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.

Corrections should get rid of all 2,500 volunteers

NuiBlack power member, Ngapari Nui (right), has been working as a prison volunteer for the last five years trying to steer young gang members away from crime. By all accounts he’s been doing a great job.

But this week Mr Nui was given the boot after the so-called Sensible Sentencing Trust made a complaint to Judith Collins claiming that gang members should not be allowed to volunteer in prison. Since then two other volunteers, who also used to be in gangs, have also been shut out.

This puts Collins at odds with her management team – because Corrections likes to use volunteers. On their website, the Department describes how important  the role is to them:

Volunteering within Corrections supports our goal of reducing re-offending, by assisting offenders to meet their rehabilitative needs and transition back into society (reintegration).”

Over 2,500 well-meaning Kiwis are currently authorised by Corrections to fill this role. Despite their good intentions, the reality is that these volunteers don’t make much difference.  About a quarter of ex-prisoners reoffend in the first 12 months of release and nearly 50% are back inside within four years.

Who you gonna call?

There’s a reason these volunteers are ineffective. It’s because reintegration is a job for professionals and those doing it should get paid. Look at it like this. What if police officers didn’t get paid? Suppose the police was a volunteer force – no skills or training required. Would you feel safe in your community? What would happen to the crime rate?

What if teachers didn’t get paid?  And only those who love working with kids could volunteer. What would happen to our kid’s education if we did that? What if doctors, nurses and social workers didn’t get paid?  What if prison officers didn’t get paid? Only volunteers with authoritarian tendencies required. How many would put themselves forward for that – especially if they were asked to volunteer at Paremoremo.  What if city councils relied exclusively on volunteers to collect the city’s rubbish? Man, what a mess that would make.

With the exception of rubbish collectors, the people who do these jobs are mostly professionals, with years of training and experience. No doubt there’s a bad apple here and there, but most of them are also dedicated – they believe in what they do and they make a valuable contribution to society.

At the heart of all this is the old fashioned principle that if what you do is worthwhile and makes a difference, then you should get paid for it; and the more specialist your skills are, the more you make.  This is how it works in a modern economy.

Rubbish bagPicking up the trash

So what does this say about the use of volunteers to reintegrate prisoners and reduce reoffending? It says that Corrections regards the resettlement of prisoners in the community as less important than rubbish collection – just chuck them out on the street and see if anyone volunteers to pick them up. It means that as a society, those coming out of prison are worth less to us than our garbage. And it means all the political posturing about reducing reoffending is not worth the paper it’s printed on.

These are human beings we’re talking about. If we treat them like rubbish, they go back to the dysfunctional environments they came from punctuated by poverty, unemployment, substance abuse and violence.

Carruthers.jpgJudge David Carruthers (left), current chairman of the IPCA and former chairman of the parole board, points out that in Canada, 60% of prisoners are released into halfway houses funded by the Canadian Correctional service; and that this has helped to cut reoffending rates dramatically. Canada now has over 250 halfway houses which provide counselling support and additional rehabilitation programs for ex-prisoners.

The staff in these houses are not volunteers; they’re paid professionals. Why? Because the Canadian Corrections service understands that this is not a job for volunteers, and those who do it make a valuable contribution to society, and should be paid accordingly.

In New Zealand, the Corrections Department provides funding for only two halfway houses in the whole country – Moana house in Dunedin, and Salisbury Trust in Christchurch. These two facilities provide beds for a grand total of 25 ex-prisoners at any one time – bearing in mind that about 20,000 people circulate through our prisons every year.

Prison cartoon.jpgThere are no halfway houses funded by Corrections in the North Island where the bulk of the prisoners are held; and there are no halfway houses for women anywhere in the country.

In addition to limited funding for half way houses, in 2013 the Government agreed to fund five agencies to provide Out of Gate reintegration services – to the tune of $10 million over two years. That’s $5 million a year – not much when you consider that crime costs the country at least $9 billion a year and the prison population is at an all-time high of 9,500.

