Guest Post: Intervention needs to come before the first strike

January 31st, 2011 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

A guest post from Rex Widerstrom, carrying on the debate:

Thanks to David Garrett’s “three strikes” law, New Zealand now has a razor-wire enclosure waiting at the bottom of the cliff for anyone who commits three serious offences. The concept is sold as being based on deterrence; not only will the offender on their first or second strike stop and think before offending again but other would-be criminals will not escalate from the minor to the major leagues.

The problem is, deterrence isn’t effective. If it was, then the ultimate deterrent – the death penalty – would see those US states which practice it free of those crimes for which make an offender eligible to be executed. Or at the very least, ensure that the prevalence of those offences was less than in jurisdictions where a lethal injection didn’t await the offender. But statistics tell us it doesn’t.

Anyone who’s spent any time working with offenders – particularly those who commit “nuisance” offences such as vandalism and stealing and those prone to violence – knows that they generally lack a certain capacity to reason. For anyone to claim that such a person stands, spray can or baseball bat in hand, and considers the potential consequences of their offending is either naive, deceived, or lying.

Such a person isn’t considering the effect of their offending on their mother, father, siblings, girl or boyfriend, wife, husband, sometimes children. If they don’t care about the people who should be most precious in their lives only the most deluded theorist would posit that they will care about society’s response, even if that is in the form of a very long prison sentence.

The Three Strikes law will be “successful” in its aim of locking away for lengthy periods those guilty of the worst sort of crimes (it’ll also trap a few who really shouldn’t face such a penalty, though NZ’s law is far better at avoid this than, say, California’s). But implicit in its functioning is the acceptance that at least three – and, in reality, many more – victims will first have to suffer.

We didn’t – we don’t – need that razor wire enclosure beneath a cliff littered with vandalised and stolen property and broken and traumatised victims. We need a cattle race at the top, directing someone who’s shown the propensity to embark on a cycle of offending into a life that offers them an alternative.

While I’m uneasy at the thought of privately run “boot camps” – with their inherent potential for various forms of abuse if the operator is unsuitable – I have no such reservations about the NZ Army’s Limited Service Volunteers program.

The latest group of graduates have described how the program turned their lives around, with one saying:

I was smoking a lot of P, drinking every day and doing heaps of burglaries and hanging out with the wrong people. Getting money to pay for drugs was my life.

“Before I didn’t care about anything, I didn’t listen to anyone, but I was a follower, not a leader…

“[The course] changed my life heaps. I’m a lot more self-motivated, I’ve dumped my old friends and I don’t even put my hands in my pockets any more because I’m not used to it.”

Sound familiar? It does to anyone working in the youth justice field. The young man quoted is described in the article as having been “put on the LSV course by Work and Income as an alternative to a jail sentence”. Presumably – unless the judiciary have abdicated their responsibility – a court was involved at some point.

The LSV program takes young people aged 17 to 25. What’s desperately needed is something for even younger offenders; the current legislatively enshrined inability of the courts to deal “harshly” with child offenders in turn ensures a ready cohort of 17 year old candidates who would benefit from LSV. We have Sea Scouts and Cadet Corps and the ATC – expand them to provide a “junior LSV”, perhaps non-residential, for offenders under 17. And while we’re at it, create an army program for those over 25 as well.

Of course the army approach isn’t the optimum for every offender. We also need to get creative and give our courts more sentencing options like this one, not less as “three strikes” does. I know of one Magistrate in WA who’s not averse to sentencing offenders to Buddhist meditation; and for the few he picks, it actually works.

There are those who work with me in civil rights and criminal justice who’ll be horrified by my advocacy of a spell in the army for many offenders. But I’m tired of debating theoretical perspectives and other people’s prejudices: I’m interested in what works to decrease the number of victims and stops the greatest number of young offenders going on to become what used to be called “old lags”, and LSV does – of the 114 people from the Lower North Island who took part in October, only 29 didn’t successfully complete it (mainly due to injury) and those that did are now all on courses or employed.

While some people already inured to a life of crime will undoubtedly go on causing harm till they reach their third strike, wouldn’t it be great if this election a political party came out with a justice policy that aimed to prevent the creation of new offenders and new victims, rather than futilely boasting how harshly they’ll punish the people on whom they’ve given up?

For my 2c, I support both rehabilitation and early intervention as Rex advocates plus three strikes. We should do whatever we can (within reason) to turn people away from crime. But only some criminals are suspectible to “going straight”, and for those who will not give up on a life of violence, I want the three strikes law in place to stop their victim count from getting even larger.

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56 Responses to “Guest Post: Intervention needs to come before the first strike”

  1. Gooner (995 comments) says:

    DPF is correct, we need both early intervention and three strikes.

    Burton, Bell et al are deserving of nothing more than a prison cell and no sunlight. You cannot turn them around; not in their youth, not ever.

