Why Labour wants to repeal ‘three strikes’

Stuff co.nz 7 November 2017
Family First Comment: Superb summary from ex-MP David Garrett, printed in the Dom Post today
“the numbers of second strikers are a mere fraction of first strikers – 216 as opposed to 8000 odd. Those 216 are offenders who have been given a final warning by a judge – “do this for a third time, and you will be going to jail for a very long time”.
The numbers tell us two things: firstly, the majority of first strikers have not yet reoffended. Criminal lawyers and those working within the prison service tell me inmates are very well aware of the consequences of getting a second, much less a third strike. Secondly, the numbers strongly suggest that there is a very real element of what is known as “specific deterrence”, i.e. deterrence of individuals directly affected, rather than of prospective criminal offenders as a whole.”
But here’s the key bit…
“In short, in the five years before 3S came into force, there were 103 second strikers (assuming the law been in force) as compared to 68 second strikers in the five-year period after 3S came into force.”
Seems to be working, Labour.

OPINION: Labour has announced that it intends to repeal “three strikes” (3S), supposedly because it is having no effect on the rate of serious violent offending with which the 3S regime deals.

In my view the real reason is that Labour – and to an even greater extent its bedmates the Greens – is ideologically opposed to any measure which calls violent offenders to account, and punishes them in a way most people would see as just.

First some numbers. There are currently 8503 first strikers, 216 second strikers, and two third strikers. It is important to keep in mind that on these numbers 3S has a minimal effect on the prison muster.

Any first striker who is imprisoned would have been imprisoned before 3S. Second strikers must serve the full judge-given sentence without parole.

Therefore, 216 offenders – from a total prison muster of almost 10,000 – are serving the extra months or years imposed on them over and above the parole period. The same applies to third strikers – all two of them at this point.

There are three main reasons laws are repealed: firstly because of unintended and undesirable consequences not foreseen or acceptable; second, because the law is redundant and no longer necessary; third, blind ideology on the part of the repealing government. Let’s look at those in turn.

UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES?
The law is working exactly as intended, locking up second and third strike offenders for longer – considerably longer in the case of third strikers – than hitherto.

There are no heartrending cases of poor lads being locked up for 25 years to life for stealing a pizza or a set of golf clubs. The reason is very simple: the law was deliberately designed so such disturbing cases as have been seen in American jurisdictions could never arise here.

“Strike” offences – all 40 of them – are offences of serious violence carrying a maximum sentence of at least seven years in prison. These are the top end of the criminal spectrum: murder, manslaughter, rape, aggravated robbery and the like. There are no “minor offences” on the list.

Much has been made of the first third striker, Raven Campbell aged 22, whose third strike offence was indecently assaulting a female prison guard by grabbing and squeezing her buttocks while he was in prison serving time for his second strike, a nasty aggravated robbery.

The sentencing notes make it clear this was no “pinch on the bottom” as has been reported. The 3S regime required the judge to sentence Campbell to the maximum for indecent assault – seven years – to be served without parole, unless it was manifestly unjust.

Justice Toogood, quite rightly in my view, applied the so-called manifestly unjust proviso, and imposed the seven-year sentence with eligibility for parole. This was a perfect example of the proviso working as intended. No-one could argue that the assault was a high end indecent assault. So whether Campbell serves seven years, or is released on parole sometime after serving a third of his sentence is entirely up to him.

In my view, far from being an egregious example of the justice wrought by 3S, Campbell’s case is an illustration of the law working exactly as intended.

IS THE LAW REDUNDANT?
As noted, the only change for first strikers under the 3S regime is the warning they receive: their sentence is exactly the same – often not one of any imprisonment at all – as it would have been hitherto. It is only at stage two that the law begins to bite.

As we have seen, the numbers of second strikers are a mere fraction of first strikers – 216 as opposed to 8000 odd. Those 216 are offenders who have been given a final warning by a judge – “do this for a third time, and you will be going to jail for a very long time”.

Contrary to Justice Minister Andrew Little’s claim, Judges are very rarely applying the “manifestly unjust” proviso at stage two. They don’t need to. Rather they are imposing the sentence that they think the criminal should serve, knowing that it will be served without parole.

The numbers tell us two things: firstly, the majority of first strikers have not yet reoffended. Criminal lawyers and those working within the prison service tell me inmates are very well aware of the consequences of getting a second, much less a third strike.

Secondly, the numbers strongly suggest that there is a very real element of what is known as “specific deterrence”, i.e. deterrence of individuals directly affected, rather than of prospective criminal offenders as a whole.

In short, in the five years before 3S came into force, there were 103 second strikers (assuming the law been in force) as compared to 68 second strikers in the five-year period after 3S came into force.

Put another way, in the five years after the law came into force, 35 per cent fewer serious violent offenders came back for a second go.

Again, it is important to note that deterrence was never seen as the primary purpose of 3S; rather it was primarily intended to protect the public from the depredations of serious violent offenders by locking them up for longer. It is doing exactly that. Any deterrent effect – which is almost impossible to prove – was seen as a bonus.

The law is clearly doing both – locking up serious violent offenders for longer, and encouraging those subject to the first stage of it not to reoffend. The law is most certainly not redundant.

BLIND IDEOLOGY
That leaves blind ideology as the real reason the Labour wishes to repeal the law.

For Labour, the vast majority of criminals – no matter how violent or habitual – are capable of rehabilitation. Sadly this is simply not the case, as anyone who works within the criminal justice system knows. It is particularly not the case for strike offenders – almost all of them have serious violent offences in their past before three strikes came along.

We know that 218 of them (216 second and 2 third strike offenders) have continued to commit serious violent offences, despite several prison sentences, and the warning words of a judge ringing in their ears.

These are emphatically not people who have made one or two mistakes in life; they are people who have chosen a life of violent crime, of intimidation, and of terrorising decent citizens.

Based on ideology, and in contravention of all the evidence, Labour is putting the interests of violent criminals above the rest of us.

Shame on them. Don’t allow them to do it.

Former MP David Garrett introduced the Three Strikes legislation.
https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/crime/98585181/why-labour-wants-to-repeal-three-strikes
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