NZ imprisonment rates

November 25th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Most of us have probably heard at some stage a stat that NZ has the second highest imprisonment rate in the world. Well it seems that stat is massively wrong.

Stats Chat blogs that in fact NZ has only the 8th highest in the OECD and the 74th highest in the world.

Would still be nice for them to be lower – but than comes about if we have fewer serious or repeat criminals – and the recent trend is for both the violent crime rate and the imprisonment rate to be dropping.

Not sure how the myth started of NZ having the second highest rate. Maybe it once was true – but clearly isn’t today.

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Plunket on call for Maori sentences to be shorter

November 25th, 2013 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Sean Plunket writes:

According to his online CV, lawyer James Rapley specialises in criminal defence litigation and has appeared as counsel in the District and High Courts on numerous high-profile trials involving serious fraud, drug, murder, sexual crimes and other crimes of violence. In May 2004, he began practice as a barrister after working as a senior prosecutor for the Serious Fraud Office and Crown Solicitor’s Office for nearly 10 years. …

He reckons Mika should get a 10 per cent reduction in his manslaughter sentence because he is a Maori.

Most New Zealanders, including most Maori, probably think that is complete bullshit.

I am sure most Maori would.

The High Court judge who sentenced Mika appeared to do so, for while he acknowledged Mika’s personal circumstances, he rejected Mr Rapley’s plea for leniency with these words: “in my view, however, the law in this country is clear that no special discount for race, culture, or ethnicity matters alone is appropriate”.

Sometimes judges can be really sensible.

But the Court of Appeal, which in legal terms is more important than, and senior to the High Court, was convinced by Mr Rapley to rehear his argument for a reduction in Mika’s sentence.

Three Court of Appeal judges considered that appeal this week and rather than reject it as bullshit as most people would, they have reserved their decision.

This may not be significant. I think almost all their decisions are reserved. My worry would be if it goes to the Supreme Court and what Dame Sian might try and convince her peers to find!

I am fairly certain that Mika wasn’t thinking about post-colonial oppression when he boosted a car and left his fatally injured passenger to die on the side of the road back in February and I’m pretty sure he was unaware of the disproportionate number of Maori in prison when he admitted his crimes in the High Court.

We can also safely assume that a 10 per cent reduction in his sentence will do nothing to reduce his chance of reoffending or encourage him to live a less antisocial life.

A 10% reduction in his sentence will I am sure be a 10% reduction in the time taken until he reoffends!

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Should Maori get reduced sentences?

November 21st, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

Martin van Beynen writes in The Press:

Lawyer James Rapley, representing Fabian Mika, has certainly stirred up a hornet’s nest in arguing that Maori offenders are entitled to an automatic consideration of the history of the Maori people when sentenced.

The Mika argument appears to be as follows:

- Sentencing is largely governed by the Sentencing Act. The relevant section says the court must take into account the offender’s personal, family, whanau, community, and cultural background in imposing a sentence.

- The court must recognise Mika’s Maori (cultural) background.

- The cultural background section of the Sentencing Act is partly designed to address the overrepresentation of Maori in the prison population (about 51 per cent).

- In Canada, under different legislation, the courts take account of the fact an offender is from an indigenous background.

- Maori should have a special status to recognise them as victims of colonialism, displacement, high unemployment, lower educational attainment and a higher level of incarceration.

- Maori are not entitled to an automatic reduction in penalty, but the court must take their Maori background into account in a meaningful way.

- Maori do not need to show a link between their cultural background and the offending. The devastating effects of the historic and systemic discrimination and deprivation of Maori and its intergenerational effects on Maori should be a given.

It looks very much like an argument ahead of its time.

Although it’s a carefully nuanced train of thought, the argument will no doubt be treated as advocating a penalty discount just for being Maori.

Which it is.

Sentencing took take account of an individual’s circumstances, but arguing that every Maori offender should get a reduced sentence due to colonialism is pretty insane.

If the Mika argument was put into practice, sentencing judges would have to start with a consideration of the offender’s ethnicity, a fairly tangled question in itself.

If Maori, the judge would then have to consider how generations of deprivation or dysfunction have shaped this individual.