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  2. hj (7,031 comments) says:

    “The problem is, deterrence isn’t effective. If it was, then the ultimate deterrent – the death penalty – would see those US states which practice it free of those crimes for which make an offender eligible to be executed. Or at the very least, ensure that the prevalence of those offences was less than in jurisdictions where a lethal injection didn’t await the offender. But statistics tell us it doesn’t.”

    I’m not sure that proves that deterrence isn’t effective. First we need to establish the degree to which offenders calculate for different types of criminal activity. I.e I’m picking that you could find examples that run the other way for the bulk of crime.

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  3. Mr Nobody NZ (391 comments) says:

    My experience while working for WINZ is that the LSV program is as described by Rex a very efficient program however its weakest point is when its participants go back to their old environments. Unless there is something (work/course etc) waiting for them to go immediately into upon their return many participants over time will loose their newly acquired motivation and simply return their old habits.

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  4. kowtow (8,512 comments) says:

    In a society that has a positive philosophy and healthy outlook,a belief in itself and strong families you wouldn’t need “early intervention”.

    New Zealand once had that . It’s actually common bloody sense.

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  5. db (22 comments) says:

    Turning most criminals around is easy. It just takes a lot of money and resources. That is hard. As long as people are not prepared to pay the bills, they will not be able to solve the problem. Setting up long-term programs requiring long-term investment and only yielding major results long after a sitting government’s time has passed, doesn’t have much appeal to short-term politicians. Much easier to build another jail and immediately fill it up. Now that’s a short-term solution everyone can see!

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  6. scrubone (3,099 comments) says:

    I have this sneaking suspicion that most people agree on how to treat criminals. It’s just that different groups focus on the “bad” and other focus on the first time offender who simply needs guidance. I attended a Prison Fellowship meeting a few months back where the first part of the presentation seemed to me to be just what the SST would say (well, mostly).

    Trouble is in the market place of ideas things have a tendency to get simplified a bit too much. Prison is also a very unsatisfactory default punishment.

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  7. scrubone (3,099 comments) says:

    As for deterrents, yes ultimately there are always people they don’t work on and people who argue that they don’t work at all.

    But if you think only “positive reinforcement” should be used, go read Winston Smith’s blog. winstonsmith33.blogspot.com

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  8. rouppe (971 comments) says:

    My experience of the ATC (in Rotorua in the 1970’s) was that it was run by civilians, not even territorial officers.

    The ‘camps’ were piss-ups. There was a high level of bullying and very little leadership on display. Based on that I wouldn’t recommend the ATC as an interventionist agency. It doesn’t have the professionalism.

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  9. ben (2,380 comments) says:

    Rex, to your credit what you are saying is testable: we’ll be able to see whether three strikes does translate to less crime in the affected categories. We’ll know about two years from now. If it does have the desired effect contrary to your theory here, then I look forward to your retraction.

    The problem is, deterrence isn’t effective. If it was, then the ultimate deterrent – the death penalty – would see those US states which practice it free of those crimes for which make an offender eligible to be executed. Or at the very least, ensure that the prevalence of those offences was less than in jurisdictions where a lethal injection didn’t await the offender. But statistics tell us it doesn’t.

    This reasoning is badly faulty. Deterrence does not imply 100% effectiveness. A 5% or 1% reduction is still deterrence. And actually there is still a great deal of controversy about whether death penalty does deter crime. You could at least acknowledge that controversy, if you are familiar with the literature that is. If you’re not, then why are you posting?

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  10. GPT1 (2,122 comments) says:

    Good post, too much reasoned argument to really invoke lots of comments.

    I agree there are certain criminals, for whatever reason, that are simply too dangerous to let out. That should be judged on a case by case basis not this arbitrary nonsense.

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  11. Pete George (23,591 comments) says:

    I agree it’s hard to argue with much in this, but it’s also hard to see much changing. More prison = easy vote catcher.

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  12. nadir (98 comments) says:

    Agree with most of Rex’s opinion, as I think the vast majority of kiwis do. However, the deterrence argument is a bit of a furphy. You can actually prove it is 100% effective. For instance if you lock up Graeme Burton for the rest of his life you have very effectively deterred HIM from preying on members of the public ever again. Heavy penalties are necessary for the small number of offenders who are irredeemably bad bastards. Some people are beyond redemption. There may be quibbles about three strikes – and some of the Californian examples are clearly overly punitive – but there is a place for getting those irredeemable bastards off the streets until they can exist in society without preying on the weak.

    Lack of self discipline, lack of self control, lack of self worth see to be the root cause of many starting into offending – arming youth with education, a sense of self worth and a job would solve a lot of these issues, so there is definitely merit in military style training as one part of a solution. But the three strikes policy resonates with NZ’ers – give people a chance at the front end but if they choose not to be part of society, lock em up.

