The Press on a serious offenders register

May 8th, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

editorial:

The suggestion by the Minister of Justice, Judith Collins, that public registers be set up to provide open and easy access to the criminal record of serious offenders is one that will be welcomed by many people. Such information is widely and freely available already from the proliferation in the last decade or so of websites including news and information sites, and by organisations like the Sensible Sentencing Trust. But, because of the limited resources of those news and other organisations, the information those sites contain is inevitably piecemeal and patchy. An authoritative and accurate official record would plainly be of much greater benefit.

I agree. Perhaps the threshold for inclusion could be a strike offence?

Criminal convictions are already a matter of public record. Access to the record, however, is not easy. The police, for instance, in most circumstances cannot, because of rules governing the disclosure of information from police computers and concerns about privacy, reveal them. A properly maintained official register would cut through the thicket of difficulties to provide the information more readily.

It may be argued that a register of convictions, by being forever available on the internet, would make it harder for a criminal to live down his or her past and become rehabilitated. The fact is that that is occurring to a certain extent anyway. The register, as Collins suggests it, would be concerned only with serious offences, the kinds of things already covered by news media and suchlike websites. Those websites are very long-lived and can be searched without much trouble by Google. But the media cannot cover everything, even serious crime. An official register would remove the randomness in them in that it would cover all serious offences, not just those the media deem newsworthy, and it should be less subject to error.

If the Government does not set up a register, then those run by groups such as the SST will become more and more authoritative in the absence of anything else.

It may also help deter offending. Contrary to popular opinion, criminals respond to incentives as much as anyone else. Offenders, once they come to know that it will not be so easy to conceal their past crimes, will be less inclined to commit them in the first place.

Fewer crimes and fewer victims would be a good thing.

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24 Responses to “The Press on a serious offenders register”

  1. Harriet (4,010 comments) says:

    “….I agree. Perhaps the threshold for inclusion could be a strike offence?…’

    Pedophilla is a matter of public safety – not a private matter to be kept in the bedroom. :cool:

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  2. scrubone (2,971 comments) says:

    I don’t know whether this happens in practice, but I saw an episode of Elementary recently where a hit man had been found on a public register of sex criminals.

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  3. ross69 (3,637 comments) says:

    Contrary to popular opinion, criminals respond to incentives as much as anyone else. Offenders, once they come to know that it will not be so easy to conceal their past crimes, will be less inclined to commit them in the first place.

    Tell me how effective the death penalty has been in the US in deterring serious crimes.

    The idea that a public register will turn prospective criminals into choir boys is nonsense.

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  4. krazykiwi (9,188 comments) says:

    It may also help deter offending. Contrary to popular opinion, criminals respond to incentives as much as anyone else. Offenders, once they come to know that it will not be so easy to conceal their past crimes, will be less inclined to commit them in the first place.

    I don’t buy that. Calls to set up a register appear, to me at least, to be a tacit admission that we have no faith in the rehabilitative impact of our justice system, and as a result the public should take their own care around those listed.

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  5. Harriet (4,010 comments) says:

    “…..Tell me how effective the death penalty has been in the US in deterring serious crimes….’

    Very effective, as it costs more to hire a hitman in a capital death State than in one that isn’t! :cool:

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  6. Colville (1,771 comments) says:

    So full name, D.O,B and crime made public?

    A register wont stop the crims but it may help the public avoid them.

    I am all for it.

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  7. GPT1 (2,042 comments) says:

    I have very little time for the SST but their database is an extremely useful resource and it seems odd that information that is not suppressed is not easily available. In some ways any offence should be listed, especially given the clean slate legislation, but perhaps, as you say, offences over a certain threshold. I would not use strike as that is only violence – misses out on burglary for example.

    Contrary to popular opinion, criminals respond to incentives as much as anyone else.
    I assume that they got this nonsense off a MOJ how to save money spreadsheet because they clearly have not met my clients. Some respond to incentives but many seem incapable of comprehending any sort of incentive or sense of responsibility. Given the incentive to do your community work is not going to prison one might think non compliance rates would be somewhat lower than the 25-30% they are currently.

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  8. db.. (78 comments) says:

    Those on jury service should make sure they can have access to this register.

