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University of Canterbury (UC) criminologist Greg Newbold has grave concerns about the impact on New Zealand society of the 2010 'three strikes and you're out' law.
The three strikes law provides enhanced penalties for repeat violent or sexual offending. A 'first strike' offence earns a normal sentence with normal parole eligibility.
On a second strike there is no parole eligibility and third strikers must serve the statutory maximum sentence without parole. Because the only penalty for murder is life imprisonment, if a person with a previous strike commits murder, they automatically get life without the possibility of parole. Those convicted of third strike manslaughter are spared a life sentence, but instead get a 20-year minimum.
``We will have clear cases of injustice with a resulting loss of credibility for the justice system; a lack of incentive for programmes; a prison management nightmare and highly dangerous prisoners with absolutely nothing to lose who pose a serious threat to police and staff,'' ,'' UC Professor Newbold said today.
``We will see vastly increased security costs, a burgeoning prison population and no guarantee that any of this will have any effect whatsoever on the crime rate.''
There will be an influx of prisoners because third strikers will be getting maximum penalties, which almost never happens now and they'll have to do every day of their sentence. There will be no early release for good behaviour or engagement in programmes and hence little incentive for good behaviour in prison.
Prisoners will be coming in but not getting out as soon. So numbers will accumulate. Lengthening sentences and erosion of parole law in the US, for example, has caused the prison population to rise from 1 million in 1990, to 2.3 million now. In NZ, similar 'get tough' policies have seen the prison population grow from 2700 in 1985 to 8300 today, Professor Newbold said.
Because second strikers had no early release potential, prison authorities would find them difficult to control. They lose nothing, for example, by refusing to work, swearing at prison officers, urinating in the guard room, refusing to shave. Third strikers have nothing to gain by pleading guilty, so they'll all plead not guilty and will clog up the courts and the legal aid system, he said.
``Second and third strike murderers have nothing to lose by smuggling drugs into a jail, assaulting prison officers, killing prison officers, killing police. They'll be dangerous and virtually unmanageable. They'll take the rap for the crimes of other prisoners.
``Minor offenders, particularly in third strike situations, are obliged to get the maximum possible sentence without the possibility of parole. All strike crimes carry a minimum of seven years. Indecent assault, for example, can be quite trivial, but a third striker will automatically serve seven years for it. Also, the penalty depends on the order of offending.
``Someone who kills on a first strike, does his time - say 12 years - then commits an indecent assault, is likely to get about a year in prison the second time round. But someone who does the indecent assault first, then kills, automatically gets life without parole. Both people have the same offending profile, but in different sequence.
``Judges have no discretion to take the gravity of the offending into account in third strike cases, and parole boards have no discretion to take into account an offender's progress in prison in second and third strike cases. The law overrides them. To me, this amounts to a vote of no confidence in the judiciary and in the parole board.''
There are about 8300 people in prison at the moment. The impact of 3 strikes will not fully be felt for some years, because second strikers have not yet reached what would have been their parole eligibility dates and there haven't been any third strikers so far.