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  13. berend (1,709 comments) says:

    Wake me up when Rex starts giving as many words to victims. His concern is only with the criminals. But victims are faceless, rightless, and dead at the bottom of the cliff.

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  14. Rex Widerstrom (5,354 comments) says:

    Berend:

    Get off your high horse and stop misrepresenting me. Creating less offenders (which is what this post is about – there’s nothing in there about what do do with the existing cohort of recidivists) in turn creates less victims. That’s the point. Unless you think criminals have a union that agrees on a victim quota for the year, and if we stop more people joining the union, the poor sods that are left will need to work twice as hard?

    Gooner:

    Burton, Bell et al are deserving of nothing more than a prison cell and no sunlight. You cannot turn them around; not in their youth, not ever.

    Did you know them in their youth, or do have you read any profiles on them that explain what they were like as youths? I haven’t, so I’m not asking that to pick a fight. It may be they showed early signs of psychopathology and ought to have been indefinitely sent to a secure mental hospital much sooner (before the creation of so many victims). But first we’d need to shrug off the politically correct nonsense that closed down such facilities just because some of their inmates didn’t belong there, rather than tightening up the criteria for admission.

    I’d also point out that it’s probable Burton, Bell et al will spend the rest of their lives in a cell, all without three strikes – which would have condoned three serious offences by each of them.

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  15. Rex Widerstrom (5,354 comments) says:

    Just a note to alert those interested in this and other polarising debates.

    The BBC is running a series called “Extreme World” which looks at things ranging from corruption to dying to (uh oh… watch out General Debate!) God. One of the topics will be crime – whether punishment works better than rehabilitation, the basis for both beliefs and so on. It’s online, on radio and TV so most of it should be accessible in NZ.

    Might be worth those of you with strong views one way or the other engaging in the debate.

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  16. voltaire (40 comments) says:

    As a serving ATC Officer I am at a lost to explain Rouppe’s comments about the Air Training Corps certainly today there is no possibility of the ATC, Cadet Corps and or Sea Cadet Corps being associated with alcohol bulllying etc. Insofar as being interventionist, the NZ Cadet Corps offers a three year training programme for young people 13 to 18, membership is purely voluntary and I have seen direct evidence of young people’s lives being turned around through the opportunities the Corps offers. That said I do not believe that “compulsory” membership would work given the all volunteer nature of the organisation (both Officers and Cadets) for more info http://www.airtrainingcorpsnz.org.nz/

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  17. big bruv (13,923 comments) says:

    Yawn……so Rex wants us to cuddle criminal scum.

    Did we really need a guest post to tell us what we already knew?

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  18. nasska (11,575 comments) says:

    Rex – excellent article which provokes thought. I definitely agree that three strikes is too punitive for young offenders but by the time someone, even a career criminal, qualifies for the third strike they’ll be adults & should be well aware of the old saying “if you can’t do the time then don’t do the crime”. It is my personal opinion that prison should be reserved for violent recidivist criminals.

    Prison seldom rehabilitates, the retributive effect only benefits the immediate victims BUT at least when violent serial offenders are locked up society is a little safer for the duration of their sentence.

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  19. magic bullet (776 comments) says:

    Yeah – spend $100,000 per year to keep a person idle in prison, not $25,000 a year helping them to become a beneficial member of society. That’s what we do. It’s insane. You people want more insanity. No surprise there.

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  20. big bruv (13,923 comments) says:

    magic bullet

    The “insanity” is the soft on crime approach we have been suffering under for the past thirty years, the progressive way of dealing with crime has failed miserably and yet people like you and Rex want to go even softer on criminal scum.

    It is time that you people admitted your way does not work and get the hell out of the road, another approach is needed, one that has a goal of keeping the law abiding members of our society safe and the needs of the victim as its number one priorities, the needs of the criminal should and must remain last on the list.

    BTW…the argument about money does not wash, it is pushed by people like you and Rex as a justification for soft sentencing, I do happen to agree that spending $100,000 a year on a criminal is ridiculous, we can and we should greatly reduce that cost.
    We should immediately remove all recreation facilities for criminals, all creature comforts, enforce hard labour and feed them only the most basic food groups, with decent management we should be able to get that cost down to around $20,000 a year or less.

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  21. magic bullet (776 comments) says:

    bruv – you’re a right wing reactionary, and the depth of your thinking reveals that. The truth is that our economy is designed so that it throws a good 10% of its inhabitants on the scrap-heap. At the moment, NZ is a snake, that’s slowly devouring its own tail in a confused rage. bruv only wants to ratchet up the mania. oh well. What can you do with the ineducable?

    Many young criminals that i know simply have no self-respect and have never received any respect from any decent role-models. They feel “thrown away” by society, and most of the time they have been.

