Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Perception and reality in the criminal justice system

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  • Marcus Turner, in reply to Hilary Stace,

    I have some half-formed smartass reply in the back of my brain about coeliacs, culture and yoghurt.....

    Since Nov 2006 • 200 posts Report Reply

  • Richard Aston,

    Somewhere in this public perception of more prison for offenders is an assumption that prison sentences will change these offenders for the better. Or at least make them too scared to offend again. It is clearly just not true. Prison is a brutalizing place that institutionalizes people. It’s place that at its worst, breaks people or at least knocks the humanity out of them. They come out – oh yes everyone seems to forget they will come out one day – they come out fucked up and angry. They come out with less social skills than they went in with. Prisons simply create the next wave of offenders. It is such a dumb idea.
    Punishment seems so embedded in our approach to many things but we have known for years now that it has very limited efficacy. Why are we still so wedded to punishment?
    What ever happened to the Roper Report (1987) I can’t find a copy of it but from memory at the time it was suggesting a whole new approach to prisons, moving away from the punitive to the trans-formative, using prisons to change people.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 451 posts Report Reply

  • Richard Aston,

    He’d have been much safer opening a bar, basically.

    Rick Bryant is a fine man who would have been much safer leaving New Zealand.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 451 posts Report Reply

  • recordari, in reply to Richard Aston,

    What ever happened to the Roper Report (1987) I can’t find a copy of it but from memory at the time it was suggesting a whole new approach to prisons, moving away from the punitive to the trans-formative, using prisons to change people.

    Interesting question. It is referenced extensively here.

    This quote seemed interesting, in the context of the ‘pro-arrest’ policy.

    Overseas studies have shown for example, that neither treatment alone nor punishment alone, is very effective in reducing family violence. A combination is. The offender needs to know that his apprehension will be sure and swift. Victims have to be similarly assured. Under the current legislation, the practices of the Police, the ignorance of the public, and the unwillingness of helpers to invade the sanctity of the family, these results are by no means certain. Our recommendations, therefore, attempt to address the issue by urging that existing legislation is utilised to its fullest extent and that new legislation, public education and practices are introduced to make families safer (Roper Report 1987:101).

    With a lay persons view of the subsequent 24 years, I’d say government bodies, including the police, adopted the arrest part wholeheartedly, but have continued to fail spectacularly on the ‘treatment’ side.

    Pita Sharples pet project Whare Oranga Ake tries to address some of this.

    AUCKLAND • Since Dec 2009 • 2607 posts Report Reply

  • poffa,

    I have to agree with most of your points apart from the social skills, there used to be toastmasters and debating and yoga.1998 Newspaper Clippings

    Crack-downs in prisons can only breed violence
    ...

    In competition with outsiders inmates excelled, particularly in sport and debating. Hardly a year went by when the Paremoremo team did not reach the final of one of the Auckland Debating Association's annual contests. At least five times the prison was victorious.
    from ADA site

    but I think there may have been some positive outcomes so have been discontinued.

    auckland • Since Jun 2007 • 26 posts Report Reply

  • Lyndon Hood,

    For completeness: Workman to McVicar, which mentions a rather dry Andrew Becroft paper which I’d only heard of recently: How To Turn A Child Offender Into An Adult Criminal – In 10 Easy Steps.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1094 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Judd,

    One of the many things to learn about on my list is Finland.

    The reason is that culturally, Finns aren't that far away from us. They have a tiny population in a big country, they're heavy drinkers, they have the same dark streak, the same high suicide rate, several ethnic minorities including an indigenous one...

    The Finns started out with the Imperial Russian penal code, which as you would expect was extremely harsh. McVicar would have loved it. They now have a very progressive penal code of the sort that would make McVicar have a meltdown, with a low recidivism rate. What I DON'T know or understand is how they got there. There is an obvious appeal to the emotion in a punitive code, and I'm interested in what public debate led to a less punitive one. I feel it could be helpful to know this in trying to change policy here.

    The Metafilter thread where I got this idea.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2918 posts Report Reply

  • Lyndon Hood,

    Incidentally, it's partly just me being lazy, but has anyone sighted the actual Becroft letter about youth justice that Key tabled? I can't shake the idea comments on different bits of the system are being confused in the reporting I saw.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1094 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Judd,

    Finland is soft on crime.