Because these agencies are paid so little, they have no choice but to rely on volunteers. Perhaps it should be no surprise that New Zealand has one of the highest ratios of volunteers to prisoners of any country in the world. That says something about the compassion of the average New Zealander. But it doesn’t say much for the Corrections Department which treats those coming out of prison with less respect than the rubbish we put out on the street.

The reality is that even our rubbish is picked up and recycled by people who get paid – and I bet that costs a lot more $5 million a year.


The prison population is out of control – this is why

LightfootIn April 2016, the prison population reached a record high of 9436 and justice sector forecasts are for it to reach 10,000 by 2017. Trying to explain this, Department of Corrections national commissioner, Jeremy Lightfoot (right) said:

“The current increase is due to more people being held in prison on remand than was forecast; legislative changes have also meant prisoners serve more of their sentence in prison; and there has been an increase in people serving longer sentences for more serious crimes.”

BouchierCriminal Bar Association president Tony Bouchier (left) disagrees. He says the lack of mental health institutions is a major cause of the rise in prisoner numbers. He says:

“One of the main reasons the prison muster is so high is that our prisons are our proxy for our mental health institutions which we no longer have. “

He also blames the three-strikes law, which is starting to take effect.

“We have got quite a number of people who are on their second strike now and the problem with that third strike is that there is no parole, so what we are going to be looking at is not only an increased prison muster, but a lot more prisoners serving long-term sentences, so that will increase the muster.”

Bouchier also believes the growing number of Australians being deported to New Zealand is contributing to the problem.

“These are people who are coming back to a completely foreign land, they’ve got no family or support… there is only so much that the probation service can do with these people. They are strangers in a strange land.”

Bouchier correctly points out that the underlying, root cause of the problem is actually penal populism:

“The (prison) population is going to continue to grow, simply because politicians see votes in getting tough on crime and they can’t be any more creative when they are addressing the crime issue in New Zealand.  Our prison rates are an embarrassment to us.”

Flying BlindNew Zealand vs Finland

In Flying Blind – How the justice system perpetuates crime, the point was made that New Zealand could learn a thing or two from Finland about rates of imprisonment. In 1950, the Finns incarcerated 187 people in prison per 100,000 of population.  New Zealand’s rate that year was 56 inmates per 100,000, less than a third of the Finnish rate.

In the latter half of the 20th century, the Finns became concerned that they were out of line with their more civilised Scandinavian neighbours, which had low rates of imprisonment. This led to some dramatic changes in penal policy, as a result of which the number of people in prison began to drop. By 2001, the rate was down to only 40 people per 100,000 – an extraordinary reduction of 78% in the prison population.

During the same 50 years, the New Zealand rate began to skyrocket. In 2001, instead of being three times less, our rate of imprisonment was three times higher than Finland’s – at 150 inmates per 100,000.  Since then, more and more ‘tough on crime’ policies have been implemented and in April 2016, our prison population reached an all-time high of 202 per 100,000.  We now lock up almost four times as many people as Finland per head of population.

How did Finland do it?

According to About Time, a Corrections Department report published in 2001, three key factors contributed to Finland’s success. The first was widespread political agreement that a reduction in the prison population was necessary. The second was an understanding both in government and the public service that policies had to be based on evidence and ‘expert understanding’. The third factor was that the public in Finland actually supported measures to reduce the prison population.

Pratt2Professor John Pratt (left), a criminologist at Victoria University, put it this way:

“Key people in that society – people who actually knew something about penal policy and the consequences of imprisonment: academics, judges and senior civil servants – felt that the high prison population was shameful”.

This wry observation refers to Finland’s use of academics and justice professionals to formulate penal policy – whereas in New Zealand, penal policy has mostly been driven by knee-jerk political responses to public opinion. And public opinion on law and order issues has largely been driven by Garth McVicar, a farmer who has no qualifications in law, sociology, psychology, criminology or anything else that is remotely relevant to issues of justice or sentencing.