Sentencing would become a lottery.

If the court makes allowances for being Maori, then red heads or left handers or gays might also have a valid case for special treatment.

Many will criticise such allowances as damaging the important principle of everyone being equal before the law.

And it would damage it massively.

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Life without parole to be sought

October 9th, 2013 at 6:29 am by David Farrar

Blair Ensor at Stuff reports:

Double child killer Jeremy George McLaughlin could today become the first murderer in New Zealand to be jailed for the rest of his natural life.

The Press understands the Crown will seek the toughest penalty – life in prison without parole – when McLaughlin appears at the High Court in Christchurch for sentencing this morning.

That would be a first. Many are unaware that the law which introduced three strikes also introduced the penalty of life without parole to be available for the worst murders.

The 35-year-old was found guilty at trial in April of strangling schoolgirl Jade Bayliss, 13, stealing items from her family’s Barrington St home and torching it in November 2011.

The jury did not know he had previously been convicted of killing Phillip Vidot, 14, in Perth years earlier.

Two dead children is enough. Let’s not risk a third.

Even if McLaughlin avoids the toughest penalty, he is likely to be jailed for more than 20 years.

Crown prosecutor Brent Stanaway this week declined to comment about the case.

Human Rights lawyer Michael Bott, who has had no involvement with the case, said the Crown would probably rely on psychological reports, which would need to demonstrate that McLaughlin presented an ongoing risk to society.

“Most people would be perturbed by the nature of the crime in itself. It would be the level of risk that this person would present.”

Criminologist Greg Newbold said some hardened criminals deserved to be locked away for ever.

“I think there are some people who have committed crimes so horrific that they should never be released.

“They have forfeited their right to freedom permanently.

“He [McLaughlin] could well be such a person.”

I guess the question is that if McLaughlin doesn’t qualify, who ever would?

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Latest crime stats

October 2nd, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Police and Stats NZ have released the latest annual crime stats, for the 2012/13 fiscal year. Major changes:

  • Total crime rate down 7.4%
  • Assaults down 0.1%
  • Sexual crimes rate up 10.8%
  • Robbery rate down 8.2%
  • Burglary rate down 10.1%
  • Thefts down 9.2%
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A nice problem to have

September 20th, 2013 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

Sometimes the Government has to change a target because it is not going to meet it. In this case we have the Government changing a target because they have already met and exceeded it.

Isaac Davidson at NZ Herald reports:

The Government has reset its target for youth crime reduction because offending by young people has dropped significantly since the goal was set.

The justice sector’s initial Better Public Services target was to reduce youth crime by 5 per cent by 2017.

Justice Minister Judith Collins said today that target had been exceeded – between June 2011 and June 2013, youth crime dropped by 19 per cent.

“Huge effort has gone into targeting youth offending and keeping young people from going before the courts, and it’s paying off,” Ms Collins says.

The target would be changed to a 25 per cent reduction by 2017.

That’s a great problem to have.

Statistics New Zealand figures showed conviction rates in the Youth Court were at their lowest point since records began in 1992.

These figures did not reflect all offending by young people, because most young offenders were not charged and were given alternative penalties.

But Ministry of Justice figures supported the downwards trend in youth offending. Research showed that police apprehensions of people aged 10 to 16 were at a 10-year low.

If the reduction in youth offending can be sustained, then that will flow through in later years to the overall offending rate.


Labour says a protection order revictimises people!

August 30th, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Andrew Little said:

Victims of violent crime are more likely to be re-victimised than protected by a new Bill letting them to apply for non-contact orders against their perpetrators, Labour’s Justice spokesperson Andrew Little says.

The Victims Orders Against Violent Offenders Bill creates a new type of court order to prevent offenders convicted of a violent crime having contact with their victim and passed its first reading in Parliament today.

“This Bill is just cynical because the victim would be required to apply to the court for an order — at their own expense — and would be required to square off in court with the very person they are seeking to avoid.”

Umm, it is an option – not compulsory. But a very welcome option for those who want to be able to avoid their previous assailants etc. And I suspect a fair few will happily square off in court if it means that don’t have to worry about having them run into them in an alleyway.