    Until the First World War, Finland was a province of the Russian Empire. Crime and punishment in Finland were governed by the tough Russian justice system, a system the Finns inherited after independence. The break with Russia at the end of the First World War was followed by a terrible civil war, political unrest, and then two wars with the U.S.S.R. After 1945, peace returned, but Finland was firmly fixed within the Soviet Union's sphere of influence.

    This violent history hardened Finnish attitudes toward crime and punishment. Long prison sentences in austere conditions were standard. In the 1950s, Finland's incarceration rate was 200 prisoners per 100,000 people -- a normal rate for East Bloc countries such as Poland and Czechoslovakia where justice systems had been Sovietized, but four times the rate in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark. In the 1960s, Finland began edging cautiously toward reform, using its Scandinavian neighbors as models. Nils Christie, a renowned Norwegian criminologist, recalls speaking to Finnish judges and criminologists in Helsinki in 1968. At the time, Mr. Christie and others were developing the first international comparisons of prison populations, so he was the first to tell the Finns that their incarceration rate was totally unlike that of their Scandinavian neighbors and was "really in the Russian tradition." The audience was shocked, Mr Christie recalls in an interview in Ottawa, "and some of them then decided this was not a very good policy." Discussions and debates were widespread. Ultimately, says Tapio Lappi-Seppala, the director of the Finnish National Research Institute of Legal Policy, an agreement was reached that "our position was a kind of disgrace."

    During the next two decades, a long series of policy changes were implemented, all united by one goal: to reduce imprisonment, either by diverting offenders to other forms of punishment or by reducing the time served in prison. "It was a long-term and consistent policy," Mr. Lappi-Seppala emphasizes. "It was not just one or two law reforms. It was a coherent approach." The reforms began in earnest in the late 1960s and continued into the 1990s. In 1971, the laws allowing repeat criminals to be held indefinitely were changed to apply only to dangerous, violent offenders. The use of conditional sentences (in which offenders avoid prison if they obey certain conditions) was greatly expanded. Community service was introduced. Prisoners may be considered for parole after serving just 14 days; even those who violate parole and are returned to prison are eligible for parole again after one month. And for those who aren't paroled, there is early release: All first- time offenders are let out after serving just half their sentences, while other prisoners serve two- thirds. Mediation was also implemented, allowing willing victims and offenders to discuss if the offender can somehow set things right. "It does not replace a prison sentence," says Mr. Lappi- Seppala, but "in minor crimes, you may escape prosecution or you may get a reduction in your sentence." There are now 5,000 cases of mediation per year, almost equal to the number of imprisonments.

    Juvenile justice was also liberalized. Criminals aged 15 to 21 can only be imprisoned for extraordinary reasons -- and even then, they are released after serving just one-third of their time. Children under the age of 15 cannot be charged with a crime. The most serious crimes can still be punished with life sentences but these are now routinely commuted, and the prisoner released, as early as 10 years into the sentence and no longer than 15 or 16 years. The Finns retain a power similar to Canada's "dangerous offender" law: persons found to be repeat, serious, violent offenders with a high likelihood of committing new violent crimes can be held until they are determined to no longer be a threat to the public. There are now 80 such offenders in prison and they, like Canada's dangerous offenders, are unlikely to ever be released. One especially critical change was the creation of sentencing guidelines that set shorter norms. Similar guidelines are used in the United States, but many of those restrict judges' discretion -- Finnish judges remain free to sentence outside the norm if they feel that is appropriate. These guidelines were also the product of extensive discussions among judges and other officials in the justice system, unlike American guidelines which were, in most cases, simply imposed on judges by politicians.

    THE ABSENCE OF DIRECT POLITICAL control was critical to the Finnish transformation. Despite the enormous changes in Finnish criminal justice, crime has never been a political issue. "None of the major parties took this on their agenda," says Mr. Lappi-Seppala. That's still true today. Even Finnish victims of crime seem to be satisfied with that approach. Victims' organizations act as support groups, not political lobbies, says Markku Salminen, the head of prisons. "You don't mix politics with this. There are so many feelings," he says. "It's a tradition."

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 2918 posts Report Reply

  • andrew r, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Rick being busted has not, of course, stopped them being pot smokers. And all this guff about whether Rick has, in the judge's view, "rehabilitated" or not is absurd. He's a 62 year-old musician who smokes pot. What exactly is he rehabilitating from?

