McVicar resigning from Sensible Sentencing Trust

After almost twenty years running the Sensible Sentencing Trust founder Garth McVicar is standing down, citing family reasons and the length of time he has spent promoting the work of the Trust. His wife is also standing down.

NZH: Sidelined by government, called ‘loopy’ and ‘callous’, now the Sensible Sentencing Trust is about to lose its founder

The founder of the Sensible Sentencing Trust Garth Vicar is resigning from leading the organisation known for pushing “tough on crime” policies.

His decision comes as the trust struggles to gain the ear of government and months after McVicar praised police for shooting dead a mentally ill man.

McVicar posted: “One less to clog the prisons! Congratulations to the New Zealand Police, our thoughts are with the officer who was forced to take this action to protect the public.”

He has refused to resile from his comments.

But a trustee of the organisation says McVicar’s exit – and that of his wife, Anne – is not a response to controversy.

A combination of family issues and dedicating almost 20 years to the trust lay behind the decision.

It comes as the Sensible Sentencing Trust struggles to engage with the Government as Minister of Justice Andrew Little pushes ahead with plans for criminal justice reform.

Little has praised work the trust has done raising the profile of victims but he referred to McVicar’s comments about the police shooting as “loopy” and Garrett’s about the inmate suicide as “callous”.

The trust will be led by Leigh Woodman, who is a trustee of the Group Trust and its “National Victims Portfolio Manager”. Woodman became involved after the murder of her daughter, Vanessa, who was 15.

Her profile on the trusts’ website says: “Very early after her daughter’s murder, Leigh turned to the SST because she believes there wasn’t and still isn’t any other organisation out there to provide the level of support and assistance required to aid the victims of these types of horrendous crimes.”

The SSG may survive after the McVicar’s exit, but it may be harder for them to make an impact. It could be that tapping into ‘get tough on crime’ sentiment has taken it’s course.

There is now more emphasis on crime prevention, rehabilitation, and alternatives to the growing prison population.

‘Sensible sentencing’ spokesperson sees sense and tries a different approach

A Sensible Sentencing Trust Spokesperson seems to have seen sense, has quit, and is switching from promoting longer prison sentences to focussing more on rehabilitation and reintegration.

And Minister of Justice Andrew Little labels leaders ‘loopy’ and ‘callous’ 

Scott Guthrie, a senior figure and spokesman for Sensible Sentencing Trust, told the Herald he had quit the trust believing it had achieved little that made New Zealand safer and that longer prison sentences were not the answer to crime and justice problems.

He has now set up the new Transforming Justice Foundation, saying rehabilitation and finding ways to help prisoners rejoin society without reoffending is the key to cutting crime.

That’s the direction all parties in Parliament are increasingly looking – despite grizzling about the suggested ditching of 3 strikes David Seymour (ACT) has proposed incentives for prisoners to get qualifications while inside.

Guthrie and the Foundation are set for a meeting with Minister of Justice Andrew Little in the next fortnight. In contrast, the Sensible Sentencing Trust had one meeting last year and hasn’t been seen in the Beehive since.

The Trust has previously held a pivotal role in crime and justice debates, pushing for longer sentences and more restrictive bail and parole conditions.

In an interview with the Herald, Little said he had not met the group this year.

“I have a problem specifically with Garth McVicar who has a bit of a track record of what I think are some pretty loopy views”.

Most recently, there was McVicar offering police “congratulations” over the shooting of a young man which meant “one less to clog the prisons”.

“It completely trivialised the position of police officers in that situation. I thought there’s something unhealthy about that set of views that I don’t think is helpful to a debate about criminal justice reform.”

Little also had concern about a comment on a blog by Sensible Sentencing Trust lawyer David Garrett, the former Act MP.

In the wake of the Herald reporting a spike in suicides in our crowded prison system, Garrett wrote: “No one with half a brain cares if the kind of people featured on this blog under the title ‘Meet a second striker’ commit suicide in jail… and neither would you, if you cared a fig for their victims.”

Little said: “The idea you just callously say it’s okay if they commit suicide – that’s not a set of values that I want to be anywhere the debate about reforming our criminal justice system.”

National’s justice spokesman Mark Mitchell said he would meet with any group that wanted to be involved in the crime and justice debate.

However, he said he did “not support or condone” comments such as those made by McVicar or Garrett.

‘Tough on crime’ is gradually changing to having to make tough decisions about the failure of our justice and prison system to prevent many prisoners from re-offending.

Guthrie told the NZ Herald he had an “amicable” split with the Trust.

“It certainly felt like a big step but I couldn’t see the sense in carrying on and getting nowhere quickly.

“It’s not easy when you have a board of trustees and committee that says we’re going to focus on punishing people harshly.”

Guthrie said he was opposed to an advocacy line which insisted on increasingly tougher sentencing.

