Former National minister to head justice advisory reform group

In what I think is a smart move Minister of Justice Andrew Little has appointed former National MP Chester Borrows to head a criminal justice reform advisory group.

Borrows was a police officer before getting a law degree and practicing as a lawyer before becoming an MP, and served a term as Minister of Courts, so looks to have a good background.

RNZ: Chester Borrows to head criminal justice advisory reform group

Mr Little said Mr Borrows was the obvious choice to chair the group because of his experience in the justice sector.

“I was keen to have Chester on board because of his background as a former frontline police officer, prosecuting sergeant and then later as a defence counsel after he got his law degree.

“He knows the political system, he was a minister outside cabinet, he was a deputy speaker of parliament – he brings a good understanding of the political process as well.”

Mr Little will announce the other members of the advisory group later today.

He said his advice to them was to be “bold” and “courageous” with their recommendations while drawing on experience, science and data.

“We should all be incredibly concerned at a reoffending rate of those in prison of 60 percent within two years of release – that to me is a failure.”

Borrows says that he never liked the three strikes law and was forced to vote for it by the party whipping system.

In his first interview ahead of Justice Minister Andrew Little announcing the group later today, Mr Borrows has blamed political parties’ self-interest in staying in power for the lack of progress in law and order reform.

An example was the three strikes law introduced by National and ACT under the previous government, which Mr Borrows said National never supported but was introduced to appease their confidence and supply partner.

“Three strikes was never part of National’s plan, it came up as a political move because they needed a confidence and supply partner and that was it. I never liked it, I sent that back.

“Unfortunately it was a party vote and you fall under the whip on those occasions and that’s what happened.”

The reality of party politics.

Many of the problems facing the criminal justice sector today were the same issues Mr Borrows dealt with as a police officer decades ago, he said.

“That is because law and order policy is so frequently governed by politics and not by a sensitive and sensible approach to it.”

“If you’ve got politicians too scared to introduce policy that actually might work because it’s seen to be soft on crime they won’t do it because of how it might be reflected in the ballot box.”

There will always be failures in the justice system, some of them high profile and they will be used to by crime and punishment activists.

But Borrows sounds like he could be a good person to lead the review.

And Little looks like a Minister who wants to make a significant difference – but he has a potential problem, party politics, or more to the point, Winston Peters and NZ First.

But with Borrows’ connection to National he may be able to get them onside with justice reform to get the votes with Labour that will get it through Parliament.

I might be able to contribute to the review in a minor way. I now have three years experience dealing with the justice system (ongoing with a possible third appeal plus I have now been dragged into a bankruptcy proceeding as a creditor in which Dermot Nottingham is trying to avoid paying about $220k in court costs that he keeps appealing).

Courts are under a lot of time pressure due to increasing workloads and resigning judges. One problem I have experienced is their lenience with misguided lay litigators who repeatedly fail to follow legal procedures and repeatedly ignore court directions and timetables, and flood proceedings with large amounts of irrelevant paperwork. They should get tough on this, it will save some time in the court system.

And while private prosecutions are an important part of our judicial system they are too easily open to abuse by vexatious litigants who try to inflict costs in protracted hopeless cases.

 

The Nation: Andrew Little on criminal justice reform

One Newshub’s Nation this morning: Justice Minister joins us to discuss why the criminal justice system needs an overhaul, and what will happen if the reforms don’t go far enough

Mike Williams, who now works with the Howard League for Penal Reform, is on the panel so could have some interesting comments.

 will be on their Twitter panel so that could be worth watching.

Justice Minister says…

…at this point repeal of three strikes is off the table but might be considered further down the track.

Says the advice he has received states unless substantial change occurs, a new prison will be needed every two to three year.

On potential law changes, says he will look at the parole act, the bail act, and sentencing law but the real “game changer” is what we can do inside our prisons to rehabilitate offenders.