Why should we care? Because prisons are expensive and the cost to the taxpayer for Police, Courts, and Corrections is now estimated at over $3.7 billion a year – and rising. And because it makes no sense to keep building new prisons and locking up more and more people when the crime rate is actually declining. Unfortunately, the only hope that a New Zealand Government might be persuaded to try a new approach to penal policy is the growing financial burden these tough on crime policies impose. As the wonderfully wise Bill English said in 2011:

“Prisons are a fiscal and moral failure… It’s the fastest rising cost in government in the last decade… and my view is we shouldn’t build any more of them.”

The obscene Money money story – as reported by the Waikato Times

The Waikato Times recently printed a story with the headline ‘Obscene amount spent on prison healthcare.’ It said that in 2013, the Corrections Department spent $24 million on  healthcare and the writer, Belinda Feek, said “The spend has left some commentators outraged knowing that offenders would get immediate access to care while many of their victims are forced to wait a number of years.”

Ruth MoneyThe only outraged ‘commentator’ mentioned in the story is Ruth Money (left) of the so-called Sensible Sentencing Trust. Ms Money clearly knows nothing about the availability of medical care in New Zealand prisons – so she made up some nonsense which the Waikato Times then published as if it was true.

Let’s look at a few facts.  The story has only one accurate statement. It quotes Bronwyn Donaldson, the director of offender heath for Corrections, who notes the Department has “a statutory obligation to provide a primary healthcare service to prisoners that is reasonably equivalent to that found in the community.” That ‘fact’ is established by section 75 of the Corrections Act 2004.

The ratio of doctors to prisoners

Everything else in the story is dodgy. In order for there to be any chance of an ‘equivalent’ level of care in prison, key features of the systems need to be similar. For instance the ratio of doctors to prisoners needs to be similar to the ratio of doctors to patients in the community.  But Corrections doesn’t get anywhere near this. In 2010, there were 13,883 full-time general practitioners in New Zealand. This translates to 317 doctors per 100,000 of the population – or one doctor for every 315 people.

The Times story mentions Springhill and Rangipo prisons. Springhill, with 1050 prisoners, has a doctor on duty for only 18 hours a week. That’s a ratio of one full time doctor for 2,333 prisoners. Rangipo, with 540 prisoners, has a doctor on duty for only seven hours a week. That provides a full time equivalent of one doctor for 3,085 patients.  With those ratios, the chance of prisoners getting “immediate access to care” is almost zero. The reality is that one of the most common complaints made by prisoners is that they can’t get to see a doctor when they need to – which sometimes has fatal results. Jai Davis, who was admitted to Otago prison in 2011 suspected of ‘internally concealing’ drugs. He died two days later because there was no doctor on duty and none of the nurses or prison staff bothered to call one.

Pill in mouthCorrections’ discouraged medication policy

In order for prisoners to receive equivalent care, they also have to have access to the same drugs and medications available to the public. But they’re not. Section 6.1.1 of the Department’s medication policy states: “Prescribing medication that can be misused/abused or has some economic value in a prison environment (or example benzodiazepines, opioids and zopiclone) is actively discouraged. A clinically suitable alternative medication or treatment option is preferred.”

Opioids are used for the relief of severe pain. But this ‘discouraged medication policy’ extends well beyond pain relief.  All medications including antidepressants and antipsychotic drugs are taken away from prisoners – usually on their first day in prison –  while the nurse checks with the prisoner’s GP.  Although this practice varies from one prison to another, often such medications are never reinstated. In The Effects of Imprisonment on Inmates’ and their Families’ Health and Wellbeing Dr Michael Roguski, provides numerous case studies which illustrate the suffering this policy causes.  It contributes to depression, anxiety and sometimes to suicide.

Given these deficiencies, it is not surprising that the suicide rate in prison is five to six times higher than the suicide rate in the community. In 2011, so many prisoners killed themselves it was eleven times higher. That’s a fact.

