“Without one shred of evidence”

This would have to be one of the funniest comments in Parliament today.

Rt Hon Winston Peters: I raise a point of order, Mr Speaker. A number of allegations have been made by that member without one shred of evidence, and surely a person coming to this House in a genuine inquiry making an allegation of that level should be required to produce the evidence.

Of course Peters has never done that. He’s made many allegations in Parliament over the years, but he generally makes assurances there is boxes of evidence.

Most of it is still in the post.

However the target of Winston’s double standard, Melissa Lee, had the evidence ready to go. See Minister embarrassed by Advisory Group failing to keep minutes

Lack of evidence on effectiveness of 3 strikes law

Minister of Justice Andrew Little wanted to scrap the contentious 3 strikes law but had to ditch plans when NZ First said they would not support ditching it.

Families Commissioner Len Cook has a say on Evidence and the ‘Three Strikes’ law

The ‘Three Strikes’ law exists because a majority of Members of Parliament want it, although there is no evidence which exists to justify or shape it.

Claiming “a majority of Members of Parliament want it” is not strictly correct. A majority of MPs voted for it in 2010, but as that was a party vote there is no way of knowing how many individual MPs supported it and how many didn’t.

Understanding how we got here might be helped here if we explore some of the ‘evidence’ used to introduce the law and explain its operation since then.

Crime generally has been falling since the 1990s, and for violent crime there was a peak around 2008/2009 and then a decline in cases taken to Court. This general fall in offending can be seen in most outcome measures including convictions. Sexual assault offending is stable and violence offences have declined since 2009.

Statistics support the claim that violent crime is falling. However there are perceptions that it is still a major problem (it is, even if reducing) – media and social media could be exaggerating the levels.

There are few cases that the three strikes law affects, and these do not provide evidence to conclude whether this particular law has had any influence on offending, especially when the introduction of the law will also have had an influence on the prosecution of cases and in sentencing judgements.

Then Minister of Justice Adams has provided an answer to a Parliamentary Question in 2017 which, despite her comments, became the basis of misleading reactions. The information given has been used by others to suggest that recidivism from serious offending has fallen by some 34 percent since the three strikes law was passed.

Quite simply, it is not realistic to assume that what happened before 2010, when the law was enacted could be the same as the period after 2010. The comparison with offenders before 2010 is simply hypothetical because the classification of people into second and third strikes did not exist then and has retrospectively been made up.

That makes it questionable.

Yet again, as occurs across our Justice system, application of a new law will be targeting Māori and Pacific offenders disproportionately rather than those committing the worst offences. Little has changed since the 1970s when one in 14 Māori boys of each birth cohort were taken into institutions by the state alongside one in 100 Pākehā boys.

Cook may be correct, but where is the evidence “a new law will be targeting Māori and Pacific offenders disproportionately”.  Ironicially:

Deliberation now on offending needs to be founded on knowledge rather than ignorance of our recent history in criminal justice.

While the arguments for the law link it to the need for proper redress for victims, we simply do not know whether there is a connection. The existence of the three strikes law may delude our Parliamentarians into believing that providing redress for victims is this manner best reflects their interests. For this we have no evidence.

Graeme Edgeler had a go at evidence last year – Three Strikes five years on! Now with accurate numbers!

I now have this data, following contact by the Ministry of Justice after my retraction (and Nikki Macdonald’s excellent work in the Dominion Post) was published, and the Ministry apologised for falling short of the high standard they set for themselves, and offered to provide comparable data if I still wanted it.

The comparison between the years before and after the coming into force is less stark, but there remains a reduction in strike recidivism beyond that in strike crime generally. The extent to which this fall can be attributed to three strikes remains anyone’s guess.

So with a lack of evidence and many guesses the effectiveness of the 3 strikes law remains highly debatable. And the law remains in place thanks to NZ First’s deciding voting power.

Public opinion is not a measure of effectiveness but of perception. Recently Sensible Sentencing did a poll and asked:

Since 2010, New Zealand has had a ‘Three Strikes’ sentencing law for serious violent and sexual offenders who continue to commit offences. This law removes parole eligibility for repeat offenders and imposes the maximum prison term available for the offence committed, for those who offend a third or subsequent time. Do you approve or disapprove of this law?

  • Approve 68%
  • Disapprove 20%
  • Unsure/refuse 13%

The poll was conducted by Curia Market Research in late February and early March and was based on the responses of 965 respondents. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 3.2 per cent.

This seems like strong support, but that is a loaded question – pre-loaded with “serious violent and sexual offenders who continue to commit offences”.

All third strike sentences so far have not imposed the maximum term as they have been ruled ‘manifestly unjust’ because the third strike convictions were relatively not serious.

Judges usually go to great lengths, especially at appeal level, to impose appropriate sentences based on many factors, including:

  • the seriousness of the crime
  • aggravating and mitigating factors
  • criminal history
  • whether the crime was premeditated or not
  • whether there has been a guilty plea
  • whether there is any noticeable remorse
  • need for deterrence
  • whether treatment has been undertaken for mental health or addiction problems
  • signs of rehabilitation
  • compared to similar crimes

For an example of the lengths judges go to in reconsidering sentences see a recent appeal SOLICITOR GENERAL v HUTCHISON [2018] NZCA 162 [12 June 2018]

No charges after Todd Barclay re-investigation

The police say they have no new evidence of that justifies re-opening the case against ex-MP Todd Barclay so no charges will be laid.

A number of news reports implied that this decision was because Barclay again refused to talk to the police, but as for anyone else that’s his right and a right that is commonly claimed on legal advice.