“Protecting victims of crime from on-going threats and intimidation by a perpetrator is the State’s responsibility and can easily be done through sentencing arrangements or parole conditions.”

This is either naive, or disingenous. It can’t be done easily, and most of all it means the decision to seek such an order is not the victim’s, but agents of the state. I’m all for allowing victims to decide for themselves if they wish to seek a protection order.

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August 22nd, 2013 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

When Chris Lane jogged past three boys on Country Club Road in Duncan, southern Oklahoma, the boys did not see a young man, local police chief Danny Ford says, they saw a target.

“They saw him go by and they said, ‘that’s our target’ and they followed him and they shot him, that’s what he told me,” Chief Ford told Fairfax Media of the conversation police had with the oldest suspect, a 17-year-old boy.

They allegedly shot Lane, Ford said, because they wanted to see someone die.

The 17-year-old was unemotional when he told the story of what had reportedly happened. “The other two were, well I don’t want to use their language but they were basically ‘up yours’; they wanted an attorney.

We all have a fear to some degree of violent, let alone lethal, crime. We try to minimise it by making sensible decisions around not getting involved in crime, where we live, who we associate with, how we engage with people etc etc.

It is cases like the above that are so chilling. It was a pure random and motiveless killing, done (allegedly) by three sociopaths.

Thank goodness such acts are relatively rare.


He’s wrong

August 20th, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

A convicted murderer and gang member is on the run from police, and is doing everything he can to avoid returning to prison.

Graham “Choc” Te Awa, a long-serving senior member of the notorious Head Hunters gang, has been evading authorities since February 25. He has also told authorities he has a new job as head of security for Polynesian royalty, so does not believe he has to adhere to New Zealand laws.

Well that’s easy – he’s wrong.

It is understood Te Awa may be with John Monga, who goes by the title of High Chief of Aotearoa for the Polynesian Kingdom of Atooi, the ancestral name for Hawaii.

I wonder if he has a business card that claims that? The “Kingdom” has its own police force.


Yes, yes, yes, yes please

August 12th, 2013 at 3:49 pm by David Farrar

Blair Ensor at Stuff reports:

Finding out someone’s criminal history could soon be as easy as clicking a button, under major changes to improve public access to court documents.

Justice Minister Judith Collins told the Sunday Star-Times the current system, where people often have to apply in writing to the courts for access to information, is “completely insane”.

She wants all decisions online once the courts have completed a move to an electronic operating model next year. The documents would effectively act as a public register of criminals and improve public safety, she said.

It would also make the court process more open.

“If a matter is heard in open court that anyone can attend, why is it the next day they strangely can’t access that information? People have a right to know about what goes on in their courts.”

This would be so great if it happens. Court decisions are a matter of public record in theory, but in practice have been difficult to access. Having all court decisions online will be great for transparency and great for improved public safety.

Collins has an ally in Chief District Court Judge Jan-Marie Doogue who believes it is important the public understand the reasoning behind court decisions.

“We welcome any development which would enable the decisions of the District Court to be available in a timely fashion,” Doogue said.

“This would enable transparency and accountability.”

Well said Judge Doogue.


51 prison terms by 34

July 23rd, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

A Black Power member says he wants to change his ways after hearing he will become a grandfather.

“I don’t blame nobody but myself,” William Herangi Wanakore, 34, told Judge Allan Roberts prior to sentencing after admitting to his latest raft of offending.

Wanakore, who has 97 convictions, was about to be sentenced to his 51st prison term after pleading guilty to assault with intent, two burglaries and twice breaching protection orders in May.

Not sure what is worst – 97 convictions, 51 prison terms or being a grand dad at 34.


A third of lifers are out

July 17th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Marty Sharpe at Stuff reports:

A third of people sentenced to life in prison are in the community on parole.

Hardliners on crime say this makes a mockery of the term life imprisonment, but the Ministry of Justice says it is an accurate description as people on parole can be recalled to jail.

Figures issued by the Department of Corrections under the Official Information Act show that of the 719 people serving life sentences, 217 have been freed on parole.

