Three strikes for burglaries

March 2nd, 2014 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Audrey Young reports:

Burglars will be sent to prison for a minimum of three years without parole on the third burglary conviction under new policy announced today by Act leader Jamie Whyte.

A lot of people may be surprised to know that a very similar policy is the law of the land in the United Kingdom, and was passed by a Labour Government.

Under the UK law an adult burglar convicted of their third burglary must be given a sentence of at least three years in prison unless the court considered there to be “exceptional circumstances”. I’m unsure if the UK law is also without parole, but that appears to be the only possible difference.

So this proposal isn’t some far right extremist policy. It is a law put in place by a left-wing Government in the UK – just one that was hard line on law and order.

It is unclear how many people would be affected in New Zealand by such a law, and what the cost would be. ACT deserve some criticism for not having any estimates at all about impact and cost, but the UK experience suggests it may not be that great.

In 2012 there were 2,693 convictions for burglary (as the primary offence). Around 40% of them or 1,055 received a custodial sentence. That suggests repeat burglars are already mainly getting prison sentences.

How long is the average sentence for burglary, if custodial? A report to 2006 found an average sentence of around 15 months. This is for all custodial sentences for burglary. I imagine it is longer for those on their third conviction.

So there would be some costs associated with this policy, with more burglars in prison and for longer. The potential benefits though are that while in prison, recidivist burglars are not robing people’s homes, and also that the law may discourage recidivist burglars from carrying on.

A report in the Daily Telegraph found that from 2000 to 2008, only 3,018 people had been convicted of a third burglary. The burglary rate halved in the decade to 2010.

So what would be the expected number of third strike burglars in NZ, based on respective populations. They have around 15 times our population so one might expect over an eight year period 200 recidivist burglars to get a third strike. That suggests the costs of such a policy could be relatively modest.

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