Strike Two

Stuff reports:

The controversial “” 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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