I don’t think all murderers should spent the rest of their lives in jail. With the ability to now give lengthy non parole periods, and even life without parole, the sentencing regime is getting reasonably close to where I think it should be.

However what I would be interested on is whether those killers who are now out on parole, have offended since they were released.

Here’s the data I’d like to see.

  • Number of criminals sentenced to life
  • Number who have been given parole, and median and mean periods before parole
  • Mean and median period between being eligible for parole and getting parole, for those who got it
  • Of those given parole, how many have not breached any of their parole conditions
  • Of those given parole, how many breached a parole condition, but were not recalled
  • Of those given parole, how many breached a parole condition, but were recalled
  • Of those given parole, how many have committed further crimes
  • Of those given parole, how many have committed further serious (say strike eligible) crimes

Anyone able to provide or obtain that info? I could OIA it, but am in the Zion National Park in Utah at the moment, so would rather reduce keyboard time to a minimum!

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The Lombard appeal to the Supreme Court

July 4th, 2013 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

I’ve been sent a copy of the appeal by the Lombard Four to the Supreme Court - Lombard Appln Leave to Appeal SC 2 July 2013

I have no particular view on the findings of guilt in regard to the charges. The courts have determined guilt, and that is also one issue being appealed to the Supreme Court.

The issue of more interest is whether custodial sentences are appropriate, when the court has specifically said they accept there was no dishonesty involved. I’ve got no problem with white collar criminals getting custodial sentences when they have defrauded people. But is a custodial sentence appropriate when the court has accepted there was no dishonesty?

The Lombard case involved “honest misjudgments” as opposed to other cases of gross negligence, related lending etc.

It is appropriate directors are held liable for their governance of a company that fails. But are custodial sentences appropriate when there was no fraud or deliberate deception?

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Two sentences

June 6th, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Gavin John Gosnell – dismissed as an “evil nobody” by the family of his victim – has been jailed for at least 18 years for the murder and dismemberment of teenager Hayden Peter Miles.

Gosnell, an unemployed 28-year-old, was convicted by a jury on April 16 of the murder of the 15-year-old at the end of a seven-day trial. …

Hayden had gone missing in August 2011 and it had been 111 days before it was known what had happened to him.

“To find out that Hayden had been murdered and then dismembered brought me to my knees,” she said. “My family is forever broken.”

She was tormented by thoughts of Gosnell laughing and mocking Hayden while the teenager cried and begged for Gosnell to stop the fatal beating.

She said she would speak for Hayden, demanding of Gosnell: “How dare you beat and torment me? How dare you dismember my body and bury me in graves? My family buried me with dignity. I am missed every single day.”

Another family member said: “I know now there is such a thing as pure evil.” …

This is what he did:

Justice Chisholm said Hayden was drinking with Gosnell and Gosnell’s partner at their flat when Gosnell flew into a rage over a comment that the teenager made.

A prolonged beating involving punching and kicking followed. It involved Gosnell trying to break Hayden’s arms and legs, and it resumed three or four times.

Hayden was screaming and crying, while Gosnell laughed.

Hayden was not breathing properly and suffered a bleeding brain injury during the night after being put to bed.

His body was cut up the next day by Gosnell. A witness described him as again laughing.

So here is my question. Why did the Crown not ask for life without parole?

The Sentencing Act states in s103(2A):

If the court that sentences an offender convicted of murder to imprisonment for life is satisfied that no minimum term of imprisonment would be sufficient to satisfy 1 or more of the purposes stated in subsection (2), the court may order that the offender serve the sentence without parole.

Surely this is a case for which life without parole was designed for?

The other hideous person to be sentenced is the man who sold his 13 month old son for sex.

A “depraved” paedophile has been sent to prison for sexual offending against his infant son.

A 27-year-old South Canterbury man was sentenced in the Oamaru District Court this afternoon to eight years 10 months imprisonment by Judge Joanna Maze for offending which will have a profound effect on his child.

The man sat motionless in the dock as he was sentenced on a raft of child exploitation charges, including two of sexual violation and indecent assault, and selling the use of his then 13-month-old son for sexual gratification for $500.

