Home > The Body Politic > The lunatics are running the Asylum

The lunatics are running the Asylum

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political pressure - how it works

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Nearly two years ago, Finance Minister Bill English expressed  a rather startling frank admission;  that prisons were a “moral and fiscal failure” (see: Prisons: ‘moral and fiscal failure’?)

As the ODT article reported,

Mr English said the plans had been in the pipeline for some years and were part of “this Government’s policy and public pressure for tougher sentences and a safer community”. But, he added, he hoped it would be the last prison the Government built because “they’re very, very expensive: $250,000 a bed [in capital costs] and $90,000 [per prisoner] to run it, and when we’re tight for money, it would be good if we could have … less young people coming into the … pipeline where they start with a minor offence and end up with a 10-year sentence.”

Mr English might have dispensed with the phrase “when we’re tight for money” because if, for large numbers of those convicted of committing lesser crimes, prisons do not work – over time, considerable evidence shows, they make communities less safe rather than more – it is arguably irrelevant whether we are tight for money or not.

Acknowledgment: IBID

It was an unusually candid admission, as right wing politicians often use the “law and order” mantra to (a) frighten people  and (b) promise to ‘crack down on crime’. National used this strategy in 2011,

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National hoarding staying strong on crime

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One of National’s “get tough on crime” policies was it’s so-called “Three Strikes” law – the  Sentencing and Parole Reform Act – passed two years ago  in May, 2011.

The system of ‘strikes’ would be applied for after each conviction, and escalate sentencing;

* Strike one: Judge decides sentence, gives a warning, offender eligible for parole.

* Strike two: Judge decides sentence. No parole.

* Strike three: Maximum jail term for that offence. No parole, except for manslaughter (minimum non-parole period of 20 years).

The list of crimes covered by the Three Strikes law is listed here: Sentencing and Parole Reform Act.

On 26 May,  then-Corrections Minister Judith Collins, rejected  criticisms that a conviction under the Three Strike offences could be for something minor,

“This bill deliberately puts in place an escalating regime of penalties, and I make no apology for that. An offender who is being sentenced at stage three has committed a third serious violent offence and has received two previous warnings about the consequences of re-offending in this way.”

Acknowledgment:  Controversy continues after three strikes bill passed

Despite Collins’ and other National/ACT MPs assurance, it appears that the Three Strikes law will soon swallow up Elijah Akeem Whaanga (21).

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Anger at 14-year strike 2 warning

Acknowledgment: Dominion Post –  Anger at 14-year strike 2 warning

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Only psycopathic, rightwing nutjobs were applauding this tragic waste of human life, and subsequent waste of tax-payers’ money,

Justice Minister Judith Collins said the case showed the law was working. Sensible Sentencing Trust spokesman Garth McVicar agreed, saying the sentence of two-and-a-half years’ jail with no parole was “fantastic”.

Acknowledgment:  IBID

Whaanga, according to the article (and reading between the lines) may be afflicted with foetal alcohol spectrum disorder – a nasty condition which affects the brain and mental developments of  unborn babies within the womb. It is caused by alcohol consumption by the pregnant mother.

The symptoms can include,

  • Learning disabilities,
  • poor academic achievement, math skills, abstraction,
  • difficulties with impulse control,
  • social perception,
  • problems with communication,
  • memory,
  • lack of attention,
  • judgment

See: Wikipedia – Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder

Having worked with people with this condition, I can confirm that  mental impairment can be considerable, and no less a disability than other intellectual/mental disabilities. In many instances, a low IQ is clearly apparent.

If Whaanga has FASD, then putting him away for fourteen years would be tantamount to locking someone up with a mental disability who has difficulty managing and balancing concepts of right, wrong, responsibility, and consequences.

As Judge Adeane said,

“When you next steal a hat or a cellphone or a jacket or a skateboard you will be sent to the High Court and there you will be sentenced to 14 years’ imprisonment without parole.”

It costs around $95,000 per year to keep a person in prison. To keep Whaanga in a cell for fourteen years will cost the taxpayer $13,300,000 .

It costs around $95,000 per year to keep a person in prison. To keep Whaanga in a cell for fourteen years will cost the taxpayer $13,300,000 .

If you think this is bad enough, imagine a hundred Whaanga’s at $13,300,ooo per person. We’re talking over $1.3 billion.

If that is not insanity from our elected representatives – please tell me what is?

For $1.3 billion the State could buy more effective social-support services, monitoring,and rehabilitation for people like Whaanga.

But that would take imagination and compassion.  Thus far, National ministers appear to demonstrate precious little of either trait.

Well, New Zealanders got their “tough on crime” government.

Now it’s time to pay for it.

I wonder how many schools will have to close to pay for Three Strikes?

Addendum

As more and more prisoners spend decades behind bars for their third strike offence, it will be a boom time for private prison contractors such as SERCO. Expect SERCO shares to rise every time a third strike offender is convicted and sentenced to their privately-run prison.

Memo To Sharebroker,

Sell: Mighty River Power shares.

Buy: SERCO shares.

Memo to National ministers,

Close:  ten more schools.

This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 30 May 2013.

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Acknowledgments

Newsdesk:  New Zealand passes 3-strikes law (26 May 2010)

NZ Herald: Controversy continues after three strikes bill passed (26 May 2010)

Otago Daily Times:  Prisons: ‘moral and fiscal failure’? (24 May 2011)

Dominion Post:  Anger at 14-year strike 2 warning (28 April 2013)

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= fs =

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  1. di\
    5 June 2013 at 10:49 am

    Thank you for making so clear the reasons this approach is morally and financially bankrupt. $13 million for petty street crimes? Incarcerating the mentally ill? Unfortunately the right wing has thrown in their lit with vindictive crime victims groups and the prison industrial complex. Good governance, even humanity are no longer options.

  2. 5 June 2013 at 4:59 pm

    This is also a huge industry in the USA with very little spoken on it by the main stream media. Some industries are complaining they’re not being beaten by overseas slave factories any more but prison work forces in their own country – where the rate of incarceration for minor offences that feeds the prison workforce population ever increasing.

    • 5 June 2013 at 5:57 pm

      Thanks, Neil. I’ll check it out later tonight… *thumbs up*

  1. 13 April 2015 at 7:25 am
  2. 18 April 2015 at 8:03 am

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