Drastic and rapid changes to New Zealand’s bail, parole and sentencing practices need to happen – they should have happened decades ago.
The law needs to drive those changes. Not in an ad hoc way, but on a principled basis founded on research, and in a manner which addresses all of the competing mechanisms of policy (including economic, social, criminogenic, political and psychological).
Recent interviews with National Party leader Simon Bridges about this issue make clear that for the Opposition, reform in this sector equates to being soft on crime. This makes no sense. If – as a society – we want to increase public safety and decrease cost, we must engage sensibly in the reforms proposed by Andrew Little.
Let’s not forget that back in the day, Simon Bridges was a very fair and trustworthy prosecutor for the Crown. He got the “humanness” of the criminal justice sector and the incredible complexity of a criminal-justice-juggernaut trying to deal with competing aims and pressures (although the way he speaks about it now, you might not think so).
However, his recent discourse about the impact on victims, being tough on crime, communities being targeted by criminals, blood on the government’s hands and such like are not only misguided but have the effect of creating oversimplified and dogmatic lines of rhetoric. This shifts an important discourse away from a better vision of community and ultimately a better NZ.
Pushing back against sound policy on emotional grounds to score political points is costly and counterproductive to a modern democracy and citizenship. It damages the fabric of New Zealand society by diminishing one of its most important institutions.
The changes proposed by Andrew Little are critical to moving this part of the community forward. It is Healthy Society 101. Consider the absolutely appalling societal health metrics associated with incarceration – and the cost. The average cost of keeping someone in jail for a year is $100,000.
Bail, parole and sentencing practice are the significant visible moving parts of not only the fiscal failure but signal potential long-term ethical failures that strike at the heart of modern democracy.
Now more than ever we need to move away from emotive and political rhetoric into the realm of reality and research. We know what works better and we should do it. Political, knee jerk scaremongering has no place in our critically important and costly criminal justice system.
Head of Chambers, LawAid International