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.
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.