Bail law and remand prisoner numbers

A change to bail laws is credited as a significant reason for a rapidly increasing prison population, but a change in approach by judges has also contributed.

Minister of Justice Andrew Little has indicated he wants to change the bail laws, but this is a tricky political issue. If bail laws are relaxed it’s certain that any significant crime committed by someone on bail will be publicised as a failure.

Longer prison sentences without adequate mental health and addiction treatment also contributes to high levels of recidivism, but examples of that tend to not be publicised so much by those with tough on crime political motives.

RNZ: Relaxing bail laws: How risky is it?

In April, Justice Minister Andrew Little signalled the bail laws might be changed, as increasing remand numbers have seen the prison population balloon.

However, the families of people murdered by someone on bail want the law to remain as it stands.

Almost 1000 more people a year are now remanded in custody than before the bail laws were tightened in 2013, as a result of the murder of Auckland teenager Christie Marceau in 2011.

Her killer, Akshay Chand, was on bail at the time and living just 300 metres from her home, having already been charged with kidnapping and threatening to stab her.

The sad case of Christie Marceau is often used in arguments in favour of being tougher on people charged with crimes (not tryed or convicted).

But some emphasis does need to be put on protecting people who have been threatened or are at risk of violence.

Dr Liz Gordon a social researcher, who is also president of PILLARS, a group helping prisoners’ families, said the average number of murders in New Zealand each year was about 80.

She said when you put that figure alongside the extra 1000 people remanded in custody, it was an emotional over-reaction to suggest Andrew Little would have blood on his hands if he loosened the bail laws.

But emotional over-reactions can be expected from people with political motives. The ‘Sensible Sentencing Trust’ plays on fears of crime.

David Farrar ran a series of posts publicising some of the worse criminals who could potentially receive lighter sentences if the 3 strikes law is scrapped – ‘could’ should be emphasised, as judges usually go to great lengths to apply sentences appropriate to both the convictions they are dealing with and the records of the criminals.

“The mathematics simply doesn’t add up. They’re not going to all get out of the prisons and start murdering like mad and if you find good alternatives for them, perhaps you can actually stop them ever having to go to prison again.”

I don’t think anyone is arguing there should be no bail – I remained ‘at large’ despite a private prosecutor’s demands that I be incarcerated.

We have to have non-imprisonment for many offences and offenders. The difficult trick is where to draw the line.

Dr Gordon agrees Akshay Chand should never have got bail, as what he did was a foreseeable crime, but she said Mr Little needed to take a dispassionate view of what was best before making a final decision on the bail laws.

Chand getting bail was an error of judgment – as things turned out, it’s easy to be wise after the subsequent murder. I’m sure some people who have threatened others haven’t murdered while on bail.

Dr Gordon said there were also other downsides to keeping people on remand in jail, particularly younger offenders, as the remand units are active recruitment centres for youth gangs.

Remanding in custody can set up young first time offenders for further offending.

She is also concerned that, despite it costing more than $100 million a year to keep those 1000 extra people remanded in custody, they received no support while there to improve their lives.

If it costs money to protect the public then money needs to be spent. But…

“Those people are in a very difficult position. They often can’t see their children because visiting days for people on remand is often mid-week and the kids can only visit on the weekend.

“They don’t get access to training courses, drug and alcohol treatment and so on because those things aren’t offered most of the time to people on remand because the argument is [they] … aren’t sentenced and therefore can’t be forced to do programmes [so] … it’s not worth offering them to them.”

More secure medical and treatment facilities may be one way of dealing with this. That means more money in the short term.

Andrew Little was approached for comment, but his office said he would not speak about the bail issue until after a justice summit later this year.

Newshub (16 June 2018): ‘Everything is on the table for justice reform’ – Andrew Little

Justice Minister Andrew Little says “everything” is on the table when it comes to justice reform, including changes to bail, parole and sentencing laws.