A minimum non-parole period of five years was imposed.

I’m sorry but a five year minimum is not enough in my view. I think selling your child for sexual abuse, is even worse than being an abuser yourself.

He was granted permanent name suppression to protect the identity of his victim, the charges also included eight of doing an indecent act and 15 of making, possessing and distributing objectionable material and breaching a restraining order. The child is in the care of his mother.

Wouldn’t it be good if the victim (or in this case his mother) was offered a name change, so he can be identified without it naming the victim.

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No extra time for assaulting guards

May 22nd, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

A dangerous high-security prisoner who killed a Corrections officer has been sentenced for assaulting two more but will spend no extra time in prison, a penalty the prison guards’ union calls disgraceful.

Latu Kepu was already serving a jail sentence for the manslaughter of prison guard Jason Palmer when he attacked two other guards in separate incidents last October.

Kepu was sentenced at the North Shore District Court yesterday after previously pleading guilty to two charges of assault.

Judge Philippa Sinclair sentenced him to seven months in prison, to be served concurrently. That means Kepu will not have time added on to his sentence and is still eligible for parole in 2015 on his manslaughter conviction.

Well that will teach him a lesson. Not a single extra day in prison for bashing two prison guards up.

It is disgraceful. This makes life even more dangerous for prison guards if prisoners see they can bash them up and not get any extra penalty.

UPDATE: The disgrace it seems is the Herald story, not the sentence. Whale Oil blogs an e-mail from the Ministry of Justice:

In fact, Latu Kepa was sentenced yesterday in the North Shore Court on a s9 Summary Offences Act assault and a s196 Crimes Act assault (both on prison guards) to 7 months imprisonment cumulatively on his present sentence of Manslaughter. I have checked the court file, the prison warrant and listened to the court recording at the relevant part and all of them refer to a cumulative sentence.

I’m sorry to say the Corrections Association also seems to have been misinformed : “At a minimum, the seven-month sentence should have been cumulative to the manslaughter sentence, Mr Hanlon said.”

Please let me know if you require any further assistance,

Warm regards,


Sonja de Friez.
Director of Community Engagement, District Courts.

That is a huge error by the Herald to get the main fact of the story wrong. My regrets that I assumed the story was correct in criticizing the sentence.

The Herald have removed their story from their website. I trust it will be replaced by an apology.


Guest Post: David Garrett on crime levels

May 21st, 2013 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

A guest post by David Garrett:

Still plenty of crime about

This weeks HoS featured a  story on falling crime. The gist of it was that crime was at its lowest since 1982;  we are all victims of manufactured anxiety about crime , and in fact we have never had it so good. The story featured a neat little graph which showed that  “recorded offences” were about the same – actually a little lower – than  they were in 1982. Sadly neither the story nor the graph tells the whole story.

For example, if the graph covered the period back to 1972, it would show a dramatic explosion in crime between then and 1982, when the reassuring line on the graph in the story  begins. If the graph went still further back, it would show violent crime – including  homicide – pretty much as a flat line from the beginning of last century until about 1972, when violent crime began to grow exponentially.

The story uses the “crimes per 10,000 of population” measure, which allows us to compare New York with New Plymouth – the rates are comparable and meaningful   whatever the populations compared. For most of the 20th century, our homicide rate was about 0.5 per 100,000 per year. It is now about three times that – substantially less than 20 years ago it is true, but still three times higher than it was fifty or sixty years ago.

The graph in Sunday’s story  showed total offences, and does indeed show an encouraging fall since 2010 – but more about that in a moment. If the graph had shown violent  crimes only, the picture would not have been anything like as rosy; violent crime has declined much less since its peak in the early 90’s than “recorded crime” generally,  a notoriously unreliable stat, since to be “recorded”, someone has to bother reporting it.

The most interesting thing about the story for me was the sharp drop in crime since 2009 – about the time the National led government moved, albeit rather timidly, away from the “criminals are victims too” policies we had been following for the past 40 years or more. 2009-10 saw  small changes in bail laws, more recalls for breaches of parole, and of course “three strikes”, the effects of which are only now really beginning to be felt.

