Guest Post: We have tried everything but  truly punitive sentencing

A guest post by David Garrett:

However Labour might wish to argue otherwise, New Zealand is in the middle of a violent crime wave. We have just had a mass shooting by someone who should not have had a gun, let alone a pump action shotgun. Ram raids are an almost daily occurrence. Last year saw the cold blooded murder of a policeman. A man is currently on trial for shooting a fellow drug dealer, apparently over money. In other words, the country is unrecognizable from what it was 50 or 60 years ago. Why is that? How have we reached this sorry state?

Let’s go back to 1959, two years after I was born. In that year there were zero culpable homicides – not onemanslaughter or murder in the whole  country  in that twelve  month period. Hanging was still the mandatory sentence for murder – albeit that many  of those so sentenced  were reprieved. Aside from the 1959 “blip”, our homicide rate  per 100,000 per annum – which allows us to compare New York with New Plymouth – averaged about 0.5 per 100,000  p.a.  as it had since the early 20th century.

Violent offenders – even low level ones – were invariably sent to jail. Those whose crimes had aggravating factors, or who were repeat offenders, could be sentenced to hard labour, where prisoners built their biceps breaking rocks next to Mt Eden, not in a nice clean gym in prison with underfloor heating. Those who didn’t want to behave could and did receive extra punishment, such as solitary confinement on “Number One diet” – bread and water. The cold unheated cells had a “piss pot” – a  bucket – in the corner,  which had to be “slopped out” each morning.

Bail was a rare privilege – one had to have “sureties” who put up money which was forfeit if you didn’t appear for trial. Bail would rarely if ever be granted for violent offences; the idea of those accused of murder being bailed would have been seen as absurd for a 1960’s  lawyer or  judge.

From the mid 1960’s, that all began to change; in short, criminals began to be seen as victims of their backgrounds and circumstances, rather than law breakers deserving of punishment. Hanging having been abolished in 1961, we began a trend of ever more  liberality in sentencing which has continued with ever increasing  speed ever since. The Sentencing Act 2002 has more than a few surprises for those unfamiliar with its provisions. Every sentence of two years or more is automatically cut in half – no parole required. There is a sub-section of the Act – s.8 (g) –  which says that Judges must impose the “least restrictive sentence possible”. 

As is becoming well known, the Act allows judges to make numerous  discounts for this or that, so that a sentence with a starting point  of – say –   five or six years in prison  can eventually result in the ludicrous non punishment of six or 12 months at home, smoking weed and playing computer games. If the offender is Maori he or she may request a “cultural report” which will helpfully include a long list of reasons for the offending, beginning with the supposed ongoing effects of colonization. One such happy beneficiary of such a report recently  thanked the judge and yelled “cracked it!” as he left the dock.

Where has that all got us? Our homicide rate has tripled from 0.5 per 100,000 p.a. in 1960  to about 1.5 – and this at a time when massive advances in trauma treatment since  our starting point of 1959 means those who would have died of a wound back in the day now often survive, albeit  after a period in intensive care. A British prison doctor – Tony Daniels (writing as Theodore Dalrymple) –  has opined that were if not for such advances there would be up to a third more homicides than there are.

Our violent crime rate per 100,000 has increased  about  200 times since 1960, with the use of guns, knives and other weapons  now being commonplace – and thanks to the benevolent provisions of the Sentencing Act, with its exhortations to be as least punitive as possible, and its “cultural reports”,  such crimes frequently don’t result in any prison time at all, and if the sentence is imprisonment, it will be a fraction of what would have been handed down in 50 years ago.

All of this sorry picture has resulted from “experts” who simply cannot accept that some humans are simply born evil; not only are they not remotely interested in rehabilitation, they laugh at those who suggest they change their criminal  path.  There are currently more than ten men serving time for their second  homicide – not a double or triple murder like that committed  by the now happily deceased Auckland construction site shooter, but a second murder, committed  after having served time for the first.

Our present situation  results from psychologists and criminologists who think everyone  is capable of reform, no matter what they have done. It has resulted from Parole Boards with the same mindset, who let out murderers like Graeme Burton, Paul Tainui and Pauesi Brown. We are where we are because many people – perhaps most – are not taught what the Sensible Sentencing Trust has called the ABC’s – Accountability, Boundaries and Consequences.

Rather than be held  accountable  for their actions, criminals find a plethora of “experts” willing to put their bad behavior  down to everything from colonization – the current favourite – to not having been brought up properly in a loving environment . Tragically of course the latter is frequently accurate; if a person’s parents are gang members who inculcate the “values” of the gang in their children, there is virtually zero chance of those children become decent citizens, and we now have a third generation of gang member parents.

Boundaries are all so last century – lately we have the absurdity of schools and other institutions bending  over backwards  to destroy  boundaries; accommodating children who identify as cats with dirt boxes in the toilets, and allowing men who claim to identify as a woman into women only spaces. I have already referred to the lack of consequences  at some length above.

The only thing that hasn’t been tried since the ever more liberal treatment of criminals  began in the 60’s is truly punitive prisons – and sentences which are at the upper end of the scale, and not “the least restrictive possible”. I cannot see the Nats or even those in my former party proposing to repeal the Sentencing Act – now gutted of its three strikes provisions – to turn off the underfloor heating, to  bring back hard labour as a sentence, and to  build prisons like the cold castle that is Mt Eden, and not a  nice clean well lighted and centrally heated  place like the New Auckland prison. Perhaps such a change will eventually happen, but I doubt we will see it in my lifetime – and I intend to live for a while yet. Until that change happens, I fear things are only going to get worse.

Comments (74)

Login to comment or vote

Add a Comment