“It’s not working. It’s a big shift but it’s a shift we need to take.”

Guthrie said he believed in prison – “I’m certainly not soft on crime” – but he was fully supportive of Little’s aims to reduce the prison population through early intervention, rehabilitation and projects that helped inmates safely return to the community.

Sounds more sensible than the hard line ‘Sensible Sentencing’ approach that has not worked well.

Guthrie was backed by former police inspector Tania Baron, who had joined the Transforming Justice Foundation after resigning from police in April.

Baron said reducing the percentage of those who reoffended was key to making New Zealand safer.

I can’t find a website for the Transforming Justice Foundation, but perhaps they don’t need one if they are getting high level access.

The Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Adviser released a heavily-researched report in March which said simplistic “tough on crime” dogma from “vocal, professional lobbyists” had led to media and political pickup and a higher prison population.

But instead of making New Zealand safer, the report found prisons were “extremely expensive training grounds for further offending”.

We keep imprisoning more people in response to dogma not data, responding to shifting policies and media panics, instead of evidence-based approaches to prevention, intervention, imprisonment and rehabilitation.”

But McVicar isn’t giving up.

In a recent interview with the Herald, McVicar dismissed academic and scientific advice around criminal justice.

He said politicians should ignore research-based evidence and listen instead to public opinion.

Justice by public opinion is a really dumb idea.

Science versus ‘populist voice’ on criminal justice

It is often said that populist public pressure has pushed politicians into tougher penalties, and this has pushed the prison population to the extent that New Zealand has one of the highest incarceration rates in the developed world.

David Fisher has a ‘big read’ at the Herald on Justice path and bulging prisons – will NZ listen to scientist or sceptic?

Here is a little read of some of the main points.

  • It’s science sceptic versus scientist in the debate over our criminal justice path
  • Garth McVicar says academics and scientists shouldn’t be involved
  • The Prime Minister’s chief scientist says the choice belongs to the public
  • The verdict from Justice Minister Andrew Little

Science in crime and justice is bunkum and politicians should discard “academics and those type of people” in favour of the public voice, says the Sensible Sentencing Trust’s Garth McVicar.

That’s his take on the heavily researched, deeply referenced report published by the Prime Minister’s chief science adviser, Sir Peter Gluckman, into our criminal justice system.

In an extraordinary interview, McVicar ridiculed scientifically backed evidence and told Minister of Justice Andrew Little he had his “ammunition ready” to bring the Government down after a single term if bail and sentencing changes were rolled back.

McVicar and the questionably named ‘Sensible Sentencing Trust’ probably have a more extreme take on punitive punishment.

It comes as the Government prepares to unveil plans for a “justice summit” after Little declared “tough on crime” approaches followed by New Zealand for years did not work.

Little’s comments were supported by Gluckman, whose recent evidence-based review of our approach to criminal justice found our rising prison population has not made New Zealand safer.

In fact, he said “tough on crime” had nothing to do with our falling crime rate and “dogma not data” had actually made everything worse.

The article pits the different views of ‘the lobbyist’ McVicar…

As McVicar tells it – and this is in contradiction to the graphs, statistics and peer-reviewed research in Gluckman’s report – academics and scientists had led New Zealand into a crime-ridden society until the “evolution” of the Sensible Sentencing Trust.

McVicar says – and Gluckman’s report says this is not true – longer sentences, tougher bail laws and making parole more difficult to obtain have led to the fall in our crime rate.

…against the scientist Gluckman…

“Science isn’t about a single person or a single bit of data – the process of science is trying to understand over a good period of time what is going on in the world.”

As for public opinion, he says: “I think public opinion changes when it is informed by intelligent reflective conversation.”

Gluckman said the prisons report – as an example – gives the public information to make a decision. If we choose to continue to run our justice system the same way, more people will be locked up who will eventually be released, “brutalised” by prison and “over time we will escalate the crime rate”.

…the politician Little…

“In the end the whole criminal justice system is about taking people who have done things wrong and trying to stop them doing things wrong again.

“That will work for many of them. It won’t work for all of them.”

“In the end, the fewer offenders we have – particularly violent offenders – and the less recidivism we have, the better it is for community safety.”

Contrast this, he says, with increasing levels of incarceration, longer sentences and people who are inevitably, eventually released only to reoffend.

The policies of the past 30 years have not made New Zealand better, Little says.

“You’ve got to look at particularly our violent offending rate, which is going up.”

Little says: “There must be other options available that deal with the issue and keep us all safe.”

…and another politician, Opposition spokesperson Mark Mitchell:

The idea that “dogma” driven by lobby groups and magnified by media influenced politicians to create laws that didn’t work is a notion that doesn’t sit well with former police officer Mark Mitchell, now National’s justice spokesman.

