Public reaction to murder of Grace Millane racist, sexist & politically dangerous

Grace Millane

New Zealanders like their murder victims to be young, attractive, female – and white. When they are, we make a real fuss. Look at the publicity currently generated by the murder of 18-year-old Christie Marceau in 2011 and 22-year-old British backpacker, Grace Millane, just two weeks ago. Here’s just a few of the recent headlines: Grace’s legacy – Prominent women challenge men and Govt and Senseless killing’ – Grace’s death was like my daughters.

Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, felt it necessary to make a national apology claiming All New Zealanders ‘will feel heartbreak for that family’. The Guardian summed it up claiming that Grace Millane murder prompts outpouring of grief in New Zealand.  

‘Missing white woman syndrome’

It’s intense. Writing on Stuff, Alison Mau pointed out that ‘plentiful pictures of gorgeous Grace were available’ in this plethora of publicity and implied that all this attention is inherently racist. She noted that social scientists call it ‘Missing White Woman Syndrome’ defined by…

“the media’s undue focus on upper-middle-class white women who disappear, with the disproportionate degree of coverage they receive being compared to cases of missing men or boys, women of colour, and women of lower social classes.”

Mau reports that in Western countries like New Zealand, numerous studies reveal “viewers will stay glued to the set to hear endlessly about young, photogenic missing women – but only if they’re white” and can be depicted as “innocent” and “angelic”.

Mau makes the point that Grace is the 15th woman to be murdered in New Zealand this year.  But none of the other murders acquired anywhere near the same amount of attention – bearing in mind 31% of homicide victims are Maori and 62% of victims are male.  Paul Little argued in Grace Millane case highlights a terrible double standard that:

“Grace Millane and her memory deserve every tribute, and her whānau deserve every iota of sympathy that comes their way. But so did those other victims… we act as though all lives aren’t created equal.”

Christie
Christie Marceau – innocent & angelic

The murder of Christie Marceau

The media’s response to the murder of Christie Marceau was equally intense. She was also young, attractive, female and white. Christie was killed by Ashkay Chand who two months earlier had already threatened to rape and kill her. Much of the subsequent outrage, driven by Garth McVicar, was directed at the judge who allowed Chand out of prison on bail. McVicar even started a campaign to have the bail laws amended so this would never happen again.

Sure enough, two years later, National passed the Bail Amendment Act which doubled the number of prisoners on remand in three years and created a crisis in prison capacity. In response, Justice Minister, Andrew Little, said Labour wanted to reduce the prison population by 30%.

One of the concerns about the Grace Millane case is that Google and British media breached the temporary suppression order and named the alleged perpetrator. Peter Williams claimed the internet has compromised justice and wondered whether he can get a fair trial. Williams also found it totally inappropriate that the Prime Minister made a public apology to the Millane family. He wrote:

“Has a New Zealand political leader ever made such an emotional comment about a homicide victim before? More pertinently, why would the Prime Minister think it appropriate to comment on one homicide victim in a week when there were at least three other homicides in the country? Politicising a homicide case is not appropriate. Do it for one, and you really should do it for all.”

And not just for the families of attractive, young, white females. Each year approximately 50 people are murdered in New Zealand – giving us one of the lowest homicide rates in the world. No one in the Government has ever apologised to any of these families – not even to the family of Christie Marceau where a judge was (incorrectly) accused of being at fault.

Media commentator, Jim Tucker, thinks the outpouring of outrage is because Grace’s murder has embarrassed us overseas.  It seems we’re so embarrassed that a …

“cohort of prominent women including former Prime Ministers Helen Clarke and Jenny Shipley signed an open letter to the men and government of New Zealand and submitted it to the Prime Minister’s office. The letter stated that New Zealand had some of the worst statistics for violence against women in the OECD and listed actions each party could take to make our country a safer place.”

Of course, different countries define and report violence using a variety of methodologies so it is not clear how reliable these statistics actually are. Nevertheless, in yet another headline, the Government says it is listening’.