    A lot of that is Defence lawyer speak. On the books cannabis is illegal, in attempt to persuade the sentencing Justice to give Home D which Bryant was right on the cusp of potentially getting, one has to show the Sentencer that assn with said illegal substance is diminishing, - kinda standard. I would say the sole reason he did not recieve Home D were his previous cannabis convictions, in particular his conviction for previously supplying cannabis - In many respects the Justice's hands were tied by relevant case law precedent. There is a massive difference in terms of sentencing direction between using cannabis,and whoooah ..dealing cannabis .

    auckland • Since May 2007 • 76 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz, in reply to Stephen Judd,

    I believe a lot of the success of liberalism in Continental Europe is rooted in an association of authoritarian policies with Nazism and Soviet communism. The generation that experienced occupation or domination by the Nazis and Soviets tended to react against this and support liberal ideas.

    Since no significant part of the anglosphere was occupied, we didn’t benefit from this “inoculation”.

    Unfortunately, that’s dying out with the 1940’s generation – reactionary forces (often associated with powerful media and financial interests) are succeeding in scaring continental Europeans into intolerant social attitudes.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 4361 posts Report Reply

  • recordari, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    Since no significant part of the anglosphere was occupied, we didn’t benefit from this “inoculation”.

    A different scenario than both Japan and China, post their respective wars. Of the many places I would choose not to be a criminal out of shear bloody fear, Japan and China would be right up there, right behind America.

    AUCKLAND • Since Dec 2009 • 2607 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to andrew r,

    A lot of that is Defence lawyer speak. On the books cannabis is illegal, in attempt to persuade the sentencing Justice to give Home D which Bryant was right on the cusp of potentially getting, one has to show the Sentencer that assn with said illegal substance is diminishing, – kinda standard.

    Yeah, fair enough. I think it was really the judge saying "I don't really think you're rehabilitating that much". Well, yeah. Dude's 62. Not really about to change his style now.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18512 posts Report Reply

  • Jackie Clark,

    I do wonder, too, if people were able to see into prison life (in a meaningful way, not one of my beloved "factual" tv programmes) whether they would change their minds about it being an easy place to be.

    Mt Eden, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3121 posts Report Reply

  • Kim Workman, in reply to Lyndon Hood,

    Have responded to SST's self-selecting poll on 3 strikes for young offenders. http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PO1106/S00253/three-strikes-for-younger-offenders-is-still-a-bad-idea.htm
    Andrew BEcroft's paper 'How to turn a Child Offender into an Adult Criminal in 10 Easy Steps' is a good read. On www.rethinking.org.nz

    Wellington • Since Jun 2011 • 2 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Kim Workman,

    Thanks for dropping by, Kim.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18512 posts Report Reply

  • Kim Workman, in reply to Lyndon Hood,

    The drop may be due in part to increased adult diversion by the Police, particularly in the Auckland region. Some believe it is the result of remand prisoners spending less time in prison due to the reduction in deposition hearings.

    There is no evidence that it is due to a reduction in the recidivism rate, due to increased rehabilitation programmes in prison. For that to happen, the programme increase would have had to occur prior to May 2009, as recidivism rates are usually calculated two years after prisoner release. I've asked for that information, but it's unlikely to be available at this time, and will not have been published at this point.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2011 • 2 posts Report Reply

  • DeepRed,

    It all reinforces my suspicions of today’s ‘corrections’ policy being less about setting people back on the right path, and more about crypto-segregationist politics.

    While NZ ranks high on the imprisonment scale, we’re actually behind (not just USA) Russia, Ukraine, Israel, Singapore, South Africa and Brazil – and that’s just the majors. And level pegging with Mexico (a lot more drug cartel violence there) and the Czech Republic.

    At the end of the day, it’s what sort of people are in prison that counts, and the recidivism rate. In America’s case, blacks and Hispanics have higher imprisonment rates relative to their populations than all other ethnic groups.
    Tellingly, America’s overall imprisonment rate was roughly proportional to population growth, until Reagan entered office, after which it then increased geometrically.
    Much of that period can be attributed to the War on Drugs and the spread of crack cocaine, the fiscal upheavals of Reaganomics, the Culture Wars, and the younger than average makeup of the criminal demographic.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 4060 posts Report Reply

  • Hilary Stace, in reply to Stephen Judd,

    Didn't Garth McVicar go to Finland with an official delegation of the last Labour government, led by Phil Goff I think. But IIRC he wasn't impressed.