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  22. Rex Widerstrom (5,354 comments) says:

    big bruv asserts:

    people like you and Rex want to go even softer on criminal scum.

    1. Where do I refer to the way in which “criminal scum” (by which I presume you mean violent, and possibly repeat) offenders ought to be treated? The post is about youth who aren’t much more than bloody nuisances (the young man in the story tells of doing “heaps of burglaries” not “heaps of rapes and murders”).

    2. The point of the post is how we might stop these bloody nuisances from escalating their offending so that, eventually, they start committing “strike” offences. That’s neither soft nor hard, it’s just an aim. Or is it one you don’t agree with?

    3. My solution (or at least a large part of it) is the successful LSV program – basically, a spell in the army. I’m sure those who are serving in our armed forces will be delighted to learn they’re being “cuddled”.

    Seriously, did you even read the post? Redbaiter is rarely someone I’d turn to for a quote, but it does sound like you spend all day listening to – and regurgitating the opinions of – former kiddy show host Danny Watson. I’ll start paying attention to him when the debate is about whether What Now was better than Spot On.

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  23. nasska (11,575 comments) says:

    magic bullet @ 5.54pm

    If $25K is the price of turning around a young person’s life & setting them up to integrate with society it’s a bargain & you’ve got my vote. I don’t think anyone on this forum is advocating Californian like punishment for teens.

    If however someone is still committing serious crimes 15-20 years down the track then in my opinion they are either mad or bad & society is a better place without them. If money is to be a consideration what is the cost of the victim of a rape or aggravated assault? Surely they deserve better than being written off as collateral damage in the battle for a criminal’s rehabilitation.

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  24. dad4justice (8,238 comments) says:

    big bruv for the sake of sanity can’t you see what Rex is saying is not soft on crime but building wayward youth self-esteem levels. I enjoyed my stint in the New Zealand territorial force so can they. As you know I help within the justice system and regularly give advice for falsely accused fathers in prison. Look forget that but I see many young dudes with no hope in life while working at the prison. They say life sucks bro. I say give them a dose of army training. Left right left etc…. No doubt you’ll abuse the fuck out of me but the current system is not working ask any screw! Turn ( even the worse of the worse) scum into something useful which will save the taxpayer millions. I don’t expect you top understand a word of what I have said. Good post Rex

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  25. Rex Widerstrom (5,354 comments) says:

    big bruv:

    the argument about money does not wash, it is pushed by people like you and Rex as a justification for soft sentencing, I do happen to agree that spending $100,000 a year on a criminal is ridiculous, we can and we should greatly reduce that cost.
    We should immediately remove all recreation facilities for criminals, all creature comforts, enforce hard labour and feed them only the most basic food groups, with decent management we should be able to get that cost down to around $20,000 a year or less.

    I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Read the Department of Corrections’ Annual Report which list their various outputs. Then find me the “Sky TV subscriptions” reference.

    Removing recreational facilities… so you’re suggesting we pay to plough up the footy field, and throw the weights and other gym equipment out? They’re assets, not expenditure; you won’t find “personal trainers” under the Department’s operating expenses either.

    Like any organisation providing a service (to the taxpayer, I mean) the most significant cost of the Department is people. So you’re advocating sacking prison officers? Reducing their numbers and thus the ratio per prisoner, making those that are left on the job more vulnerable?

    If you want to save money on prisons, bruv, you’re going to have to close some… and even I’m not advocating that; at least until we have deterred enough young offenders from progressing up the criminal career ladder so we no longer need so many prisons.

    dad4justice:

    Well said. And thanks. I had a mate in the Territorials. How can anyone call that training “cuddling”?! I’d like to see BB give it a try… it’d knacker me, I admit.

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  26. dad4justice (8,238 comments) says:

    big bruv wants more locked up Rex, he is far too thick to ever understand the huge cost to the New Zealand taxpayer.

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  27. big bruv (13,923 comments) says:

    magic bullet

    You are a liberal hand wringer, liberal hand wringers are a massive part of the problem.

    No doubt you sit in your nice leafy suburb sipping on a glass of wine of an evening worrying about the plight of the criminal, the plight of the victim does not cross your mind.

    I would wager that you have never lived in that part of society, the part where you do make sure that all your doors and windows are locked at night, the part where you walk in the door every evening hoping that today is not the day you have been burgled AGAIN, the part of society who does not have to worry about being assaulted on your way to the dairy at night.

    Frankly your type make me sick, to you people like Susan Couch are annoying, they are the fly in the ointment, the living breathing face of what life is like for the victims of crime, I suspect you would find it a damn more convenient for your liberal views if the Susan Couches of this world just quietly passed away.

    You claim that 10% of our society is on the scrap heap by design, the very fact that you believe that crap backs up everything I have said previously in this comment, nobody is forcing scum to commit crimes, nobody is forcing people to steal and rob, criminals scum make a conscious decision about what they intend to do and people like you keep making excuses for them.