That’s a worry. Ever since the law and order referendum initiated by Norm Withers in 1999, New Zealand has been listening to populists with a penchant for punitive legislation. Just this year, a Bill was introduced requiring judges to impose a six-month prison sentence on anyone who attacks a paramedic or other first responder. At the beginning of December, new legislation came into effect penalising attempted strangulation. Both of these will put more people in prison.

Why is this politically dangerous?

It’s dangerous because it risks escalating the pathetic competition between political parties to be tough on crime which has gone on for the last 20 years – and because it will undermine Andrew Little’s aborted attempts to reduce the prison population.

So how will politicians respond to the murder of Grace Millane? Chances are some right-wing MP will try to re-introduce a private member’s Bill advocating the death penalty for the murder of attractive, young, white women. Further down the track, some other MPs could decide to hang the killers of less attractive, young, white women – or even wrinkled, older, white women. That would keep the prison population down.

Gavin Hawthorn: sending him to prison does not make us any safer

Gavin.png
Gavin Hawthorn: 13 convictions for drink driving

News that Gavin Hawthorn has recently been convicted of drink driving yet again has caused oodles of outrage in the media. Hawthorn has already killed four people in two separate accidents. In 2004 he was convicted of manslaughter over the death of his friend Lance Fryer and sentenced to 10 years in prison. He was released in 2013 and has now been caught drink-driving again – for the 13th time. On this occasion Judge Johnston sentenced him to six months home detention and disqualified him from driving for two years.

The headlines were horrified. Stuff stated it like this: Recidivist drink-driver Gavin Hawthorn convicted again, leading to call for permanent driving ban. Newshub harrumphed that it was ‘Appalling’: Porirua man Gavin Hawthorn escapes jail after 12th drink-driving conviction. The Herald highlighted: NZ’s worst drink driver caught drunk behind the wheel again. Duncan Garner was especially incensed arguing that:

“This judge has failed to keep us safe as New Zealanders. We’ve been let down by his profession once again. He has let us down, now we are in harm’s way.” He went on to say the case was an example of why the public “have little confidence in the justice system”.

Blaming judges is misguided and myopic.  This is what Garth McVicar and the senseless sentencing trust have been doing for years. All that has achieved is a burgeoning prison population and a crisis in capacity. At $100,000 per prisoner, per year and a reoffending rate of 60% within two years of release, clearly this is a failed strategy – and a massive waste of taxpayer money.

Keeping us safe

The justification for all this moral outrage is the dubious assumption that sending ‘dangerous’ people to prison ‘keeps us safe’. Does it? Let’s look at the facts.

Gavin Hawthorn killed his last victim in 2003. Between 2003 and 2017, another 5,402 people have died on New Zealand roads – an average of 360 people a year – or nearly one every day. Half of these deaths are caused by drivers under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or both.

The point is that most of these people died during the ten years that Hawthorn was in prison. Clearly his incarceration did not make us any safer. Giving the judge a hard time for not sending him to prison on his current conviction does not change this reality.

So, what’s the solution? The only intelligent comments in the media came from Andrew Dickens on NewstalkZB who asked rather quaintly: What to do with our drinkiest drink driver?  He argued with considerable insight that:

“Indefinite incarceration and licence deprivation is not what this man needs. What he needs is to STOP FREAKING DRINKING.”

Drug courts

Dickens’ answer to the problems posed by the likes of Gavin Hawthorn is to put him into a drug court (in New Zealand known as AODTC – Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Courts). To be eligible, defendants must be alcohol or drug dependent and facing a prison sentence. A treatment plan for each participant is developed by the judge, taking into account the views of treatment providers, support workers and lawyers; it involves rehabilitation, counselling, drug-testing, community service and making amends to victims.

Dickens describes the process like this:

“They’re a three-phase, 18-month-long programme designed for high-needs and high-risk addicts who are facing prison, or who have tried but failed treatment programmes in the past.”

Drug courts have the potential to help thousands of offenders, not just drink drivers. And there is no shortage of available candidates in New Zealand. In 2011, judges told the Law Commission that 80% of all offending was alcohol and drug related. In 2017, Northland district court  judge, Greg Davis, who sees a lot of methamphetamine related crime, said up to 90% of all offending was related to issues with addiction.

