Little ducking for cover over changes to bail, parole and sentencing laws

Being ‘tough on crime’, prison numbers, and law and order have long been a political football, with successive governments pandering to populist demands for fear of being seen as responsible for awful crimes.

The Labour-led government has an ambitious goal of reversing the prison population by 30%, and have already had some success in reducing them slightly (following on from initiatives started under the previous government), but some difficult decisions will have to be made to come close to meeting their target.

If bail or parole laws and sentencing directives are relaxed it will only take one high profile crime to be committed by someone who otherwise could have been contained in prison for the political football to become a head high tackle on the Minister of Justice and the government responsible.

It is a lot less dramatic and more difficult to quantify to promote that recidivism may be reduced and crimes may have been prevented by better treatment and rehabilitation of offenders.

David Fisher (NZH): Andrew Little ducks for cover as National forecasts tragedy from justice reform

The battle lines are drawn on crime and justice reform and Minister of Justice Andrew Little is in a bunker.

It’s not a great place for a first-term minister but the National Party has driven him there by virtue of how it has stolen a march on precious territory over contested ground.

The struggle Little faces is over possible changes to bail, parole and sentencing laws.

Labour had pledged to cut the prison population by 30 per cent in 15 years and Little has talked of possible changes to those laws.

To meet that target, experts in the field agree those laws will need to be changed.

But Fisher says that Little has been avoiding talking about how this might be done, giving Opposition MPs free shots.

Interviews with leader Simon Bridges and Corrections spokesman David Bennett have seen the National Party politicians repeatedly refer to the Government considering changes to bail, parole and sentencing laws.

It was a possibility Little raised early in the debate around criminal justice reform.

While he might not wish to talk about it now, the National Party will do so – and its message is in lock-step across MPs.

Bridges: “He has to reduce the prison population by a third because he’s not building the prison beds and that really leads inevitably to a softening up of the bail, sentencing, parole laws.”

Bennett: “If they are going to relax those bail and sentencing laws and parole laws they should front up to the NZ public now.”

In forecasting those changes, those politicians have forecast what they say is the human cost if those changes are made. There has been no evidence presented to support these statements.

Bridges: “If the bail-sentencing-parole laws are softened up, there will be many more victims of crime that (Little) and Jacinda Ardern will be responsible for.”

Bennett: “They’re talking about relaxing the laws which would be to early release offenders. They are going to release criminals into the community and put victims and other potential victims at risk”.

Bridges: “If Andrew Little gets his head on bail, sentencing and parole changes, the consequences will be dire. I have no doubt if Andrew Little gets his head there will be an uproar in New Zealand over time as the victims of crime become more and more apparent.”

Bennett: “What they are looking at doing is reducing those rules and they’ve said many a time that is their intention, and if they do it then that increases the risk because there are more people out.”

Over the past 20 years, both Labour and National have responded to a public “tough on crime” appetite by ramping up bail, parole and sentencing laws.

It’s going to be very difficult for Little to get the balance right if he makes changes to the law. He will be hit with any failures, whether justified or not.

And he also faces a challenge getting coalition support, with NZ First already pulling the 3 strikes repeal rug from under him.

With Bridges’ past experience as a lawyer and  also prosecutor it would have been good to see him working positively with Little to find better ways of dealing with crime and punishment without increasing risks, but he seems to have chosen a partisan path instead. That’s a real shame.

There’s a lot at stake, but as usual on law and order issues it looks like politics and populism will as difficult to beat as crime and prison numbers.


  1. Corky

     /  September 20, 2018

    The sad thing about law and order is it doesn’t have to be an issue.

    We could be like Singapore if we had the will and guts to accept a period of turmoil and pain.

  2. David

     /  September 20, 2018

    Little is in my opinion a very dumb politician and its surprising he has got such an easy ride. He comes to power with a goal and no plan, he decides to have a massive conference and blows out the budget with nothing tangible resulting from it (too many voices for anything coherent to emerge).
    His first attempt at reform was eliminating the 3 strikes law, this is a law that is very rarely used and is squarely aimed at a tiny tiny sliver of the prison population who repeatedly commit the most heinous crimes who are totally opposite of what you need as representative to get public support for any reform. And he needed Peters support and thought that might happen when there is published evidence that the deterrent effect is working.
    At the moment Little is on his own and the only support he has is from a couple of bleeding heart caucus members and Robertson not wanting to spend money on prisons.

    • Gezza

       /  September 20, 2018

      Yes the claimed reduction in remand numbers is fine but that statistic on its own will be compared with the statistics for:
      – the overall crime rate
      – the violent crime rates

      If either of those 2 tracks upward there’ll be a loudly proclaimed correlation by National.

      • David

         /  September 20, 2018

        Peters will see this for the hand grenade that it is, electorally it could be disastrous for him given the refugee backdown and the establishment of yet another Maori department there probably arnt many more votes he can lose.
        I cant see any meaningful reform happening and Little will be put back in his box.

  3. artcroft

     /  September 20, 2018

    As of recent the law now rules that Maori get a sentence discount by virtue of being Maori.

    One law for all is so last century. (along with free speech at university)

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  September 20, 2018

      That is a truly shocking misjudgement. Racism is rife in our bureaucracy and institutions now.

      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  September 20, 2018

        It was a Maori judge but on rereading it was unclear if the implication that part of the reduction in sentence was for being Maori was correct. It may have just been careless wording by the judge or the reporter.

  4. High Flying Duck

     /  September 20, 2018

    It’s hard for Bridges to work constructively with Little when he seems to have gone into the process with a predetermined outcome and is “consulting” only for corroborating views.

    He was also as partisan an opposition leader as I have ever witnessed, which doesn’t lend itself to good relations now.

    • David

       /  September 20, 2018

      We have memories of Labour having a referendum on a flag change under Little in their manifesto and we saw how quickly that was reversed when they saw then opportunity for mischief.

  5. Blazer

     /  September 20, 2018

    National always have one policy…lock em up and throw away the key…unless of course its just white collar crime,ripping off the unfortunate is o.k too.

    • Trevors_Elbow

       /  September 20, 2018

      White collar crime is not punished severely enough Blazer – on that we totally agree. (But that is just a red herring from you trying to deflect from labours soft on crims approach…)

      Locking up violent offenders, and for long terms, is a pretty standard position for most Kiwi’s, so Little has set himself up here for a trouncing.

      A winner would be wrap around targeting of youth offenders for intensive rehabilitation, separate facilities for non gang members who are first timers so they don’t fall under the sway of gangs while inside, proper half way house release programmes to ease offenders back into society, mandatory 30 plus year sentences for murder & aggravated assaults/rapes COUPLED with a really hard crack down on gangs including very long mandatory sentences for gang members on conviction of any crime.

      Why he can’t see that this type of policy prescription would be a winner is beyond me…. Working class people are the victims of these scum – we deserve protection…

  1. Little ducking for cover over changes to bail, parole and sentencing laws — Your NZ – NZ Conservative Coalition