    People like you (and Rex) are happy to play russian roulette with other peoples lives, because you are highly unlikely to ever come across a recidivist criminal or an anti social piece of shit it is no skin off your nose, you want to give these people a second, third and fourth chance to change, meanwhile some poor bastard becomes one of those awful inconveniences for your liberal views, some poor bastard becomes the victim of a crime.

    Oh…and one more thing, you can call me what ever you like, a right wing reactionary is fine with me, the very fact that you have resorted to name calling so early in the debate means that you cannot counter the points I have made, the truth of the matter Magic is that your way had failed, it has failed miserably, it is time to get out of the way and let us return to the ways of old, the ways that worked, the ways that kept the law abiding public safe.

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  28. big bruv (13,923 comments) says:

    D4J disagrees with me…

    Now I know I am right.

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  29. dad4justice (8,238 comments) says:

    big bruv you are far from right.

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  30. Johnboy (16,651 comments) says:

    Three strikes is a fine idea Rex it’s just that it should be on their little arses to make them think twice before they decide a life of crime is fun.

    A bloody good beating with the resultant humiliation tends to make most people think twice about their chosen course.

    Worked fine for me at jolly old Scots and seems to do the trick in Singapore.

    I suggest pay your fines or get one stroke of the cane for each $100. Your choice. No allowance for age or sex. :)

    If you decide you are a really tough bastard with an arse of leather who want’s to move on to rape or murder then there is always the death penalty.

    Can’t see a problem at all other than far to many tossers, lawyers and hand wringers putting in their two bobs worth.

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  31. big bruv (13,923 comments) says:

    D4J

    The minute you start yelling for absent fathers, or fathers who are denied access to their children by the courts to pay their child maintenance is the day I will take anything you have to say about the cost to New Zealand tax payer seriously.

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  32. Rex Widerstrom (5,354 comments) says:

    People like you (and Rex) are happy to play russian roulette with other peoples lives, because you are highly unlikely to ever come across a recidivist criminal or an anti social piece of shit it is no skin off your nose

    I don’t know Magic Bullet’s antecedents but I grew up in Wainuiomata; I lived for a couple of years in Manukau; I’ve lived in rough neighbourhoods in Australia; I work almost every day with recidivist criminals, some of whom rely on me for help and could conceivably take rather unkindly the fact that I fail to do so occasionally.

    In the past I’ve been assaulted so badly I couldn’t see for weeks due to the swelling; as well as myriad minor assaults and fights; I’ve been burgled in NZ and in Australia; I’ve had my car broken into – and expensive windows, not covered by insurance, broken – countless times. I’ve had these things and worse happen to friends and loved ones (including one who was randomly shot at while walking down the street in Wainui).

    I want it to stop, by finding ways to stop a minor offender becoming a major one. With the exception of the psychotic, most serious criminals don’t make murder, rape or serious assault their first crime. Get them after the first crime and intervene effectively, and there won’t be any need to offer a second or third chance.

    Where you and I agree is that the methods used to do this in the past have failed. That’s why I’m highlighting the LSV, which actually seems to work.

    Your comments suggest, however, that you’re happy for serious crime to happen and then for the people that do it to be locked up and starved and borderline tortured. So tell me, how does that stop more Susan Couchs from being created?

    As for Magic Bullet’s “name calling”, I’d rather be called a reactionary than portrayed as someone who looks down upon victims. I work closely with victims’ groups and in particular one lady who endured a horrific experience and who you’d do well to listen to before you start imagining you know what victims want.

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  33. Rex Widerstrom (5,354 comments) says:

    Johnboy suggests:

    A bloody good beating with the resultant humiliation tends to make most people think twice about their chosen course.

    Can’t agree about the beating, but I’m with you on the humiliation. A lot of these cocky young thugs who sit through a family group conference smirking and answering in monosyllables secretly wish they could be sent to do a bit of time in a youth institution. That way their mana is increased when they’re released… they’re now an “ex con”.

    Dress them up in an orange jumpsuit and have them picking up litter from the highway shoulders and dog shit from our parks; put them in a pink one and let them scrub off their graffiti and that of their mates; or put them in a nice white one and let them mop the floors and clean the shelves in the stores they robbed from. Then see how attractive and mana-enhancing a series of nuisance crimes looks to them.

    It’s a pity that cop’s experiement (in Wanganui, was it?) with graffiti clean up wasn’t adopted nationwide. They harm the community, they can repay the community, starting with their victims, but not ending there.

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  34. Manolo (13,828 comments) says:

    Isn’t it wonderful to receive lessons in ethics and morality from a socialist do-gooder like magic bullet? Yes, the same Clark-worshipper who stayed silent for all nine years of her regime.