Currently, the only two drug courts in the country are both in Auckland. Hawthorn is serving his sentence of Home Detention in Paraparaumu – so a drug court in Wellington would be helpful. We need such courts in all our major cities.

Compulsory AOD assessment

Another strategy is available to target drink drivers in particular – one that also involves assessment and treatment. Currently out of 20,000 people convicted of this offence each year, only 5% – those disqualified indefinitely – are required to have an alcohol and drug assessment to see if they have their drinking under control before getting their driver’s licence back. Many of the remainder are sent to prison – just like Gavin Hawthorn. If any drink driver who incurred a second conviction was required by law to have an AOD assessment before their disqualification could be lifted, fully half of the 20,000 drink drivers would be assessed. As a result, there would be a lot less people in prison.

An evaluation of the NZ drug courts shows they also reduce imprisonment – 282 participants have been kept out of prison during the six years the two Auckland courts have been operating.

So if the government implemented these two strategies, this would shift the focus of our justice system away from punishing alcohol and drug addicted offenders towards treating them instead.  This would surely help Justice Minister, Andrew Little, get closer to the Government goal of reducing the prison population by 30%. Maybe it would even moderate the media to tone down their moral outrage.

It’s not the Justice system that’s broken – it’s the political system

Chester
Chester Borrows, head of the Justice Advisory Panel

Writing in Newsroom last week, Laura Walters discusses the work being done by the Justice Advisory Panel appointed by Andrew Little. She says the Panel has found that:

“there is widespread acceptance that New Zealand has a broken justice system”.

She says the head of the advisory panel, Chester Burrows, claims there needs to be a change of focus from punishment to healing and quotes him as saying:

“the type of changes being promised would take at least a generation to be delivered.”

Apparently, Justice Minister, Andrew Little, and National Party justice spokesman Mark Mitchell agreed with Borrows that transformative change like this would take time.

Key statistics

The notion that the justice system is broken is based on three key statistics. The first is that prison population recently hit an all-time high of 10,800 – although it may have dropped a bit since then. The second is that 50% of inmates are Maori even though they make up only 15% of the general population. The third is that rehabilitation programmes are ineffective with the result that 60% of prison inmates re-offend within two years of being released.

NZ Prison rate
Graph showing the growth of the NZ prison population 1900 to 2016

Rather than ‘broken’, the number of Kiwis in prison suggests the system is far too efficient. It has been locking up Kiwis in record numbers, currently 220 inmates per 100,000 of the general population. The reality is that New Zealand incarcerates more people than corrupt, undemocratic countries such as Honduras – which has the highest murder rate in the world but a prison rate of only 200. We also lock up more than other western democracies like Australia where the rate of imprisonment is 167 per 100,000; England & Wales (143); Canada (114); Finland (57); and Iceland (38) –  which is rated the safest country in the world and has exactly the same number of murders per head of population as New Zealand.

Solving the primary problem

So, if we solved the first problem – that there are too many Kiwis in prison – that would largely solve the other two. For instance, if there were only 5,000 people in prison instead of 10,000, only 2,500 would be Maori instead of 5,000. Similarly, even if 60% continued to reoffend, that would be 3,000 reoffenders instead of 6,000. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t tackle institutional racism in the justice system or try to reduce re-offending, but the greatest gains will be achieved by quick-fix measures which reduce the prison population.

Once upon a time, Andrew Little would have agreed. He said he wanted to reduce the muster by 30% within 15 years. He seems to have given up on that goal. Instead of reducing the prison muster, now he wants to fix the entire justice system and claims it will take a generation – which is about 30 years.

That’s a shame – because the prison population could be easily be reduced by 30% within three years. All the government has to do is repeal the Bail Amendment Act of 2013 which led to an extra 1,500 people sent to prison on remand (i.e. not yet convicted); and allow 1,500 low risk prisoners to be released automatically half way through their sentence – instead of making them go before the Parole Board which, according to Mike Williams, has lost the plot.

The need for public support

Unfortunately, after failing to repeal the three strikes law, Andrew Little seems to have given up on amending any legislation at all. Instead, it seems he wants to change the punitive culture that Garth McVicar, the media and the two major political parties have generated in the last 20 years by talking ‘tough on crime’ – a process known as penal populism.   Instead of using legislation, it seems Mr Little now wants public support to change the public narrative – but admits he’ll have to wait 30 years to get it. This text he sent me a few days ago demonstrates his shift of focus.