Medical ethics and the Crimes Act

The reality is that denying patients clinically appropriate medication, especially those in severe pain or with mental health disorders, is inhumane and a breach of human rights. If prison doctors follow this policy, they’re breaching their medical ethics which require them to put the welfare of their patients first – rather than arbitrary prison policies. They could even be charged with breaching section 151 of the Crimes Act which requires anyone with vulnerable individuals in their care:  “to provide (those) person(s) with necessaries; and take reasonable steps to protect (those) person(s) from injury.”

The quality of medical care in New Zealand prisons is so poor that in September 2013, Radio New Zealand revealed that the police are investigating the allegations into Jai Davis’ death and are reviewing the suicide of another prisoner.  Richard Barriball had three different medications taken off him as soon as he was remanded in prison in 2010.  He died after being in prison for less than a week. Three former prison doctors interviewed by RNZ are all calling for an inquiry.

Financial comparisons

A final comparison that needs to be made relates to the amount spent on prison healthcare. Ruth Money calls the $24 million spent on prisoners an ‘obscene amount’. But this is less than 2% of the Department’s annual budget of $1.4 billion.  Compare that with the $14 billion which the government spends on healthcare in the community – out of a tax take of $60 billion a year.   That’s 23%. In other words the government spends 11 times more on healthcare in the community than Corrections spends on the healthcare of prisoners.  There are approximately eight times as many full time doctors per patient in the community as there are doctors per prisoner. Now that is obscene. And the Waikato Times let Bronwyn Donaldson get away with saying Corrections provides an equivalent standard of care.  What standard of journalism is that?

Criticism of sensible sentencing trust deleted from wikipedia

In the last 18 months, I have made numerous edits to Wikipedia articles on justice issues in New Zealand. In May 2013, I was banned from further editing – it seems they don’t like my perspective. Since then other editors have deleted many of the contributions I have made to a range of different articles.  The following information was deleted from the Wikipedia article about the sensible sentencing trust.

McVicarFor the last ten years or so, Garth McVicar has been a polarising figure in New Zealand politics. While he is supported by some victims and their families, he has been criticised in the media and lambasted on chat forums.  Columnist Richard Boock has pointed out that McVicar’s public statements are often contradictory and wrote: “What McVicar stands for isn’t really clear, but it certainly has nothing to do with justice.” Some commentators doubt that the SST actually helps the victims it claims to support. Justice reformer, Kim Workman, believes that when victims get caught up in the rhetoric of the Sensible Sentencing trust, they…

become trapped in their grief by the Trust and are unable to ever reach peace. These victims are being fed with this retributive agenda from McVicar and from politicians trying to oust one another to be tough on crime. It’s just alienating and full of hate. It’s not helpful at all.”

Offenders are also victims

The Trust’s call for harsher sentences has been criticised by justice sector professionals on a number of grounds. The first is that there is no clear delineation between victims and offenders. Tony Paine, CEO, Victim Support points out that…

 “the social and demographic indicators that identify those who are most likely to be victimized are identical to the markers for those likely to be offenders. The life stories and cultural contexts that weave victims and offenders together (often within the same person) make any artificial separation between offenders and victims just that: an artifice that oversimplifies our complex world.”

The single greatest predictor of youth offending is prior victimisation and thousands of New Zealanders are transformed annually from child victims into young offenders.

Penal populism

Garth McVicar’s willingness to publicly criticise the justice system has led to an increase in the public’s fear of crime and more politicians competing to be “tough on crime” – a process described by criminologists as penal populism. All too often New Zealand journalists have been lured into phoning McVicar for a quote, rather than investigating the latest research in penal policy, or talking to criminologists and justice sector experts, about what actually works.  Kim Workman has written:Workman

“The Trust and its spokespeople have become new kinds of experts, whose knowledge is based not on formal learning and research, but on anecdote, common sense and newspaper headlines: a form of expertise that suits the news making requirements of the contemporary media.” 

In the process, the media generally ignore researchwhich shows a continuing decline in reported crime rates as well as international perceptions that New Zealand is already regarded as a safe society.