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  9. Harriet (4,010 comments) says:

    “…..It may also help deter offending. Contrary to popular opinion, criminals respond to incentives as much as anyone else….’

    CRAP ! :cool:

    Justice isn’t primarily about stopping killers from killing a second time as we don’t make the laws around murder for that reason. A second murder offence is irrelevent to the laws around murder!

    Justice, where murder is concerned, is about preventing most of the people, most of the time, from killing others – the very first time!

    You will probably find in the statistics that a large proportion of first time murderers have already been charged with assault.
    Those murderers simply didn’t value life because they then went on to kill, and the system was then just a reflection of that lack of value for life.

    Why? Because it didn’t deter them. The system didn’t place a high value on life the first time where life was of concern.Assualt can be deadly. It is not ‘just assualt’ but the potential for death to occure, a serious lack of wisdom in the transgressor.

    As a society, and in justice, NZ no longer places a high value on the Sanctity of Life, but if you think you do, then the SST wouldn’t exist.

    However they do exist, and it’s not because of general assault or general politics that they do, but rather, the general opinion that life should have a higher value.
    They are not vigilantes who simply want revenge, nor are they seeking custodial sentances for the most minor of assualts, but rather instead, justice and prevention for serious breeches of the law that have placed people within an inch of their natural lives.

    Or we could just instead keep reducing the length of custodial sentances with each new medical advancement that is introduced into the emergancy room at the hospitals. And the wards.

    Afterall, that is really what has kept the murder rate lower – the value placed on the Sanctity of Life in the Health system.Who then needs a justice system – right?

    The Justice system of all things shouldn’t be excused from valueing life from being anything less than it is: Life. :cool:

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  10. RRM (8,988 comments) says:

    It’s all public information, IIRC there is a public spectator gallery at Court is there not?

    So there should be a proper concise public record of convictions, and in this day and age it should be online.

    Surname Firstname Othername; Convicted of; date of conviction; Place of Conviction.

    Searchable / sortable by any of those categories.

    Then as soon as Harriet meets her new homosexual neighbours, she can go online and work out if they’re convicted child molesters, or ones that haven’t been caught yet :-P

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  11. F E Smith (3,273 comments) says:

    the kinds of things already covered by news media and suchlike websites

    This is only partially true.  The media do not cover all, or even most, serious offending.  There is much that goes under the radar, so I would reject it as an argument in favour of a register.

    Much stronger is the argument that justice is open, except in some cases, so why shouldn’t there be a register?  I would argue, however, that such a register should have all criminal convictions listed on it, not just strike offences.  If that stupid Clean Slate Act must continue in force then relevant convictions could be timed to drop off the register once they are covered by the Act, but otherwise leave them up.  And make it searchable, that way I can see if my neighbours/friends/business colleagues have any convictions that I should be worried about.  Afer all, why should a chronic thief not be on the list just because theft is not a strike offence?

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  12. F E Smith (3,273 comments) says:

    or ones that haven’t been caught yet

    But, RRM, didn’t you know?  Everyone is a criminal who just hasn’t been caught yet!  I am certain that is Government policy…

    Actually, +1 for your comment.

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  13. Elaycee (4,067 comments) says:

    @ross69 asks:

    Tell me how effective the death penalty has been in the US in deterring serious crimes.

    I can assure you, ross69, there hasn’t been a single case of re-offending by those ‘dispatched’!

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  14. PaulL (5,774 comments) says:

    I don’t really believe it’s a material deterrent, so that part of the argument is, I believe, weak. But I do agree that this should be a matter of public record, not a matter purely for the press. Doesn’t matter to me whether it’s a deterrent or not, it matters that the govt should provide information publicly and easily where sensible. I think this is a sensible area to provide it.

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  15. Albert_Ross (172 comments) says:

    On the incentive effect. This policy would increase the cost to the criminal of his first crime. But once he is already on the register, this policy does not bring any additional cost to his second and third crimes. This is therefore a weak argument. And adding a weak argument to strong arguments (of which there are some – the information is already available, but in patchy and incomplete form; the public’s right to be aware of potential risks) does not strengthen a case overall, it weakens it.