Mr Little said that the current model “isn’t good enough” and the 60 percent reoffending rate within two years points to a “failure” in 30 years of punitive criminal justice policy.

“We will have to look at the parole act, the bail act, and the sentencing council – get some cohesion around our sentencing,

“But I think the real game changer is what we can do inside our prisons, and how we can make it systematic across our prison network.”

National’s Mark Mitchell has strongly criticised the Government’s proposed changes, particularly softening bail laws, saying that 98 percent of prisoners are ‘serious criminals’ who would be a danger if released.

The minister rejected that assertion, saying Mr Mitchell “has his figure wrong”.

“Over half the prisoners who enter the prison system in any one year are there for non-violent [offences], what I would characterise as ‘low-level’ offences.”

The minister says that of the criminals remanded in custody (those who are in prison awaiting trial or sentencing) 59 percent get a custodial sentence – but 41 percent do not.

With the number of prisoners on remand getting close to 2,000 this means about 800 of them will end up not being sentenced to prison. That’s a high number.

“The numbers alone tell you, we’ve calibrated our remand decision-making the wrong way. We are remanding too many in custody.”

That’s how it looks – but it can be difficult predicting which people arrested will end up in prison after conviction.

And it doesn’t take many ‘mistakes’ on bail for there to be high profile publicity – one violent assault would be enough to try to clamp down on bail.

Unfortunately bad crime happens despite the best efforts of the police, the justice system and the Minister of Justice and Parliament.

That justice summit could be interesting.

Leave a comment


  1. Trevors_Elbow

     /  25th June 2018

    This is not a simple problem to solve, but:

    1>anyone charged with a violence offence should not be allowed out on bail
    2>anyone charged with a fraud/financial law breaking/swindling type crimes involving more than a 100k should not be allowed out on bail
    3>anyone charged with sexual assault should not be allowed out on bail
    4>anyone charged with burglary should not be allowed out on bail

    2 and 4 may seem odd to some, but 2 is not treated seriously enough in my view and seriously hurts other people and 4 is an entry to other nasty crimes for some plus serial burglars are not often caught and do a lot of psychological damage to others due to the sense of insecurity a burglary engenders…

    We definitely need separate facilities for the Gang members – they are committed criminals and need to be kept away from youth and first time offenders to stop their stand over tactics inside….

    Mr Littles dicing with danger if he reforms the current laws….

    • Kitty Catkin

       /  25th June 2018

      As people are often enough charged for crimes that they have not committed, I would modify that to some extent and make it when there is some actual evidence; not just an accusation.

      Were you astonished to see that gang crime is actually well DOWN ? I was, but missed part of the story. I see no reason why Australian gangs who are known to be into crime should not be automatically deported.

  2. Ray

     /  25th June 2018

    I was in the room when Damien OConnor who was the Minister of Corrections was informed that a young offender had been killed in a prison van.
    He was quite obviously shocked to the core.
    I doubt that Minister Little will get much support for something that would allow something similar to happen, and trust me on this, sooner or later it will.

  3. Blazer

     /  25th June 2018

    how statistics are interpreted is the problem…e.g after release how many prisoners…reoffend?

    • Ray

       /  25th June 2018

      Trouble is Blazer you only need one murder by someone on bail and off we go again.
      Any man who has put his hands on a women’s neck will not get bail because attempted strangulation has lead to murder while on bail on more than one occasion. So where would you draw the line if a mistake might lead to a murder?

      • Blazer

         /  25th June 2018

        drawing the line is an imopossible ask,Most murders are committed by people who are not on…bail.

  4. Zedd

     /  25th June 2018

    I agree that anyone charged with a ‘violent offence’ who is likely to receive a prison sentence, should be remanded in custody, until sentencing.. BUT this does need to be taken on a case-by-case basis, not a blanket response.