Perversion of justice

Legal theorists argue that the populist goal of a crime free society is a utopian dream. French criminologist, Denis Salas, says societies driven by penal populism develop an insatiable demand for more and more punitive laws in pursuit of a society where there is no risk – and this leads to a “perversion of justice“.  Chief Justice, Dame Sian Elias, has also expressed concerns about tougher sentencing and believes that New Zealand has developed a “pervasive culture of blame” and that more punitive sanctions have not made New Zealand any safer. In her Blameless Babes speech at Victoria University in 2009 she said:

“The responsibility (of the probation service) to manage risk… is conducted against a public unwillingness to accept that risk cannot be eliminated.”

Growing prison population

The “tough on crime” policies advocated by the Trust have contributed to New Zealand’s growing prison population.  In December 2011, New Zealand’s rate of imprisonment was 190 inmates per 100,000 of populationgiving the country one of highest rates of imprisonment among western democracies. Prison numbers have increased so rapidly that in the last ten years, the Corrections Department has had to build five new prisons and according to Finance Minister, Bill English, Corrections will soon be the biggest government department in the country. In 2011, Mr English said repeatedly that New Zealand was facing the biggest deficit in its history,that prisons were “a fiscal and moral failure” and we couldn’t afford to build any more.

Ineffectiveness of deterrence

The problem is that longer sentences do not deter criminal offending. In 2001 the Corrections Department released a policy document called About Time quoting the result of 50 international studies involving over 300,000 offenders. It said:

“None of the analyses found imprisonment reduced recidivism… Longer sentences were associated with an increase in offending.”

Longer sentences not only fail to deter offending, such policies are expensive to implement. Each prisoner costs the taxpayer $90,000 per year and Corrections annual budget is over $1 billion a year placing a growing burden on the taxpayer.

PrattIn an interview with Time magazine in 2010, criminologist, Professor John Pratt of Victoria University made the point that the more a society spends on their prison system, the less they tend to spend on education, health and social security.  At the same time, by focussing solely on increasing prison sentences to bring about a ‘safe’ society, the Sensible Sentencing Trust ignores international evidence that reducing income inequality in New Zealand is what really needs to be addressed.  This is supported by an OECD report called “Divided we stand” which points out that since the mid-1980s, the gap between New Zealand’s rich and poor has grown faster than in any other developed country.  One can only conclude that there is nothing sensible at all about Garth McVicar and the so-called sensible sentencing trust.

The Sensible Sentencing Trust has a lapdog – the media

Justice Minister Judith Collins has decided to limit the number of parole board hearings that prisoners are allowed to attend.  Introducing legislation to that effect in September, she was quoted in the New Zealand Herald saying: “For offenders who refuse to acknowledge their offending and have made little or no effort at rehabilitation, it makes no sense to hold parole hearings.”  Ms Collins went on to say these hearings cause needless stress to victims of crime who have to “relive their ordeal year after year”.

On 27 Sep 2012 Rachel Smalley (Frontline TV3) interviewed Ruth Money of the so-called sensible sentencing trust on this subject. Ms Money seems to be the heir apparent to Garth McVicar. She sings from the same song sheet and hits the same wrong notes.  First, she told Smalley that “prison is voluntary”.  It’s not.  It’s a punishment imposed by the court.

Second, Ms Money lied about victims having to attend parole board hearings.  Like Judith Collins, she said that family members “have to suffer through annual parole hearings”.  They don’t. According to Kim Workman, 95% of victims do not attend hearings.  Ms Money even said that Rita Croskery (mother of murdered pizza delivery man Michael Choy) has to go to 6 hearings every year.  She doesn’t – it’s a choice she makes.

Third, Ms Money also said parole hearings revictimize the victims – who have to prepare for months in advance and get so worked up they vomit. She gave the impression this stress is due to coming face to face with the offender – over and over again.  But that’s not how it works. The Board holds entirely separate hearings for victims – so that victim and offender never meet (unless they both want to). The stress experienced by victims is because the SST pressures them to attend and winds them up into thinking their input will make a difference.  In other words, it’s the SST which is responsible for victims being revictimised.