Twitter - Andrew Little

Andrew Little needs to get on with it

The problem is, Little doesn’t have 30 years. He doesn’t even have 15. This coalition government has two years to run.  Simon Bridges is not doing well as leader of the Nats and so Labour may get another three years. So if Little is serious about cutting the prison muster, or reforming the justice system, he needs to get on with it.

And he’s dead wrong when he says it’s not about the legislation. The current crisis in the prison muster is a direct result of a raft of tough on crime bills passed by both National and Labour in the last 20 years;  both parties have been all too willing to jump on Garth McVicar’s bandwagon to ‘lock ‘em up and throw away the key’.

Andrew Little seems to have realised the futility of this approach; he recently referred to McVicar as ‘loopy’. But there is no doubt that the current crisis in our prison system is the direct result of 20 years of fear-mongering and scare tactics about keeping the community safe.  Now Mr Little wants to reverse course. But he can’t repeal any of these measures because Labour doesn’t even have the support of coalition partner, NZ First, let alone the New Zealand public. I rest my case. It’s not the justice system that’s broken. It’s the political system.

Kelvin Davis has a cunning plan

Baldrick
Baldrick: “I have a cunning plan!”

When Blackadder and Baldrick were in a difficult situation, Baldrick would come up with a turn of phrase which became a standing joke: “I have a cunning plan” he would say.

The Labour government is also in a tricky situation with regard to justice reform. Andrew Little and Kelvin Davis want to reduce the prison population by 30%. The fly in the ointment is NZ First which shot down Little’s recent proposal to repeal the three strikes law.

Given NZ First’s uncompromising stance on law and order, Labour is unlikely to pass any legislative proposals related to crime and punishment in this parliamentary term. But just as Baldrick used to do, Kelvin Davis and Corrections have come up with a cunning plan.

Instead of repealing the three strikes law or the Bail Amendment Act, Davis has persuaded management in the Department to alleviate obstacles in the way offenders are processed in prison. Corrections deputy national commissioner, Leigh Marsh (below), was put in charge of the project and has come up with two main strategies.

Leigh Marsh
Leigh Marsh, deputy national commissioner – the man with a plan.

Bail Support Service

One is to assist the growing number of defendants on remand apply for bail in the community instead of spending months in prison waiting for their case to come up.

Since the Bail Amendment Act was passed in 2013 making it more difficult for defendants to get bail, offenders are now far more likely to be remanded in prison. However, they may be eligible to apply for electronically monitored bail (known as ebail); the defendant has to come up with a suitable address, and whoever lives there (usually family), has to give their permission.

To apply, the offender has to write to the people in the house and ask if he can stay there on ebail. He may not know the exact address which is another obstacle. Even if he does, whoever he writes to might not bother to reply. If they say ‘no’, then the prisoner has to come up with someone else to write to.  Of course, all this assumes the prisoner can read and write – when the reality is that 70% of those in prison struggle with basic literacy.  In other words, this is a slow frustrating procedure and most of those on remand just give up and wait till their day in court.

According to Corrections deputy national commissioner, Leigh Marsh, Corrections has put a rocket under remand by creating a Bail Support Service and a bail phone App.  Bail Officers visit the prisoner the day after he is remanded in prison to assist with the paperwork, and contact the appropriate support people. They also liase with defence counsel and try to get the defendant’s bail application before a judge within a week. This has cut dramatically the amount of time that prisoners spend on remand. Once offenders get out, they get their cell phone back and the App helps them stay on track with their bail conditions.

Parole ready

Sir Ron Young.jpg
Sir Ron Young – parole board chairman

Corrections’ other new strategy is to help sentenced prisoners become ‘parole ready’. The background to this is that the Parole Board will not generally release any prisoner until he, or she, has completed a criminogenic rehabilitation programme. Often the Board insists that prisoners must do two rehab programmes before they are considered ready for release.

The problem was that until Kelvin Davis got involved, Corrections made little effort to put prisoners into programmes until they were near the end of their sentence.  That means most prisoners would end up serving almost their entire sentence, even though they became eligible for parole after completing one third.