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  35. dad4justice (8,238 comments) says:

    Get off your high horse big blouse you twisted coward. I guess you want prisoners to kill themselves just like journalists who write something you disagree with. You are mad as a hatter! Nobody listens to your insane rhetoric.

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  36. Johnboy (16,651 comments) says:

    I was a cheeky little turd when I was a lad Rex and thanks to the good old school I learned that it bloody HURTS if you want to be a tough bastard and beat on other people. Funnily enough physical violence taught us all that there are other ways of being an utter prick than physical violence if that’s what you want to be. We took that lesson on board.

    Trouble is the world then got all touchy-feely liberal and did away with physical chastisement and told the kids they had rights without teaching them that those rights went hand in hand with responsibilities. Hence the shit we are in now. I see nothing in your above that makes me think you have the answer to the mess we are in today.

    When faced with a disaster I learned a long time ago to go back to first principles. A little physical discipline at an early age is something children understand and it works.

    At no time would I condone the dreadful physical abuse that seems to be the preferred solution to all of life’s problems by the underclasses of NZ.

    But I still believe that for the utter scum that all societies seem to dredge up from time to time ie: Burton etc. Death is the best and most humane/economical solution.

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  37. big bruv (13,923 comments) says:

    Rex

    “Your comments suggest, however, that you’re happy for serious crime to happen and then for the people that do it to be locked up and starved and borderline tortured. So tell me, how does that stop more Susan Couchs from being created?”

    Leaving aside the stupid line about me being happy to see serious crime committed I do wonder if you realise that you have been foisted by your own petard with the rest of your comment.

    Susan Couch would never have been a victim if we had a decent justice system or the three strikes legislation, William Bell had over 100 criminal convictions Rex….OVER 100!!! and yet you and Magic think scum like him could have been saved from a life of crime and a life of inflicting misery on others.

    Where you are right is the bit about them being locked up and near starved, they should be given (not offered) just enough to survive, as for torture, well if being made to work eight hours a day breaking rocks or the like is torture in your world then there is not much I can do about that.
    However, there would be no recreation time, no special cultural activities, no TV, no radio and no reading material, just hard work and plenty of time to think about what they had done and the victims then had created.

    Rex, you and I will never agree on this, we both believe that it is inevitable that a certain part of our society will turn to crime, where we differ is that you want to help them, to make excuses for them where as I want to offer them nothing but abject misery and a long, long time to think about the crimes then have committed.

    I am not interested in spending one cent of my money on rehabilitating these pieces of shit, I want my money spent keeping them locked up for as long as possible and keeping the streets safe for decent law abiding people.

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  38. Michael (910 comments) says:

    There are several “Care and Protection” Units run by CYFs that are supposed to provide residential care away from situations where young people are getting into trouble. Plus there are a number of not for profit organisations that provide similar programmes, some residential, some daytime only. The fundamental flaw with a lot of these programmes is that they often release the child back to the same situation that was getting them into trouble, or just move them to a new place where the same problems occur again.

    From my dealings I have learned that there is little follow up from a lot of these programmes on how the intervention works long term. Although one staffer admited that if they see someone in a residence three times, they are not going to see them again as they will be in prison soon.

    I would suggest that evaluation of these interventions should be the first step – you’ll learn the reason why some programmes work, and why others are a waste of money.

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  39. Rex Widerstrom (5,354 comments) says:

    Johnboy:

    I was very nearly caned at school because I said “yuck” and our Principal thought I’d said “fuck”. Then again when a different Principal thought I was one of a group who’d tossed half the clasroom out onto a mezzanine roof. The first was a genuine mistake. The second, well… he was one of the few Maori Principals of his day and seemed to have a chip on his shoulder, and every “offender” implicated was pakeha.

    Perhaps a couple of strokes wouldn’t have been too bad, but you’re talking the kind of caning they hand out in Singapore. When it gets that serious then it triggers the same opposition I have to the death penalty… too much risk it’s inflicted on an innocent.

    Where you then start talking about parents disciplining their kids etc., I agree with you, and am on record as vociferously opposing Bradford’s law change.

    Big Bruv:

    Nowhere do I suggest Bell, with 100 convictions, ought to have been a candidate for the LSV! Maybe after his first or second offence they could have tried him out on it. If it worked – great, no more victims created by him. If it didn’t – then lock him up. And sooner than they did.

    Michael: Agreed. LSV is one that works, others will too (while others will fail). Let’s pick the good ones, and give courts the option as part of sentencing.

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  40. laworder (292 comments) says:

    I may surprise some people here… by saying that this is an excellent post by Rex, and I find myself largely in agreement with it. About the only quibble I have is that the primary rationale for imprisonment (and therefore three strikes and other such policies) is not deterrence, but incapacitation. As others here have pointed out, psychopaths cannot harm people out in society while they are locked up. There are other considerations such as punishment and rehabilitation, but the punishment aspect is more in order to satisfy society at large so that they do not feel the need to take the law into their own hands, and rehabilitation is something that should ideally be done before prison, rather than in it.

