Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Stephen Franks: Competition to end parole

ACT and the Conservatives are making excellent criminal justice policy announcements. If both are in Parliament we might see an end to the cosy major party consensus that has fostered our high rates of serious violent and youth crime.

Garth McVicar's announcement on parole is more straightforward than I had expected. Most criminals come up for parole at one third of their Judge-given sentence. Garth says:
"I have spent 13 years helping victims challenge a parole system that seems to have been designed to torment them….. 
“Victims are continually re-traumatized, the current system opens up old wounds and locks victims into the cycle of grief and ensures they cannot put the crime behind them.” 
“The Conservative Party will overhaul the parole system so that a Judge given sentence means what it says, 9 years will mean 9 years. Life will mean Life. The only function of the parole board will be to apply release conditions and ensure they are enforced"
It seems that they would introduce the US Federal system introduced after 1996, when Bill Clinton reached across party lines and took the Republicans policy and ended federal parole. Instead, there is a period of mandatory supervision at the end of most sentences. 

Great! There is no evidence that parole works any better to reduce reoffending than supervision at the end of the judge-given sentence.

People worry that prison populations will explode. That has not been the inevitable experience elsewhere after parole has been cut back. Prison musters would likely drop after an initial rise while offenders worked out that a new sheriff had come to town.

Some attribute the long drop in crime rates in the US, for example, at least partially to the increased deterrence of sentencing certainty. There is a good research consensus that severity of sentencing has much less deterrent power than speed and certainty of detection, conviction and punishment. Ending criminal expectation of parole dramatically increases certainty, and judges could afford to reduce sentence lengths. 

But there is another reason why prison musters will not escalate nearly as much as some would theorise. Because much of the serious crime is committed by a relatively small population of career criminals, the change would  merely cancel for  those serious offenders, who accumulate records of hundreds of crimes, their brief parole excursions from prison to add to their tally. Instead they stay much longer where they cannot prey on fresh victims.

I would not keep the Parole Board as the Conservatives would.

Let  judges set the release supervision onditions at the time of sentencing, and allow them to be relaxed on application at release, or by the Prison Manager,. That would restore to prison management power to induce prisoner good behaviour. At the least  prison management should be able to remit up to 10% of a sentence, so that they have some carrots for good behaviour, as they did up till the dopey reforms of the 1980s.

That was when the failed experiment began, in the hope that if we were nice enough to criminals for long enough, they might be nice back.

Let's hope that ACT competes with similar policy, and that the Peters Party joins in too. 

Stephen Franks is a principal of Wellington law firm Franks & Ogilvie and a former MP. He blogs at


paul scott said...
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it will not work , we have to build a better system than lock up the jail key, Hone dream is crazy but what can we do

Anonymous said...
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What evidence do you have for that statement, Paul?
Being soft on the crims is ridiculous - let them serve the sentence given by the judge, without any reduction except a minor "good behaviour" bonus awarded by the prison. I'm with Stephen Franks all the way - pity he is not still in Parliament!

Anonymous said...
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Having worked in the prison system some years ago, I believe that in some cultures, imprisonment is not regarded as shameful, and that it does not act as a deterrent to crime. In fact, you only have to look around a prison, and you will find that the inmates are well-fed and looked-after, they are not required to work, and it's quite a comfortable life-style. Imprisonment has to carry with it a deterrent factor. But how we do that, will require a lot of debate. Additionally, when released from prison, many people find it difficult to assimilate back into society, and it's easier to commit another offence and be returned to jail. And that needs further study. However, as a person who was privileged to view all inmate files in one major prison, and extract information for the computer system, I found a compelling similarity in offending patterns from a very early age into the teens, with minor punishments being given and constant re-offending until jail terms were given in their late teens, and they would be in and out of jail for the next 10 to 15 years. However, the numbers of those sentenced to jail terms diminished by their early 30's, and the majority of older inmates were usually sex offenders.

paul scott said...
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The election 2014 shows clearly that there will be a Conservative presence in the 2017 Government. People can say what they like , this is out of my league. I am just saying there will be a Conservative 5% presence in next New Zealand centre right Government , and you must start dealing with the MSM now.

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