By failing to put prisoners into programs early on in their sentence, Corrections was actively preventing them from being paroled – including low to medium risk prisoners who make up the bulk of the prison population.

Leigh Marsh says that Corrections is now making more of an effort to place prisoners into programs before their first parole hearing – something they have never done before.  As a result, in the last 12 months approximately 5% more prisoners have been released on parole.

Impact

These changes have made a significant difference.  According to Newsroom:

ImpactThe population peaked in March at 10,820 and on 3 October had dropped to 10,035 – a 7.3% fall.

Two days later Stuff reported:

“The prison population has dipped below 10,000 for the first time in more than two years”.

Given that prison numbers have been rising steadily for over 50 years, it is too early to tell whether this is just a temporary blip or part of a new trend. One thing is clear. This new approach involves a great deal more respect and humanity for offenders and a much greater commitment to due process.  Instead of chucking offenders into prison to take their chances with an unresponsive system riddled with insurmountable obstacles, now Corrections is actively trying to help offenders get out and stay out.

I have to say – that’s a novel idea – one that has never been tried before in New Zealand.

Cost savings

But wait, there’s more. It costs $110,000 a year to keep someone in prison. Since there are already 800 less prisoners, that’s a potential saving of $88 million in one year. If these initiatives had been introduced 20 years ago, the savings would have been $1.7 billion. If these initiatives continue to work and eventually cut the prison population by Labour’s goal of 3,000, that would save $330 million a year. Over the next 20 years, we would save $6.6 billion.

Even Blackadder would agree – this is a very cunning plan. It’s called common sense.

97% of Kiwis do NOT support the three strikes law

Image result for david farrar
David Farrar conducted dodgy research on behalf of Garth McVicar

The New Zealand Herald recently published an article claiming that “Three strikes law supported by 68% of Kiwis”.

The article was based on a truly dodgy piece of research commissioned by Garth McVicar and carried out by Kiwiblogger, David Farrar. Even Donald Trump would have called it ‘fake news’.

To get this result, those participating in the survey were asked this question:

“Since 2010, New Zealand has had a ‘Three Strikes’ sentencing law for serious violent and sexual offenders who continue to commit offences. This law removes parole eligibility for repeat offenders and imposes the maximum prison term available for the offence committed, for those who offend a third or subsequent time. Do you approve or disapprove of this law?”

David Farrar’s research firm rang up 965 people and 645 of them (68%) said they approved. When contacted about these results David Farrar said his team actually rang about 2000 people, but only 965 agreed to participate. So actually that’s 645 out of 2000 people who said they approved of the law. That brings the approval rate down to 32%.

Even then, the result is still misleading. In surveys like this, when people are given specific details about the offender and the crime and understand the context, they tend to be far more lenient towards the offender than when asked vague questions like the one above.

To illustrate: there are only two or three offenders on their third strike. One of them is Daniel Fitzgerald who has a history of mental illness. In December 2016, under the influence of alcohol, he approached a woman he did not know in central Wellington. He tried to kiss her on the lips, but in the struggle she managed to turn her head away and he kissed her cheek instead.

Image result for david garrett nz
David Garrett confused the rules of US baseball with NZ sentencing law

Because this was his third strike, he was sentenced to the maximum sentence of seven years’ in prison for indecent assault. The judge in the case said the offending was so minor that without the three strikes law, Fitzgerald would not have been sent to prison at all.

Raven Casey Campbell is another on his third strike. He was already in prison when he was convicted of indecent assault for grabbing a female prison officer’s bottom. On top of the sentence he was already serving, he was also sentenced to an additional seven years. Judge Toogood said:

“It may seem very surprising that this consequence could be required by law for an offence of this kind, but that is the law and I have no option but to enforce it.”

Context-rich research questions

In order to conduct more meaningful research on the extent to which people approve of the three strikes law, survey questions need to be formulated like this:

“A 45-year-old man with a history of mental illness kissed a woman he had never met on the cheek when he had been drinking. If you were the judge, would you sentence him to a community-based program with a focus on addressing his mental health and addiction issues, or would you sentence him to prison.”