Finally, Ms Money said parole should be abolished and prisoners should serve their whole sentence. She ignored evidence presented by Sir David Carruthers that prisoners who serve their whole sentence are more than twice as likely to re-offend as those released (and monitored) on parole.

Breach of broadcasting standards

TV3’s interview with Ruth Money contained so many inaccurate statements it breached at least two broadcasting standards. For instance, Standard 5 (of the BSA code) says: Broadcasters should make reasonable efforts to ensure that news, current affairs and factual programming: is accurate in relation to all material point of fact and/or does not mislead. The item was inaccurate, highly misleading and presented a distorted picture of how the parole board works.

TV3 also breached Standard 4 which says: When discussing controversial issues of public importance in news, current affairs or factual programmes, broadcasters should make reasonable efforts, or give reasonable opportunities, to present significant point of view either on the same program or in other programs within the period of current interest.  No one else was consulted – just Ruth Money.

I made a formal complaint about a similar TV1 interview of Garth McVicar in 2008 – which was upheld by the Broadcasting Standards Authority. It will be interesting to see if the BSA upholds my current complaint about TV3’s interview with Ruth Money

Why do I care? Why should anybody care?  Because the media have been in bed with the Sensible Sentencing Trust for years and are still helping Garth McVicar fulfil his twisted fantasies on television – and because his punitive delusions contribute to competition between the major political parties to be ‘tough on crime’.  It’s time the media got out of bed with the SST and challenged McVicar’s distorted version of reality.  It’s time the media gave McVicar and Ms Money a hard time – just like they’re now doing with John Key over the Kim Dotcom disaster. After all, the media are supposed to be the watchdogs of democracy – not the Sensible Sentencing Trust lapdog.

Open letter to Gerry Brownlee – and his little piece of Finland

Dear Gerry,

Thank you for comparing New Zealand to Finland and bringing these remarkable differences between our two countries into the open.  Professor John Pratt, a criminologist at Victoria University has been making similar comparisons for years – but no one seems to listen. That’s a shame because Prof Pratt is recognised by those in his field as a world authority on the subject.

What’s more, Prof Pratt actually knows what he’s talking about.  He’s been to Finland, undertaken extensive research and written numerous articles and books on the subject – so if you want to make another speech about Finland, perhaps he could help you out.

Here’s something Prof Pratt could tell you.

In 1950, the Finns had an imprisonment rate of 187 inmates per 100,000 of population. New Zealand’s rate in 1950 was less than a third of that – at 56 inmates per 100,000.  In the latter half of the 20th century, the Finns became concerned that they were out of line with their more civilised Scandinavian neighbours, which had low rates of imprisonment. This led to dramatic changes in penal policy, as a result of which the number of people in prison slowly began to drop.  By 2001, the rate was down to only 40 people per 100,000 – an extraordinary reduction of 78% in the prison population.

During the same 50 years, New Zealandwent in the opposite direction. In 2001, instead of being three times less, our rate of imprisonment was three times higher than Finland’s – at 150 inmates per 100,000.  Since then, the New Zealand rate has continued to grow and in November 2011, the figure was at an all-time high of 199 per 100,000.  During this time we’ve had to build five new prisons – and even put prisoners into shipping containers.

How did the Finns manage to reduce their prison population?  Commenting on the Finns’ success, Prof Pratt wrote:

“Key people in that society – people who actually knew something about penal policy and the consequences of imprisonment: academics, judges and senior civil servants – felt that the high prison population was shameful”.

In New Zealand, the media (and the politicians) mostly seem to consult Garth McVicar – a self-proclaimed cow cocky from Napier with no qualifications in psychology, sociology, criminology or anything else remotely connected with penal policy.  No wonder our prisons are overflowing and your government is going to build another one at Wiri – with $900 million of our money.

