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Pollyanna or Theodore Dalrymple on Crime in New Zealand?

  • October 27th, 2006

Last Thursday evening (26 October) I attended the Government launch of another shipful of worthies in defence of the Establishment’s failed “no fault” criminal justice ideology.  The Ministers of Justice and Corrections left no doubt about the role they see for the group. It is “Christians to our Rescue”. Under the chairmanship of Sir Paul Reeves the “Rethinking Crime and Punishment” project is to repel the “punishment brigade”. Well-meaning Christians recruited for the task include the Salvation Army, Kim Workman’s Prison Fellowship, and the Rt Rev Dr Anthony Dancer for the Anglicans. I wonder if the PM knows that Greg Fleming of the dreaded Maxim Institute is there. I saw no Brethren (whether exclusive or not).

Of course, according to the Ministers, it will explore more effective “interventions” for criminals, and ways of reducing their “poor decision making” and “inappropriate responses”. Strangely nobody mentioned  good or evil, or even right and wrong.  The project will discuss ways to avoid more “locking up”. It will have money to hand out.

Garth McVicar of Sensible Sentencing should not expect any. He has probably done more for the ignored victims of New Zealand’s foulest crimes than anyone else, but he was mentioned only in mockery.  Ministers offered the obligatory acknowledgement of “serious problems” but not the slightest indication that they might have any personal responsibility. Any smelly doubts that might have lurked in the minds of the gathering were well sluiced with self-congratulation for “programmes” and “efforts” and “projects” with impeccably good intent.

I contrast the bombast of that smug gathering with the sincere lament for our lost innocence from the well-known British prison psychiatrist, Theodore Dalrymple. He recently toured New Zealand with a series of thought-provoking lectures and interviews. His impressions of New Zealand appeared this week in Hawkes Bay Today – EXPERT’S VIEW ON CRIME: Casual reaction to criminal brutality

I helped organise some of his meetings, including a debate with Sue Bradford MP. The civility and humour in that event delighted both her supporters and those drawn by Dalrymple’s wonderful esays in the Spectator and in numerous books. His answers to questions revealed a pragmatic conservative, not the “free market” idologue Sue had expected.

I particularly enjoyed another chance to dine with him. He is amusing and easily amused. His  heartfelt anguish about criminal justice policy is not the preferred contemplation of a natural grouch. He is persistently gloomy on that topic solely because there is so much to be gloomy about.

Our opinionators decided long ago that the complete failure of left liberal theory ( “if we could just be nice enough for long enough to criminals they would be nice back to us”) should go unremarked. They try to shun as “rednecks” those who would connect mounting vile crime to the idiotic policies of the last thirty years. Respectable intellectuals are supposed to be passionate about the evil of those who might damage an urban tree, or try to replace an “iconic” building. If instead you worry about Police figures for last year showing that around 4500 more New Zealanders were bashed, raped or robbed, than the year before, you will be held altogether too gloomy and boring.

Dalrymple found no reason to turn Pollyanna in New Zealand. We are unhappily similar to Britain, having crashed from ranking among the most safe and civil societies in the world to being at the bottom of the Western class.

I believe all is not lost. We could turn the trend around quickly. The remarkable low crime figures for New Zealand and Britain up until two generations ago were not mysterious, any more than the transformation of Singapore from a high crime society to a low crime society in one generation. The recent successes of President’s Clinton’s criminal and welfare reforms in the US stunned only the defeatist intellectuals, and the criminologists and other experts of the liberal establishment..

It simply requires a consistent message from every relevant institution (Courts, Police, welfare, prisons and probation service) that says crime is not trivial, it is not condoned, the law will mean exactly what it says, and that crime will cost the criminal much more than it is worth. 


EXPERT’S VIEW ON CRIME: Casual reaction to criminal brutality
Hawke’s Bay Today – Hawke’s Bay,New Zealand
But even if I had not been invited to New Zealand by the Sensible Sentencing Trust, I would have been alerted by reading the daily press to the existence of a


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