The evidence suggests that when people participating in surveys are given background details about the case, they tend to be far more lenient than when asked general questions that don’t provide any context.

In a brief survey conducted by Survey Monkey, even when someone has been killed in a drink-driving accident, 97% of respondents did not want the offender to go to prison when told the background circumstances. CHECK OUT THE SURVEY HERE.

 

Garth McVicar commits a $30,000 finable offence every day

In March 2018, Garth McVicar congratulated the police on his Facebook page for shooting a 29-year-old man near Pohuehue. “One less to clog the prisons!” he wrote.

is this charitable

McVicar was criticised by all and sundry including the police who called his comments repugnant. Action Station urged readers to sign a petition suggesting ‘Sensible Sentencing Trust should not have charitable status’.

The reality is that the SST does not have charitable status. It was deregistered in 2010 when the Charities Commission decided it was a lobby group and that its main aims were political rather than charitable.  The point was clarified in a press release issued by Charities Services in 2015:

The Sensible Sentencing Trust was created to advocate for changes in the law about sentencing and criminal (penal) policy. It is not a registered charity.

According to Sir Peter Gluckman, Garth McVicar uses dogma, rather than data to make his case in the media.  It seems he also uses ‘alternative facts’ (to quote Kellyanne Conway).  On the SST website, McVicar still claims the SST is a ‘registered charitable trust’ (see screengrab below).

SST screen

This is illegal under the Charities Act. Section 37 of the Act states that unless registered under the Act, “a person may not use the words ‘registered charitable entity’ to describe their organisation”. Section 38 says that anyone who does so commits an offence and is liable to be fined up to $30,000. That means McVicar is potentially in breach of section 37 of the Charities Act and could be fined up to $30,000.SGRITY SET UP

In order to get around the deregistration, in 2015 McVicar set up a second trust called the Sensible Sentencing Group Trust. The website claims:

“Sensible Sentencing encompasses two very distinct trusts and purposes” – yeah right!

McVicar claims that the role of the SST is political advocacy (which is not a charitable purpose) and the role of the SSGT is solely to support victims – which is considered charitable. The screengrab claims both of them are ‘registered charitable trusts’.

However, Garth McVicar is the spokesperson for both organisations: the roles and functions of the two trusts are enmeshed on one website; funds for the SSGT are solicited on the SST site; the few staff who offer victim assistance on behalf of the SSGT are all members of the SST; and the SSGT Trust document (available on line) in effect describes political advocacy in its mission statement. It says:

“We serve to educate the public as to the plight of these victims… and to help them ensure their interests are properly understood by any relevant authority.”

‘Educating the public’ (through McVicar’s frequent media statements) and ‘ensuring that victims’ interests are understood by the relevant authorities’ is McVicar’s modus operandi. He is constantly calling on the Government of the day to lock up more people. According to Charities Services, as a registered charity, the SSGT is not allowed to do this.

In other words, the SSGT is just a front enabling the organisation to continue offering donee status with the IRD while McVicar continues with his media campaign and political agenda under the guise of the SST.  Political advocacy is not a charitable purpose. So in the words of the Charities Service, both the SST and SSGT appear to be “sham charities set up for an illegal or improper purpose”.

The SSGT should also be deregistered. Now that would be really sensible.

Petition to Govt to cancel plans for 3,000 bed mega prison at Waikeria

Garth McVicar took advantage of the Marceau family’s grief to advocate for tougher bail laws

Since the Bail Amendment Act was passed in 2013, the prison population has jumped by over 1500. This has created a crisis in capacity – there are only 300 beds left in the entire prison system. The National Government and Bill a new 3,000 bed prison at Waikeria to address the problem – at a cost of $1 billion.

I have created a website, It’s Time to Cut Prison Population which advocates against the new prison being built.
It contains information describing the historical background to the growth in New Zealand’s prison population.
It contains some simple quick fix solutions to reduce the prison population by 30% within six years – and explains why it needs to be done in six years – and not 15 as proposed by the Labour government.
It also has an online petition which allows all New Zealanders to email the government to take immediate steps to lower the prison population and cancel plans for the proposed prison.