Earlier this year, Police Minister Judith Collins announced that the police have seized $48 million off criminalsfrom the proceeds of crime. The Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act, which took effect in December 2009, enables Police to seize assets without even securing a criminal conviction.
There’s a fundamental injustice in taking property off people who haven’t been convicted of a crime linked to the acquisition of that property. That’s theft – and the scale on which this occurs ($48 million) makes the police the biggest criminal gang in the country. This is not the only piece of legislation passed by National which empowers the police to breach basic human rights. National has even indicated its intention to pass retroactive legislation authorising illegal video surveillance being conducted by police. Constitutional lawyer Mai Chen has a number of concerns about this legislation and says:
“The Government’s proposed change to the law will retrospectively validate illegal conduct by the police.”
Ignoring the wholesale erosion of the Bill of Rights taking place under this Government, there’s another issue – what it then does with these so-called proceeds of crime. A spokesman for Justice Minister Simon Power said a fund for fighting illegal drugs was being set up in consultation with the Justice Ministry and the Treasury. Really? There’s already a fund for that – it’s what the police are paid to do and their budget is currently over $1 billion a year. Do the police need extra funding? Not really. The money would be better spent addressing the causes of crime.
Funding of substance abuse
One of the common causes is substance abuse. In fact, 80% of crime occurs under the influence of alcohol and drugs. But currently only 25,000 New Zealanders a year are able to access treatment. This is because not enough funding is put into treatment – currently only about $100 million a year. In 2009, NCAT (the National Committee for Addiction Treatment) said funding for addiction needed to be increased by 150% just to provide sufficient capacity to treat 50,000 people.
The problem is NCAT claims that at least 160,000 New Zealanders need substance abuse treatment – and even this is a conservative estimate. In its review of the Misuse of Drugs Act, the Law Commission quoted a 2006 study which suggests 5.8% of the population have significant problems with alcohol and drugs and would benefit from treatment. 5.8% is nearly 255,000 people.
It gets worse. In 2010, the BERL report on harmful alcohol and drug use said 667,000 Kiwis engage in harmful levels of alcohol and drug use each year. About 120,000 of them end up in court – 30,000 for drink driving alone. When 80% of crime occurs under the influence of alcohol and drugs, the treatment sector is clearly in greater need of extra funding than the police.
Turn seized properties into half-way houses
Among the proceeds seized by police were 42 residential properties and 10 lifestyle blocks. If the Government intends to hang onto them, these could be gifted to agencies supporting prisoners like PARS (Prisoners Aid and Rehabilitation Societies) and NZPF (New Zealand Prison Fellowship) – and turned into half-way houses for ex-prisoners.
9,000 people are released from prison each year – but the Corrections Department currently funds only two half way houses in the entire country; there are none in the North Island and none for women anywhere in the country. The result is that only 1% of prisoners in New Zealand are released into supervised accommodation.
Compare that with Canada where there are over 200 half-way houses and 60% of those coming out of prison go there. It should be no surprise that the Chairman of the Parole Board, Judge David Carruthers believes Canada is five to six times more effective than New Zealand at reducing re-offending.
$48 million is a lot of money. If Government is going to hang onto these ill-gotten gains it should be used to rehabilitate and reintegrate the crims who commit the crimes – rather than wasting it on the police.