    You will deter some of the offenders some of the time, but this should be regarded as a bonus, not the primary driver for three strikes. I would agree with DPF – we need BOTH Rex’s early intervention policies AND three strikes – why is the argument always about one OR the other? They are not mutually exclusive.

    I am also glad to see Rex and others have recognised the value of shame, humiliation and judgement – the three most powerful behavioural modification tools available, and sadly underused in this and other western countries.

    Regards
    Peter Jenkins
    see http://www.sensiblesentencing.org.nz

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  41. Johnboy (16,651 comments) says:

    “I was very nearly caned at school because I said “yuck” and our Principal thought I’d said “fuck”.

    Thank God a good caning saved you from a life of profanity REX. :)

    I used to like hitting people. Caning stopped that. Never hit anyone since.

    Next time someone really upsets me I will probably shoot them instead of hitting them. :)

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  42. Rex Widerstrom (5,354 comments) says:

    laworder:

    About the only quibble I have is that the primary rationale for imprisonment (and therefore three strikes and other such policies) is not deterrence, but incapacitation.

    Then that’s an argument for locking even the lowest-level offender up for life. Because petty criminals, if left unchecked, often progress to more serious offending. And if we’re going to let them out eventually, then we must change their behaviour or risk more victims being created so while I agree rehabilitation should come into play before prison, it also needs to be practiced within prison. To lock up but not rehabilitate is to merely extend the time on the fuse before the bomb goes off.

    Thanks for your support for the post though, Peter. I’ve long acknowledged that the SST supports “broken windows”, which is why I was disappointed and angry that it wasn’t that which your representative in Parliament, David Garrett, used his “one shot” to get National to agree to. Putting three strikes first seemed to me political cynicism of the worst kind, designed more to promote ACT’s aims (getting elected with redneck support) than the Trust’s (preventing the creation of more victims).

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  43. Pete George (23,591 comments) says:

    How can pressure be applied in this direction? Form a Sensible Prevention Trust? That’s only a semi-cynical suggestion. Preventive rather than punitive is hardly going to generate an anti-S59 level of support. It will cost up front, that’s hardly going to enthuse the bean counters.

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  44. Sean (301 comments) says:

    Violent people with a limited capacity for reason might get sent to jail for a long time.

    Meh…

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  45. GPT1 (2,122 comments) says:

    Dress them up in an orange jumpsuit and have them picking up litter from the highway shoulders and dog shit from our parks; put them in a pink one and let them scrub off their graffiti and that of their mates; or put them in a nice white one and let them mop the floors and clean the shelves in the stores they robbed from. Then see how attractive and mana-enhancing a series of nuisance crimes looks to them.

    Absolutely. Actual deterrence and denounciation – rather than community work that either teaches them to skive (if they turn up at all) or ends up in a welcome to prison mat if they don’t do it. Apparently the pilot was “too harsh” or some such nonsense – couldn’t see the problem in handcuffing non-compliers to the nearest lamp post myself.

    There were a couple of key things about the scheme – it started as punishment but anyone who was prepared to ‘knuckle down’ was given opportunities so could end up in job training type community work and it was a genuine deterrent to the mates of those caught – wearing a pink jump suit rubbing off graffiti took the fun out of it somewhat.

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  46. grumpyoldhori (2,362 comments) says:

    Three strikes why not two, why not make those strikes any crime that one can be sent to jail for ?
    Or might that make sensible sentencing a touch sensitive ?

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  47. Johnboy (16,651 comments) says:

    Couldn’t agree more Grumpy.

    Suggestions of Police corruption by getting disgraced ex cops to access NIA data and use of such data to threaten innocent victims should mean incarceration in one of Judith’s 20 footers for a very long time.

    When are you posting the goods on me then? :)

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  48. Rex Widerstrom (5,354 comments) says:

    Pete George suggests:

    How can pressure be applied in this direction? Form a Sensible Prevention Trust? That’s only a semi-cynical suggestion. Preventive rather than punitive is hardly going to generate an anti-S59 level of support. It will cost up front, that’s hardly going to enthuse the bean counters.

    Actually, a “make the little snotrags clean up their own shit” campaign would go down well, I think (with the option, as GPT1 says, of chaining them to the nearest lampost if they don’t comply (and looking the other way if a passing member of the public happens to drop a tomato. Horizontally. At speed. Accidentally in their direction).

    Cost is a factor, yes. But something like a poster with some little toerag with a smirk flicking a gang sign and the tag line “Fancy keeping him for $100k a year in a few years time? Then vote for us” would be a winner methinks.

