Sunday, August 17, 2014

Tough on law and order?

It's always an easy one for parties to trot out. I've seen it time and time again. Jim Bolger did it in 1990 with the slogan "A Decent Society". At the time it called for a referendum on capital punishment, which was quietly shelved.   ACT and National have both gone down this path in the past, but I'd take a more nuanced approach.

For me, a good law and order policy comprises several dimensions. It isn't merely "hang the bastards", it is a balance - as follows:

1. Recividist violent offenders should be kept from committing further crimes: It's simple, you have one chance if you are a violent (including sexual) offender, to do time, to rehabilitate and live a life of peace, but if you repeat you are deemed a threat to others, and detention is preventive. It is about protection of future victims, punishment coming second. Preventive sentences could be for a decade or for life, depending on the threat to the public. 

2. Rehabilitation for the first time offender: At the non-violent end of the spectrum, people make foolish, damaging mistakes. However, it is not a reason to write them off. The criminal justice system must exist to deter and punish, but for those entering it the first time the best efforts need to be made to make it the last time. That means not throwing young foolish men into dank prisons where they learn to be "staunch" and can learn how to be a tougher, harder criminal. It's more clever than that.  It deals with issues of literacy, teach useful skills, anger management and therapy if needed, in short it is a concerted effort to turn people around.

3. Protect the presumption of innocence: Our criminal justice system is built upon a simple presumption. You're innocent till proven guilty. That should never be watered down.  It must remain central to the criminal justice system.

4. Victimless crimes should be repealed: Whenever someone commits a victimless crime, this should be at the very least a reason for diversion, NOT a conviction, and should finally be a reason to repeal the crime altogether. Laws on drugs are a classic example that will need time to be addressed. It should not be a crime for adults, not acting in loco parentis children, to consume drugs on their own property. There are a range of peripheral sex crimes that involve consenting adults, as are some categories of censorship involving material that does not involve people. The criminal justice system should be focused clearly when people initiate force or fraud against others.   It should not protect people from being offended, nor protect people from themselves.

5. Return the right to sue criminals for civil damages: ACC removes the right to sue for personal injury by accident, but the negligent, reckless of deliberate harm caused by criminal activity against individuals should not be protected by it.  Yes it will still mean, as every pays for ACC, that ACC will pay out compensation, but then ACC can sue the criminals for what is paid out or could jointly sue with the victim for additional compensation.  Yes it means that there is only a point in suing wealthy criminals, but so what?  Civil cases may be brought against any criminals that includes a charge, effectively like tax except it is objectively justified, on future income to pay compensation for those wronged. 

6. Restrain the surveillance state:  There should be a general presumption that as with the mail, the electronic communications of every citizen are a matter between them and the provider of those services. Interception of such communications including  recording of them should be undertaken in the context of a warrant against specific individuals for which there is reasonable suspicion of committing crimes or plotting to commit serious crimes.

7. A points system for sentencing:  Instead of "three strikes and your out" I prefer earning points based on crimes that cross thresholds for higher sentencing.  You might get 5 points for burglary, but 90-100 for murder, and so when you reach 100 points you get preventive detention.  That could mean life if you have a past record of dangerous behaviour.  When you cross 10 points you get an additional year.  When you cross 50 it is five additional years.  Conversely, every year you spend outside without any offences sees a point deducted.   Does it mean someone with 20 burglaries could face a long period in prison?  Well, yes.

8. Curtail welfare benefits based on points:  Taxpayers shouldn't have to pay to sustain those who threaten them.  I'm strongly attracted to removing anyone with a conviction from welfare altogether, but another way would be to deduct a portion of benefits based on points earned.  Perhaps for every 10 points gained, 20% of the benefit being sought would be deducted, so those with 50 or above (serious violent or sexual offenders, or recividist fraud or theft offenders) would lose 100%.  It would apply to National Superannuation as well.

9. Denying custody of children to violent offenders:  Those convicted of recidivist violent offences should not be able to live with anyone under 16.  That's it.  Children shouldn't be raised by violent criminals.   Violent criminals can go live somewhere else.

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