This week, figures on convictions since the “three strikes” legislation came into force were released. 132 offenders were convicted of 209 “strike” offences. 151 of the convictions were for “pure violence” offences –including aggravated robbery (59), robbery(29), wounding with intent (33) and injuring with intent (20). There were also 58 convictions for indecent assault.
As some commentators at the time have noted – with some justification – indecent assault can cover a fairly broad continuum from the “drunken grope” to near rape. In my view the relative seriousness of various forms of indecent assault is a red herring – or at least a separate debate. None of the other “strike” convictions thus far can be described as “minor offences”, although others will no doubt argue otherwise.
These early results are entirely to be expected. At the time the Bill was being debated, there was all manner of ill informed – and downright dishonest – claims that “three strikes” would see people locked up for minor offences including theft. It seemed not to matter how often it was explained that the Bill was carefully drafted to target only repeat violent offenders – the misinformation campaign went on.
All of the convictions since June 2010 were first strikes, meaning the offenders who were actually sent to prison are still eligible for parole as before. The only thing that changed was those offenders now have a first warning on their file – which will have real consequences when they appear again for a violent offence – and most of them will.
A registrar of my acquaintance runs a District Court in a provinical area. She has paid particular attention to the “strike” offenders appearing for sentence in that court. She tells me that almost without exception, they are familiar faces, having appeared before – some on many occasions – often for violent offending.
She also tells me that most of those sentenced appear to pay little attention to the warning, although if their lawyers are doing their jobs, the offenders will have been told that as a result of it, a further conviction for a strike offence will have a significantly different outcome. Next time, any custodial sentence will have to be served without parole, and even in our ridiculously liberal justice system, a second conviction for a strike offence will almost certainly result in a prison sentence.
The debate about whether three strikes “works” will continue regardless of the results. I have no doubt that even if in three years time violent crime has dropped significantly, the liberal left will refuse to believe that a more punitive approach has anything to do with it. Sadly the left are like that.
The late Dr Dennis Dutton told me a few years ago of his great amusement at the disquiet in American liberal academia when homicides in New York City plummeted in the early 1990’s. Those in the ivory towers embarked upon a feverish search for “the real reason” homicide had declined from about 2500 in 1990 to about 450 per year at the end of the decade. They simply could not accept that something as “simplisitic” as more police on the street with a different attitude, and sentence enhancement measures similar to a “three strikes” approach could have been the reason.
New Yorker’s didn’t care what the reason was, they were just happy to be able to take their kids to Times Square on a Sunday afternoon without being hassled by drug dealers or robbed. Most New Zealanders will be similarly happy that 132 violent offenders now have their first strike, and that within a few years a good proportion of them will be locked up for a long time.
Like David, I’m looking forward to the legislation leading to some repeat violent offenders getting locked up for a long time, so they can’t continue to offend.