    Wgtn • Since Jun 2008 • 2008 posts Report Reply

  • Hilary Stace, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Actually, I think he's 63. Almost pension age. But for his status in the NZ music world over many decades it's a bit like sending Keith Richards to jail for drugs. What will it achieve?

    Wgtn • Since Jun 2008 • 2008 posts Report Reply

  • DeepRed, in reply to Hilary Stace,

    Didn’t Garth McVicar go to Finland with an official delegation of the last Labour government, led by Phil Goff I think. But IIRC he wasn’t impressed.

    Wouldn't be surprised in the least. His idol just happens to be a blustering Arizona sheriff who has the Feds – yes, the freaking Feds – breathing down his neck. And I haven’t yet mentioned the deluge of civil suits, his Winston-ism towards border migrants, and his alleged cosiness with shaven-headed goons.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 4060 posts Report Reply

  • Matthew Poole, in reply to DeepRed,

    It all reinforces my suspicions of today’s ‘corrections’ policy being less about setting people back on the right path, and more about crypto-segregationist politics.

    Let me fix that for you:
    It all reinforces my suspicions of today’s ‘corrections’ policy being less about setting people back on the right path, and more about politicians pandering to gut responses in the electorate instead of articulating why "tough on crime" policies actually don't work.

    If we had some political will to tackle the sources of crime through multi-generational approaches, we'd get somewhere. The comment about about Finland's path to its current state being a multi-decade process shows that there is no quick fix, no matter how much McThicker et al, with the connivance of most of our political "leadership", try to convince us otherwise.
    Until there's a change in the message from Wellington, to emphasise that fact and suggest that we need to try something else, we won't see meaningful long-term changes.

    The pit from whence crawl… • Since Mar 2007 • 3889 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Hilary Stace,

    Didn’t Garth McVicar go to Finland with an official delegation of the last Labour government, led by Phil Goff I think. But IIRC he wasn’t impressed.

    Au contraire. He was very impressed:

    New Zealand's prison system is being held up as an example of what not to do in Britain, says Sensible Sentencing Trust founder Garth McVicar, who arrived back in Hawke's Bay last week after an eight-day tour of Europe's prison systems.

    Mr McVicar and Kim Workman, the liberal former deputy secretary of justice and current head of the Prison Fellowship, were invited to Europe at taxpayers' expense by Corrections Minister Damien O'Connor to look for ways of reducing New Zealand's fast-rising prison population, which is now proportionately higher than any other developed country, except the United States.

    Mr McVicar said their first surprise came when they arrived at the International Centre for Prison Studies at King's College, London.

    "They use New Zealand as an example of what not to do - how our prison population is escalating and our level of violent crime is increasing," he said.

    "They educate other countries on what is working on a worldwide basis since New Zealand is an example of what not to do. That was possibly a bit of a shock to all of us," he said.

    Sadly, it wore off. His recent commentary about Mt Eden prison is wholly at odds with what he said in 2006, after the study trip. This makes one doubt his actual commitment to effective solutions.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18512 posts Report Reply

  • Richard Aston, in reply to Lyndon Hood,

    but has anyone sighted the actual Becroft letter about youth justice that Key tabled? I can’t shake the idea comments on different bits of the system are being confused in the reporting I saw.

    Lyndon - I have asked for a copy of this letter but my understanding is that the PM did not have Judge Becroft's permission to table that letter.
    It intrigues me because Judge Becroft has not been a supporter of boot camps in the past.
    There are some good examples of wilderness camps working well in the US but they do not use the miltary style boot camp approach. Also NZ boot camps show reasonbly positive short term results but as Kim Workman and others have said the long term results are not at all positive.
    Judge Becroft may be thinking of a strategy of combining boot camps with 12 months of mentoring post camp - this would have a much better success rate.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 451 posts Report Reply

  • Richard Aston, in reply to Matthew Poole,

    If we had some political will to tackle the sources of crime through multi-generational approaches, we’d get somewhere

    Matthew - you are of course so right. It's an area I work in and its frustrating to see so much heat going into the crime and punishment area when longer term preventive measures get much less support.
    Articulating the message is the challenge - long term prevention means working with younger ages, multi-generations and it is more complex. It doesn't lend itself well to headlines and sound bytes. It was refreshing however to hear Bill English talk about the economic advantages of long term prevention over prisons , its a start.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 451 posts Report Reply

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