ACT and the Conservatives are rmaking 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.