The liberal academics – something of a tautology since with very few exceptions we have no other kind – will of course ascribe the sharp drop in crime from 2009 to something other  than the factors I have cited. Anything will do for them, so long as it’s not  more punative measures. The current theory is  that removing lead in petrol twenty years ago has caused crime to drop now.

To those who say that to aim for the kind of safe society we once had is a reactionary pipedream, I say this: read up on the precipitate drop in crime in New York since a much more dramatic policy change  in the early 90’s than we have seen began. Back then, there were about 4000 homicides in New York City every year, and the city was widely regarded as “ungovernable”.

Mayor Guiliani refused to accept that, and the New York Police Department were directed to “take back the city”, block by block.  Now, homicides in NYC number in the hundreds annually – about the same level as in the 1960’s – rather than the thousands.  The population hasn’t changed.

We can do the same. Smarter and more comprehensive policing – “broken windows” New Zealand style if you like – has caused crime to plummet in South Auckland,  long our most crime ridden district. I look forward to the day when some fresh faced reporter can show a graph extending back to 1972, or even 1952, and say we now have the same rate of violent crime as we did then. It can be done. We just need the will to continue down the path we tentatively embarked on three years ago.

The point David makes about violent crime being a better indicator than overall crime is one I have often made also.

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Prisons – within the Walls

May 13th, 2013 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

JustSpeak in Auckland have a forum this Wednesday at 6.30 pm at the Alleluya Cafe in St Kevin’s Arcade on K Road.

JustSpeak invites you to the second of the three-part Beyond Prisons series of discussions looking at New Zealand’s prison system and the possibilities beyond incarceration.

Following on from our first forum, which focused on the wider societal impact of prisons, this forum seeks to better understand life inside of prisons. The daily realities of prisons are largely hidden from the general public. This forum will examine the impact of imprisonment on the individual and those closest to them.

We will hear from four panelists, all of whom have themselves experienced life within the walls or worked closely with prisoners:

- Denis Bumbury, a counsellor therapist and currently a chaplain at Mt Eden Prison
- Lois Naera, a social worker with Pillars, an organisation that works with the children of prisoners;
- Mike Templeton, a former prisoner who now works with prisoners; and
- Steve Hall, Director of Reducing Re-Offending for Serco NZ, the company that holds the contract for Mt Eden Corrections Facility.

This forum will be a rare opportunity to hear stories and insights from those who have been subject to incarceration and those working within prisons, including their thoughts on whether prisons fulfil their four primary functions: punish, deter, protect and rehabilitate.

There will also be an opportunity to ask the speakers questions.

As usual, entry is free and light refreshments will be provided – all welcome.

I was on a panel at a similar forum last week, discussing the recent law change around prisoner voting rights, and thought it was a good discussion (even though I was in a very distinct minority).

I am of the view that some prisoners will not respond to rehabilitation until age gets the better of them (and they are sadly the majority) but there are a significant number who will and can be rehabilitated and it would be fascinating to hear some views from the frontline, including Serco’s.

If you want to go along, just RSVP on Facebook (or just turn up).

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The Press on a serious offenders register

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

The Press 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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Why a register just for those deported?

May 7th, 2013 at 7:01 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

The Government could set up a public register of serious criminals deported from Australia, under drastic planned law changes to improve trans-Tasman information sharing.

The murder of Christchurch teenager Jade Bayliss has “really focused everyone’s minds” on ensuring the new law becomes a reality, Justice Murther inister Judith Collins told The Press last night.

It’s a good idea, and we have seen the tragic consequences of not having this info. But why not a register of all serious criminals? Criminal convictions are not private – they are a matter of public record and should be publicly available.

Documents reveal a list of pros and cons for making the details about serious criminals publicly available.

A public register could impact on an individual’s right to a fair trial if information about previous offences could be accessed.

However, that was countered by the potential for improved public safety.

If an individual is charged with a further offence, then the Govt can just remove their entry during the trial. Having a Govt register actually makes it easier to do this, than having private groups such as the SST having to run their own registers.