    The one thing that struck me, was when it was said, this includes those charged with ‘Class A drug offences’.. mostly remanded in custody. Does this include Heroin or Meth addicts, busted for using only ? If so then this is not appropriate (imho).. they should likely be referred to treatment, not JAIL.

    Also, it has been reported that overall crime rates are decreasing, so WHY are our incarceration rates (often remand) still rising ? Seems that they are using it more & more as a ‘holding pen’ (similar to USA)for many who some see, as ‘a threat to society’.. pending sentencing. But as Mr Little says.. quite a large percentage (40% ?) do not ultimately receive a prison sentence !

    All the rhetoric about ‘Tough on Crime’ is just pandering to the red-necks & alt-right, who seem to think it is actually working (inc. WAR on Drugs) WRONG !! 😦

    • Ray

       /  25th June 2018

      I don’t know and no one else seems to really know either but maybe the more criminals we lock up the less there are to commit crime on the street?
      Having viewed a lot of conviction lists on crime sheets, not many people get into jail without plenty of warnings.

      • Zedd

         /  25th June 2018

        maybe you should consider; NZ has amongst the highest incarceration rates per capita in the world.

        If you really believe: ‘the more criminals we lock up the less there are to commit crime on the street?’

        Then maybe they should lock up all people who fail a drink-driving test too ?
        It seems that ‘public perception’ is one of the big contributing factors !

        There was an infamous case (USA) of John Sinclair.. who was sentenced to: 10 years jail for selling 2 joints to an undercover cop. (1960s) BUT, after Mr Lennon sang about it at a big music concert, there was a public outcry & he was released (after served several months).. BUT some folks thought this was ‘a reasonable sentence !’
        methinks this sort of attitude still exists, with some in NZ 😦

        “LOCK ‘EM ALL UP !!”

        • Ray

           /  25th June 2018

          I notice you claim again that NZ “has the amongst the highest incarceration rate”
          There are 51 countries with a higher rate, the US is double ours.

          I don’t think locking everyone up is the answer but letting violent criminals lose isn’t a good option either.

          • Zedd

             /  26th June 2018


            looks like you missed ‘per capita’ (per head of population).. which according to many sources, NZ is near the top

            • Zedd

               /  26th June 2018

              i stand corrected.. maybe the figures i saw were in OECD (countries we compare ourselves to).. but even looking at your list, the countries ahead of us are mostly ‘third world’ or military controlled types; NZ 220/100k

  5. Gezza

     /  25th June 2018

    Still waiting for Mr Little to clearly identify the categories of offence for which remand prisoners are being locked up, how many of these are remanded as a last resort to address continued offending and breaching non-custodial sentence conditions after warnings, & how many do not finallly receive a custodial sentence because time on remand is considered to be time served.

    then if he could even give just a dozen depersonalised concrete examples of cases of low level offending we might begin to know what he is talking about and understand the situation better. I think he & Kelvin are doing an appallingly useless job of explaining exactly who they are talking about.

    Then they need to start talking about what services & facilities are needed to address the issues of illiteracy & inumeracy, mental health, including FAS and drug addiction which we know are high among the prison population (probably including remand prisoners), and what funding is required.

    Cracking down on the criminal element in the gangs I’m all for, and the idea of separate prisons or blocks for gang members & associates has some appeal, but given that there are already 3 generations of gang members & the number of gang members, associates & partners & children is widespread throughout entire whanau/iwi & the communities they come from, and/or prey on, whether that would suceed in isolating genuinely redeemable youngsters from their reach & influence may be harder than we think.

    Skills training and employment for released prisoners. Monitoring & mentoring services. These are also needed. Help & support when they need it has to be there. How to prevent youngsters & rehabilitated offenders from being drawn back into the circumstances & groups of people whi made them what they are – or how to change those people – these are the big issues to my mind.

    The sentencing issues we have are the result of mainly last resort dealing with recidivist offending, bail & parole breaking, violence, & violent lawbreaking. If these weren’t happening people wouldn’t be getting locked up in the first place.


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