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  16. laworder (265 comments) says:

    ross69 wrote


    The idea that a public register will turn prospective criminals into choir boys is nonsense.

    Actually I mostly agree with ross here, although there are some exceptions. The primary reason for doing this is in order to allow the public to properly manage risk to themselves and their families.

    I agree with the comments made by FE Smith on how this should be implemented, pretty much in line with what I would like to see. It is far preferable that the Government be managing such a database than a non-profit volunteer NGO like the SST

    Colville wrote

    So full name, D.O,B and crime made public?

    Perhaps not exact date of birth nor exact street address. The SST database does not have either of these in order to prevent it being used for identity theft/ vigilantism, so far this seems to have worked

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

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  17. nasska (9,502 comments) says:

    If the crime is burglary, assault etc then guaranteed publication of name & offence will have a punitive effect as well as serving as a warning to the general public.

    The list is not going to help however, in the cases where it is probably needed the most, ie sexual assault & violence against children where the usually recidivist scum receive automatic name suppression. I am well aware of the usual bleating about the suppression being for the benefit of the kids but if the government is serious about discouraging this type of reoffending then a better way of protecting future victims needs to be found.

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  18. wreck1080 (3,522 comments) says:

    Strike offences seems fair to me.

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  19. Colville (1,771 comments) says:

    Colville wrote

    So full name, D.O,B and crime made public?

    Perhaps not exact date of birth nor exact street address. The SST database does not have either of these in order to prevent it being used for identity theft/ vigilantism, so far this seems to have worked

    If John Smith is up on the net as a convicted burglar and I also am named John Smith its going to make it much more useful to a prospective employer if they can cross reference my DOB to the register and rule me in or out.

    Identity theft? Many people want to pose as a convicted crim?

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  20. Colville (1,771 comments) says:

    nasska said…

    I am well aware of the usual bleating about the suppression being for the benefit of the kids but if the government is serious about discouraging this type of reoffending then a better way of protecting future victims needs to be found.

    a large branded SCUM on their forehead? :-)

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  21. nasska (9,502 comments) says:

    A bit like this Colville? Ref: http://imgur.com/gallery/Askri6t

    Apparently the “artist” was related to the kid.

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  22. Nostalgia-NZ (4,686 comments) says:

    It’s certainly the direction the Government want to take if only to de-power their former ‘ally’ the SST. It would be good to see it go to a select committee where there can be public discussions and cross party submissions on the subject. There are few areas that would require special attention from the Privacy Commissioner and the HRC. There would also need to be debate on the punitive affect outweighing the public good, and the reverse: the ‘rogues gallery’ aspect that might ‘inspire’ some offenders. The types of crime would require special debate as whether ‘aged’ crimes should be included, driving offences and so on, also addressing the question as to where ‘punishment’ stops and if such a register might prove a disincentive for some convicted of crimes to try to put that behind them and live their lives lawfully.

    I can see particular conflict with a post above raising the issue to the effect that ‘all jurors should read the prospective list,’ that cuts across established principles designed in the ‘old law’ that a person shouldn’t be influenced on say a horse theft charge because of knowing that the defendant has been convicted on such a charge earlier, and the prejudice that might follow to fill the gaps where the ground narrative doesn’t quite reach BRD.

    The fact remains that such registers exist but without the checks and balances of associated laws, that is something that needs to be governed. Personally, I think that the ‘tardy’ response to this question, which has earlier been ‘put off’ as being too expensive is at least in part of the result of the current case against the SST and others that might be being considered, but possibly foremost because of the SST launching the site of ‘Judging the Judges,’ in fact practising administrating as a Law unto themselves.

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  23. Honeybadger (145 comments) says:

    The ‘current case’ against the SST is a bit weird to say the least, that guy was ‘outed’ at least two years ago, in fact his name and photo were published by Truth

    But Nostalgia, you have an interesting case there and I can see why you would argue against ‘aged crims’ being named and shamed, I am sure there are a few out there like that, who have at least tried to turn their lives around, interesting….

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  24. Nostalgia-NZ (4,686 comments) says:

    I’m more interested in aged trolls and children stalkers from Dunedin.

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