Last month The Press revealed Bayliss approached police with concerns about Jeremy George McLaughlin, 35, four days before he strangled her 13-year-old daughter Jade and torched their Barrington St home in November 2011.

She was unaware McLaughlin spent time in jail for killing Perth teenager Phillip Vidot in 1995 before he was deported back to New Zealand in 2001.

She was given trespass papers to serve against McLaughlin if he showed up at her home.

However, police were unable to tell her the details of the killer’s past because of constraints about what they can reveal about a person’s criminal history.

Bayliss has pledged to campaign for better access to information about serious criminals.

How heart breaking that she even asked Police, and the dumb law meant they could not tell her. Public safety must come first.


Strike Two

April 29th, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

The controversial “three strikes” legislation has seen a young man jailed without parole and warned that if he steals another skateboard, hat or cellphone he will spend 14 years behind bars.

In issuing Elijah Akeem Whaanga, 21, his second strike, Judge Tony Adeane told the Hastings man his two “street muggings” that netted “trophies of minimal value” meant his outlook was now “bleak in the extreme”.

“When you next steal a hat or a cellphone or a jacket or a skateboard you will be sent to the High Court and there you will be sentenced to 14 years’ imprisonment without parole,” Judge Adeane said.

Justice Minister Judith Collins said the case showed the law was working. Sensible Sentencing Trust spokesman Garth McVicar agreed, saying the sentence of two-and-a-half years’ jail with no parole was “fantastic”. 

Victoria University criminology professor John Pratt said the case “highlighted fundamental problems” with the law.

“Was this really the type of offender that the three strikes law was meant to protect us from?”

Whaanga’s offending stretches back to 2006, including burglary, theft, resisting arrest and indecent assault. He served a short prison sentence in early 2010.

Stealing is not a strike offence, but aggravated robbery is. From what I can see Mr Whaanga has had four strike offences so far – but two before the legislation was passed.

If he does not commit any more strike offences, then he won’t get the maximum sentence with no parole.

I’ll freely say that Whaanga doesn’t appear to be the worst criminal out there, but I don’t judge a policy on sole cases. And if he is stupid enough to get a third strike, then the Judge does have discretion to make him eligible for parole if it would be manifestly unjust not to do so. So if he does another aggravated robbery and gets the maximum 14 years, a Judge could still make him eligible for parole after four years and eight months.

By the end of last month there were 2684 offenders on their first strike and 17 on their second strike.

This may be because it is early days, but the very small number of second strikes compared to first strikes *might* mean that the hoped for deterrent effect is working.

In around five to ten years we will get some fascinating data looking at reoffending rates before and after the three strikes law. That is if Labour and Greens do not repeal it before then – as they have promised to do.

UPDATE: Commenters have said that Mr Whaanga has a total of 72 previous convictions, so shorter sentences do not seem to have worked with him.

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Labour MPs focusing on the big issues

April 25th, 2013 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

Three Labour MPs have met career criminal Arthur Taylor to discuss his court battle to overturn a prison smoking ban.

Justice spokesman Andrew Little, police and corrections spokesman Kris Faafoi and Darien Fenton, who holds the shadow labour portfolio, visited Paremoremo jail yesterday.

Taylor, 56, has racked up more than 130 convictions, including armed robbery, kidnapping and escaping from prison.

Mr Little said the MPs agreed to visit to discuss Taylor’s legal bid to reverse the smoking ban at the prison.

Three MPs? Why don’t they have the entire caucus meet with Taylor.

So now all it takes to get three Labour MPs to meet with you is:

  • Armed robbery x 4
  • Theft
  • Fraud
  • Burglary
  • Escaping custody
  • Attempting to pervert the course of justice
  • Possession of various drugs
  • Possessing firearms and ammunition
  • Rceiving stolen property
  • Conspired to sell methamphetamine

And his grievance is that he can not smoke in prison anymore.

I do hope Labour will soon release their policy on how Mr Taylor’s human rights have been breached, as soon as they have finished nationalising the electrcity industry.