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  49. Pete George (23,591 comments) says:

    I presume this has been done but – have prisoners been surveyed? I hear a lot of expert and non-expert ideas and advice on what should and shouldn’t be done, but what do the offenders think? Things like:

    Why are you here?
    Do you think this is a fair outcome?
    Are you happy to be here?
    What would best help keep you out of here?

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  50. magic bullet (776 comments) says:

    Bruv:

    “Foisted on petard”? Don’t you mean “hoist by their own petard”? Or “Bruv’s a munted retard”?

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  51. David Garrett (7,311 comments) says:

    I have only just become aware of this post or I would have commented before.
    This will probably give you an attack of apoplexy Rex…but I largely agree with you with regard to early intervention – but then I have NEVER said (or thought) that three strikes was the cure all for violent crime. In fact in my short time in parliament I said many times that “three strikes” is to a considerable degree what critics have called it – an ambulance at the bottom…

    The problem is there is no consensus on what measures best constitute the fence at the top of the cliff. Your example of the LSV scheme would resonate with many, including me – others would (and have, I see) criticise it a being militaristic, a waste of time, irrelevant, teaching bad values etc etc.

    So for the record, early intervention is of course a wonderful strategy – it goes without saying that diverting young crims from their path is desirable for any number of reasons. As other commenters have noted, 3 S is for those who will not and cannot be diverted from their path. You are clearly a well informed man and therefore will be well aware that “intervention” of whatever kind for psychopaths such as Bell and Burton simply makes them smarter and arguably more dangerous. Graeme Burton was released after committing his first murder because he was smart enough to learn the “right” answers, and thus tell the psychologists evaluating him what they wanted to hear.

    As others here have noted, lets have a look at the third strikers when they start being sentenced in a few years. Dollars to donuts they will all be be violent offenders who have already had considerable ” early intervention”, but for whatever reason they have continued to offend. The only place for them is prison.

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  52. magic bullet (776 comments) says:

    So – the neoliberal agenda – push them off the cliff, then take them away in a very expensive ambulance, that you make the tax-payer front up for.

    Sleep like a baby don’t you David?

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  53. David Garrett (7,311 comments) says:

    Dear me…did you actually READ what I said?

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  54. magic bullet (776 comments) says:

    Yes David – and i’ve also read ACT’s policy manifesto, which would have half of our teenagers becoming criminals just to eat.

    You gotta wonder.

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  55. Rex Widerstrom (5,354 comments) says:

    @David Garrett:

    Thanks for jumping into the debate. I’m not at all surprised you agree. What does surprise (and annoy, as I said to Peter Jenkins above) me is that when you had your one shot at twisting National’s arm on a law & order issue you went with a populist measure aimed at a handful of the worst offenders rather than pursue the SST’s own policy of some sort of “broken windows” measure.

    I should clarify I’m not advocating LSV as suitable for all young offenders – mainly I think it’d be good for those who adopt a swagger and a “macho” attitude, but who are susceptible to being led like the young man quoted in the story. I’m merely citing it as an example of the kind of lateral thinking needed in sentencing rather than the simple fine / community service / incarceration continuum we primarily have at present. Cleaning crews, a spell in an emergency ward… all sorts of things might be tried to “scare straight” a young offender, and they’d need to be assessed first to see what has the greatest chance of working.

    Which brings me to your point about Burton and other psychopaths. You’re right… I’ve seen some incredibly naive psychologists working in prisons. Mind you, I’m constantly suprised at the number of prison staff who fall for inmates. There’s a well-known (amongst the criminal justice fraternity) woman here in WA who scored the scalp of a Superintendent at one prison and an Assistant Superintendent at another, amongst others… all forced to resign after their dalliances with her became known.

    I don’t have a simple answer to that, other than raising the bar for employment and having proper, compulsory, monitoring and mentoring of anyne working with prisoners. And when it comes to parole, having an “open door” policy whereby anyone – including prison officers, who generally have a better idea of a prisoner’s psyche after having observed them for far long than a psych is able to – can make submissions to the Parole Board. For officers that would mean they wouldn’t need to go through official channels, as I believe they do now, but could comment as individuals.

    And then, of course, it comes down to funding better supervision of parolees and better support for released prisoners (work, housing etc). A quick chat with an overworked and bored PO each week is inadequate for many.

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  56. publicwatchdog (2,613 comments) says:

    I note that the ‘three strikes and out’ doesn’t apply to ‘white collar’ criminals?

    NZ – the ‘least corrupt country in the world’.

    yeah right.

    Penny Bright
    Media Spokesperson
    Water Pressure Group
    Judicially recognised ‘Public Watchdog’ on Metrowater, water and Auckland regional governance matters.
    “Anti-corruption campaigner”
    Auckland Mayoral candidate 2010
    Independent candidate Botany by-election 2011

    http://waterpressure.wordpress.com

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