It wasn’t the reason for no charges being laid, as with any case police have to find sufficient evidence to justify a prosecution and they say they have not been able to do that. New information given to them and new interviews did not make a viable case.

Stuff:  No charges from Todd Barclay re-investigation – police

Police reopened an investigation into allegations Barclay, the former MP for Clutha-Southland, illegally recorded a staff-member after it emerged in June that former prime minister Bill English had been a key witness in the case.

Police have now closed the case as they have insufficient evidence.

“After a thorough review of all information available to us, including legal advice both internal and from Crown Law, plus consideration of the Solicitor General’s prosecution guidelines, Police has (sic) determined that there is no change to the outcome of the original investigation,” Assistant Commissioner (Investigations) Richard Chambers said.

Police rejected criticisms of the initial investigation and any claim that witnesses had been coerced.

“We are aware that the original investigation has been subject to some criticism,” Chambers said.

“While we recognise the strong interest in this matter, the foundation of any decision to seek warrants or to prosecute is always the evidence available to us.”

“Speculation, hearsay and third party information does not in itself constitute such evidence.”

Neither do concerted attempts to score political hits with no evidence.

Stuff details the whole shemozzle:  How the Todd Barclay story got here


Poverty #3 still lacks solid evidence

Jess Berentson-Shaw’s third article on child poverty makes more claims that giving more money, no questions asked, to poor families is the best way to deal with poverty.

Berentson-Shaw is described as ‘a science researcher at the Morgan Foundation’ but there is a lack of scientific backing to her articles. I have asked the Morgan Foundation for details.

The latest article is Bad parenting is not the reason for child poverty

The single most effective action we can take to improve the lives of children in poverty is to give parents money, no questions asked. In two previous articles, I’ve shown that when parents in poverty are given more money, they use it to better the lives of their children.

She hasn’t shown that beyond some vague references. She has provided no scientific backing to her claims.

I suspect that many in New Zealand will express both shock and total disbelief that the evidence could possibly support this conclusion. At the heart of this shock is the common belief that children in poverty suffer because of bad parents, not the lack of money.

In part we believe this myth because our focus on “child” poverty has separated in the public’s mind these children from their families. The children are innocent and need our help therefore we glibly conclude that the parents are “guilty”: guilty of ignorance and abandonment of their parental responsibilities.

She makes alarming generalisations there without any details to back up her claims.

New Zealanders love to perpetuate the image of the “mad, bad, poor parent”, but it is a lazy, inaccurate and dangerous story to tell because it has led us to put our best efforts into the least-efficient solutions.

It could be suggested that Berentson-Shaw is telling a lazy or inaccurate story, unless she can provide credible substantiation.

In reality, stress and limited resources interact with each other to determine children’s well-being.

Take learning to read, for example. A family who can’t afford to buy books for children may also have less time, ability and energy to read to their child. We know that being read to is crucial for later learning, so this problem creates a gulf in skills between the haves and have-nots that no school can hope to bridge.

This example is alarming.

Has Berentson-Shaw done any research into how much no questions asked additional cash will go into buying children books? And whether it will increase the time spent reading to children?

Reading to children and encouraging children to read are important for education.

New Zealand ranks highly in literacy rates but there are still a large minority who don’t have adequate educational outcomes – in 2002 there were 76% of 25–64 year olds attaining at least upper secondary education, meaning 24% didn’t. (Statistics New Zealand).

And this report from 2013 from Stuff: Experts appalled as literacy rates continue to flatline

While the rest of the world’s literacy rates have been improving, New Zealand’s have flatlined for more than a decade, education experts say.

In a report published yesterday, Massey University researchers say schools’ approach to literacy is “fundamentally flawed.

Research showed those pupils achieving the least were unlikely even to finish the reading recovery programme, Prof Tunmer said.

“A significant number of the lowest-performing 6-year-olds are excluded from reading recovery because they are considered unlikely to benefit, or are withdrawn early when they do not meet expected rates of progress.”

Ministry deputy secretary Rowena Phair acknowledged concerns for those with low levels of literacy.

“We have consistently said that it is no longer acceptable to allow up to a fifth of our learners to complete their schooling without the literacy and numeracy skills they need to succeed in a modern economy.”

It is claimed that “as many as half of New Zealand’s prisoners are functionally illiterate”.  (Howard League)

Just giving more money to poor families is unlikely to suddenly change interest in literacy in poor families.

My guess is that most poor families manage to read to children and provide them with books – I grew up in a very poor family but went to the library regularly. But those poor families without an ability or interest in reading are unlikely to change on their own just because they are given more money.

Berentson-Shaw concludes:

What the evidence tells us is that children in poverty do poorly not because they have irresponsible parents, but because they live in families under stress. Give them money to release the pressure valve and families and children do a whole lot better. It is not 100 per cent effective of course, but it gets closer than anything else we have tried.

What evidence? Berentson-Shaw may have some but that isn’t apparent.

Again, the generalised claims without substantiation here are alarming from a “science researcher”.

What if the Government has committed to billions of extra spending and “what is left” is largely the same? Cut the cash and look at other ways of dealing with entrenched problems? Or just keep increasing spending and see what is left after that?

First, we need to remove the financial stress then we deal with what is left.

How much will it take to “remove the financial stress”. Most average families experience ongoing financial stress throughout much of the two or three decades of bringing up kids.

Most people probably don’t think they have enough money to live stress free lives.

In 2016, the Morgan Foundation will release the findings of our investigation into families and children in poverty in New Zealand.

I hope their findings are far more evidence and science based than this series of articles by Berentson-Shaw have been.