as I said, the numbers I really want to see is how many fewer victims of crime there would have been, if this had been the law up until now. How many crimes have been committee by criminals after they have had a third serious offence conviction, during the period they would have served if given the maximum sentence?

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