Update: In light of the recent stories about New Zealand criminals being deported from Australia this page, first published in April 2011, has been updated.
David Fraser, a British expert with extensive experience of crime and punishment in the UK has just had published another book, this time about crime in New Zealand: Badlands, NZ: a land fit for criminals
Fraser, who worked with criminals for 34 years, 26 of them with the UK probation service, was also the author of A Land Fit For Criminals: An Insider’s View of Crime, Punishment and Justice in the UK.
He recently turned his interest to New Zealand which claimed to have one of the highest prison incarceration rates in the developed world: 186 people per 100,000 of the population. However, research by the British government suggests that New Zealand has one of the lowest rates of imprisonment and may be being too soft on criminals. The country’s legal system is seen as being lenient on offenders because it is making more and more non-custodial sentences available to convicted criminals.
One source says “New Zealanders have been kept in the dark about the true nature of our crime problem, because politicians and academics have caused most of the soaring crime rate and would prefer the public didn’t find out.” Although the cost of keeping a criminal in prison is accurate at $100,000 a year it costs far more for society if offenders are released – the average criminal committing around 80 crimes at a cost of $355,000 a year to the community.
Writing for the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph in 2006 Fraser said of the UK’s system
Almost all governments since the 1960s have tried to convince the public that probation works and prison does not. In fact, that is the exact opposite of the truth. Probation, parole and community sentences fail miserably at reforming criminals. The reality is that if criminals are in prison, they cannot commit crimes. If they are in the community, they can – and they do.
Fraser reckons successive NZ governments have also let their country down by introducing legislation that favours the offender: calling it “the scandal of the century” and that they should be ashamed of their actions
“The record of all governments in New Zealand since the 1950s in relation to crime prevention has been disastrous,” Fraser writes.
“The fact is that all governments since then have gone out of their way to introduce policies that have encouraged criminals to become more criminal.
“Almost every piece of criminal justice legislation passed during the period has made it easier for judges to avoid sending criminals to prison, by expanding the number of non-custodial alternatives available to them.
“In addition, other acts of parliament, as well as procedural and administrative changes, have put numerous obstacles in the way of finding, arresting and convicting offenders.”
The NZ Sunday Star Times reviewed his latest book, saying
“He became concerned about the nature of offending in New Zealand, and has since spent the past three years researching crime rates and law and order changes.
He argues while politicians have overseen law changes that have been criminal-friendly, in too many cases they have shown scant concern for the wellbeing of the victims of their crimes.
He cited how in 2003 Prime Minister Helen Clark visited the family of a boy injured in a dog attack, and politicians promised to introduce tough new laws and give dog control officers greater powers. But he said the same response wasn’t made towards the victims of serious crime.
“No minister visited the family of Lynne Baxter who, while out jogging, was murdered by being deliberately run down, repeatedly stabbed, and whose head was crushed with a concrete tile,” he said.”
“There was no similar ministerial response when Faletoi Kei, who was picnicking in the park with his family, was stabbed to death after offering food to his killer.”
The Sunday Star Times also mentioned how Fraser laid to rest another New Zealand myth – .i.e. the country is tough on crime.
Fraser labelled as a myth claims from government and opposition MPs that New Zealand was tough on crime, especially when New Zealand has “the second-highest imprisonment rate in the western world”.
Figures he has published show 15 European countries are tougher than New Zealand on the basis of how many people were imprisoned per 100,000 crimes recorded, and he said a British government document comparing imprisonment rates in 22 European countries, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, showed New Zealand was the “fifth most lenient” state.
Yet in New Zealand home detention sentences are often awarded to high risk criminals with a risk of re-offending, rather than custodial prison sentences. Read Northland man who mained American tourists in Paihia given six months home detention (Nov 2015)
Unfortunately, it is well known that in some areas of New Zealand home detention sentences are being ignored or breached.
Department of Correction guidelines stipulate that home detention sentences shall be
“targeted at offenders convicted of more serious offences, who have a higher risk of re-offending, and who are otherwise likely to receive a short term of imprisonment (less than two years). This includes offenders who have breached community-based sentences, and who may otherwise be considered for a short prison sentence.
HD should be considered as a potential sentencing option for all offenders in this category, although it will not always be recommended.
Here are some recent cases in New Zealand where handling of offenders has been perceived to be inadequate:
- The man who raped and murdered Blesinda Gotingco was an ex-offender under “police supervision” at the time of the attack. He had been fitted with a monitoring device on his ankle.
- A Northland man who maimed two American tourists in Paihia was given six months home detention
- The 11 year minimum prison sentence given to murderer Greg Meads for shooting his wife in the throat “sets a dangerous precedent…murder is cheaper than divorce“
- A prominent Manawatu man was given name suppression and sentenced to 4 months home detention after being caught in an international FBI paedophile operation
- A former ACC national property manager was given 11 months home detention after pleading guilty to corruption charges following an extensive Serious Fraud Office investigation.
- Five people who were sentenced to community service after the death of a young woman in a curse lifting ceremony.
Have you read Badlands, NZ: A Land Fit For Criminals? leave your comments about the book or crime in NZ below.