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The SST vision

April 19th, 2013 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald profiles the Sensible Sentencing Trust and details their policy wishlist. Some good issues to debate.

no bail for anyone facing a violent offence

I think that is a step too far. I think bail is too easy to get, and far too many offences are done by people on bail. But if you are a first time offender, there is a presumption of innocence.

fewer chances to apply for bail having once been rejected

Not sure how many chances there are, but I agree they should be few.

appeals to carry a punitive cost if they fail, so offenders who appeal and lose go to jail for longer

I agree with the principle that there should be some incentive not to have appeals in cases where there is no chance of success – such as cases where they are caught red handed.

sentences for multiple crimes to be served end on end rather than together

I think cumulative sentences would be a step too far.

prior criminal convictions to be revealed as evidence in court and considered as adding weight to guilt

I don’t think they should be considered as adding weight but I think in the Internet age it will prove impossible to keep previous convictions hidden. I’d have them public, but Judges should warn to judge a case on the facts only.

performance reviews for judges and the ability to sack those who did not meet standards

I think collection of data on decisions of Judges is a good thing, but Judges should only be sacked for misconduct – not for making unpopular decisions.

simpler sentencing laws because the current laws have been developed to deliberately confuse the public.

Need to know details to comment.

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An interesting sentencing case

April 15th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald has been in court, and has reported on five cases where they summarise the case, tell you what sentence the person got, and ask people what sentence they would have given.

The first case is of Nathan Wynd who followed a workmate, kicked him in the head, knocked him to the ground, punched his face several times and rubbed an empty beer bottle in his face. Who knows where it may have ended if the Police had not walked by.

They cite five aggravating features – violence to the head, a bottle as a weapon, high harm to the victim, serious injuries that resulted in hospital treatment and premeditation. The only mitigating issue was the early guilty plea (tempered by the fact the Police caught him doing it).

They say that the starting point for an offence of this type is two years nine months, yet despite the five aggravating features he got just two years. He did also get a first strike which I think will be a significant deterrent.

The maximum sentence possible is seven years. You wonder what it would take to get that?

You can vote on what sentence you would have given. I went for three years. However 42% picked five or more years and only 22% picked two years or less. 34% chose three or four years.

I can’t get the other four cases to load. It would be interesting to see for those the difference between sentences given and the most common sentences chosen by the readers.

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Beware of simple comparisons

April 13th, 2013 at 11:00 am by David Farrar


Just Speak have produced the infographic above.

The Herald reports:

Last night, Mrs Tolley said the JustSpeak group’s research had limitations as the figures did not show the number of offenders, the number of repeat offenders, the seriousness of the offence or an offender’s criminal history.

It is an interesting infographic, but as Anne Tolley says you can’t draw conclusions from it.

What I’d be interested to see is say a comparison by ethnicity for first-time offenders of the same age for the same offence.

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2012 Crime stats

April 2nd, 2013 at 12:10 pm by David Farrar

Pretty good news in the 2012 crime stats, just released:

  • Homicides down 18.1%
  • Assaults rate down 3.4%
  • Sexual assaults up 1.3%
  • Robberies down 10.1%
  • Burglaries down 11.1%
  • Theft down 11.8%

The overall number of crimes is down 7.4% and the crime rate is down 8.0%. Note however the overall rate is a fairly un-useful figure as it treats all crimes as equal magnitude.

I’ve done some quick graphs showing the level of recorded offences and the crime rates for the major categories, since 1996. A variety of stories.


Thankfully not a large number of homicides, so changes may not be significant. But a nice trend down in the last three years.


Assaults and violent offences were definitely trending up until 2009, and have been reducing over the last three years.

Sexual Assaults

Sadly sexual assaults is the one area that has not reduced. This may be due to greater reporting levels.


Thefts have been going down pretty constantly for the last 16 years.


Burglaries were pretty constant, but have also started to trend down.


Robberies really shot up around a decade ago, then started to reduce from 2006 and decrease more rapidly since 2008.


Again the overall rate is not that useful a number but still psychologically important to some. The overall crime rate dropped from 1996 to 2004, and then increased from 2004 to 2009. Since 2009 it has dropped pretty significantly. It is 18.9% lower than three years ago.

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