Ironically, your Government has also announced a reduction in reoffending as one of its ten key goals. If you’re serious about that – go to Finland and see for yourself.  Anne Tolley went – and now she’s the Minister of Corrections.  The two of you could compare notes.  And another thing – Finland has the most comprehensive victim compensation system in the world.  You could take Garth McVicar with you. He might learn something about helping victims instead of spouting off about locking up more and more people.

So my advice, Gerry, is give Prof Pratt a call on your Nokia – on your little bit of Finland. You might learn something about how to reduce reoffending, help victims and save the country billions in prison costs.

Garth McVicar clones himself as a woman

The attack on the five year old Belgian girl on holiday with her family at the Habitat Club in Turangi is hard to fathom. Friends of the 16 year old who admitted raping the young girl describe him as a ‘nice guy’ and are struggling to believe he would do such a thing.  His mother also felt that her son was not the monster he had been portrayed by the media.

Despite the general disbelief that this ‘nice guy’ could do such a thing, angry locals abused his family and threw things at their home. According to the NZ Herald, the attack also stirred a young Auckland woman to call for harsher sentences for violent offenders. Tamsin Marshall started an online petition to introduce cumulative sentences for serious offenders.

She was quoted as saying: “When it happened, I was horrified – I actually lay in bed imagining it was my little girl. I’ve been reading the papers for years and have watched the increase in violent crimes and being horrified … and this case was the point where enough is enough, something has to be done.”

Garth McVicar’s clone

Ms Tamsin sounds like a  clone of Garth McVicar of the so-called sensible sentencing trust. McVicar has been banging on about the increase in violent crime and lobbying for cumulative sentences for some time. The problem is that Garth McVicar is  truely misinformed – there is no increase in violent crime. Over the last 20 years the murder rate has dropped by nearly 50% and crime rates in general are down.

And yet the public believes violent crime is on the rise. A Ministry of Justice study in 2003 found that 83% of New Zealanders held inaccurate and negative views about crime levels in society and ‘wrongly believed’ that crime was increasing.  A more recent study in 2009 by Dr Michael Rowe, also from Victoria University, found an overwhelming public belief that crime has got worse despite New Zealand’s murder rate dropping by almost half in the past 20 years.

Global perceptions of safety

As a result of these inaccurate beliefs, a United Nations report assessing global perceptions of crime and safety found that between 2006 and 2009, only 57% of New Zealanders reported feeling ‘safe’.  This means that New Zealanders feel no more secure than the citizens of former communist states like Bulgaria (where only 56% feel safe) and Albania (54%). We’re also on a par with Middle Eastern countries like Iran (55%) and Lebanon (56%) and African countries such as Angola (53%), Nigeria (51%) and Uganda (51%).

There’s something wrong here. In the United States, where the murder rate is four times higher than in New Zealand, 75% of the population report feeling safe.  In other words, public perceptions of safety in New Zealand are seriously out of touch with reality.

Sensationalist reporting in the media

It’s the media and their obsession with violent crime and Garth McVicar, which is largely to blame for this. A 2002 study into the role of the media’s coverage of crime reported:

“The selective and disproportionate media coverage of crime, particularly violence, when set alongside actual Police statistics, raises questions of skewed reporting in NZ (and elsewhere) at a time when crime rates are falling”.

When respondents to these surveys were asked where they get their information about crime, they said ‘from the media’. When journalists are asked the same question, they openly admit they rely on Garth McVicar. In April 2010, TVNZ broadcast a Media 7 interview by Russell Brown about Mr McVicar’s extraordinary access to the media. In his introduction, Mr Brown said:

“In the past nine years, journalists have been really lucky. Every time they’ve needed someone to tell them that their justice system is failing… they’ve been able to rely on just one man…Garth McVicar, a cocky from Hawkes Bay.”

The last thing New Zealand needs is a female clone of Garth McVicar. What it needs is less sensational reporting of crime in the media.