On high recidivism rates, “It’s not good enough. If I ran a business where 60% of customers were coming back for a refund within two years, I wouldn’t have a business. Yet we tolerate that within our justice system

Says the fact that 60% of inmates re-offend within two years of being released is a sign of failure for the last 30 years of criminal justice policy.

Little rejects assertion by that 98% of inmates are ‘serious criminals’ , says most prisoners entering the system in any one year are there for non-violent, ‘low level’ offences.

This sort of claim has been controversial in parliament this week.

To be honest, my major concern with the NZ form of three strikes are the third strike consequences. Just having the second strike consequence repeated (no parole) would be a possible compromise.

Our prison numbers are nowhere close to the US.

It doesn’t sound like Labour isn’t promising criminal justice reform, but welfare reform, education reform, CYFS reform. But why double-bunk current prisoners in the interim?

If we wanted to reduce the remand population, you don’t need to change bail laws, you need to change police bail practice. National’s law change was minor. What changed were the actions of prosecutors and judges.

How on Earth has *Treasury* identified 20,000 at risk kids? Estimated there are 20k such kids, sure. But how has it worked out their names?

‘Identified’ is a poor description of what must be a rough estimate.

On the panel Mike Williams insisted there were people in prison solely for driving without a licence.

The Nation – mental health and the courts

On The Nation, following on from last week: Perpetrators or patients?

More than 90 percent of prison inmates have a diagnosis of mental health or substance abuse disorder – so is New Zealand doing enough to divert these people away from jail?

Mike Wesley-Smith investigates, in association with the Mental Health Foundation.

This morning:

In part 2 of ‘s investigation into mental health in the criminal justice system, he’ll look at the courts.

How experimental new courts could lead to lower re-offending rates for those suffering from mental illness.

@TheNationNZ

Michelle Kidd gets up early every day to bring food to homeless people, she says some beg to go to prison for a good night’s sleep.

2700 people last year ended up getting a health appointment in a place of detention.

Sir Ron Young says sentencing people with mental health issues to prison is pointless.

The New Beginnings court has reduced reoffending rates by 66%, number of homeless reduced from 16 to 3 in 6 months.

That sounds impressive. It’s worth expanding.

From justice.govt.nz:

Therapeutic courts

There are 3 therapeutic courts in New Zealand: 2 in Auckland and 1 in Wellington within the criminal District Court system.

Therapeutic courts aim to reduce reoffending, alcohol, drug use, and addiction. They try to help a person’s health and well-being so they can move on with their lives. If someone appears before a therapeutic court, they’re sentenced in the same way and the same laws apply as in other New Zealand courts.

You can’t choose to appear before a therapeutic court. You or your lawyer can ask a judge to go through the court but a judge may say you can’t. Therapeutic courts are for people who have committed less serious offending and who have admitted their guilt.  This court does not hear serious offences like sexual offences.

Alcohol & drug courts

The Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Courts are at Waitakere District Court and Auckland District Court. They’re designed to supervise offenders whose offending is driven by their alcohol and other drug dependency.

New Beginnings & Special Circumstances court

The New Beginnings Court Te Kooti o Timatanga Hou is aimed at homeless people in Auckland. The Special Circumstances Court is aimed at homeless people in Wellington.

If you get accepted into one of these courts, you can get help to address issues in your life that contribute to your offending.

This is a voluntary court. People going through it can choose to withdraw and be returned to the normal court system at any time.

https://www.justice.govt.nz/courts/criminal/therapeutic-courts/

Part 3 of ‘s series will look at people with mental health issues in prison… tune in next week

Mental health & criminal justice

Mental health has become a prominent issue. The Nation this week:

When you break a bone you go to hospital… so why do so many people with mental illness end up in prison instead of getting the treatment they need?

In association with the Mental Health Foundation, this week on the show we’ll feature the first part of Mike Wesley-Smith’s investigation into how the criminal justice system responds to people with mental health conditions.