“I completely agree that data and science should be a big driver of good policy decisions but I completely reject the notion that dogma has not only been an approach our Government has taken but previous Governments as well.

Mitchell says: “This is my own personal view, it’s too much of a simplistic and easy view to take that it’s just populism. It’s not actually populism – it’s people need to be safe.

The idea of “feeling” safe might be “emotive”, he says. “There’s nothing wrong with having emotive feelings. It’s always going to be the responsibility of the Government that they are doing the best that they can to keep good, law-abiding citizens and communities safe.”

Asked if jail works, Mitchell says it is “necessary in terms of making sure first and foremost communities remain safe and people remain safe and aren’t exposed to violence, in particular”.

But he does say more work needs to be done on rehabilitation and reintegration, so prisoners can “engage in a positive way with communities and rebuild their own lives”.

Back to Gluckman:

He cited evidence showing “successive administrations on both sides of the political spectrum” were “encouraged by vocal, professional lobbyists”.

It’s a phenomena dubbed “penal populism”, also seen in Britain and United States, where “politicians offer vote-winning, simplistic solutions for selected law-and-order problems”.

Choices made – not on evidence – led to rocketing prison costs and prisoner numbers but no sign of a safer public or crime rates falling.

Andrew Little and the Government have a big challenge dealing with escalating prison numbers, but also making the general population feel safer.

It isn’t sensible to just keep reacting to crime with longer and tougher sentences.

Perhaps there is a need for a Sensible Prevention Trust, and a Sensible Rehab Trust.

Conservative accusations of Craig lying

A number of Conservative Party members, including two current or ex Board members have accused (or strongly implied) Colin Craig of lying.

In Holier than thou? (Stuff) Garth McVicar, who was a high profile candidate for the Conservatives in last year’s election, refers to a ‘forked tongue’:

McVicar unsuccessfully stood for the Conservatives in Napier and while it’s been rumoured that he’s the preferred new Conservative leader he has no desire to return to politics.

Politicians promise the earth over election time but over the next three years do bugger-all. That’s not my style. It’s incredibly disheartening… I was probably a dreamer thinking that I could do any better than the 120 politicians we’ve got.”

Craig’s behaviour hasn’t done anything to assuage his concerns. “You put yourself out there as a leader, so ultimately it’s hypocrisy when you’re found to be speaking with a forked tongue.”

Another high profile recruit was Christine Rankin, who became Party CEO before resigning recently.

She wanted to resign after the election. “We haven’t been allowed to talk about what the issues were during the election campaign…he blocked it every time we got near.”

She confronted him four weeks ago when she got solid evidence. “I heard Colin say ‘I’ve never been approached by board members.’

“He convinced me, he convinced everyone, he was like ‘no, I’m Christian, I wouldn’t do that.’ He’s very charming.”

Until the past couple of weeks Craig has denied being approached by the board over his behaviour related to Rachel MacGregor.

John Stringer, who claims to have formed a new Board (but Craig claims has been thrown out of the Party) would only go as far as calling Craig’s claims ‘untruths’ when he first went public on The Nation. Here is part of the transcript of the interview:

Okay. Because I’m just wanting now play you a clip of Colin Craig addressing that question about whether anyone on the board raised questions about the nature of the relationship. Let’s have a listen.

Paul Henry: Are there members on the board who feel that you have not been honest with them about any dealings that you’ve had with Rachel MacGregor or indeed there was an inappropriate relationship that you haven’t been honest with them about?

Colin Crag: No board member has ever raised that concern with me. I have not ever been accused of being dishonest.

That’s a clear statement denying it had been raised with him.

Lisa Owen: That was Friday morning. So what’s your response to that? Because he’s saying nobody brought it up.

John Stringer: That is completely untrue. Because the board has discussed this almost monthly perhaps for a year. Even before this matter came up we had concerns, and this has been discussed at length and comes up all the time. When we had the briefing of the regional chairman, the very first question that was asked of Colin by the regional chairman was this matter. So Colin cannot say this has not been raised.

So Colin Craig’s lying, that’s what you’re saying.

What he’s just said is untrue.

Well, that’s a lie, isn’t it? This is a man who’s campaigned on high moral standards and bringing different kind of politics. Are you telling me that he’s telling untruths?

Well, it’s certainly not the experience that I’ve had around the board table, and it’s been discussed many times when I’ve been there, and I’ve discussed it myself with Colin. So I don’t know what he means.

Now Stringer is more forthright.

“The lies, the deceit, the false information,” Stringer said. “The guy’s lying through his teeth and it’s just shocking.”

That seems to be backed up by Rankin and McVicar.

It certainly looks like Craig has not been truthful with some aspects of this issue. This must put into doubt any of his claims that aren’t backed by evidence or independent corroboration.

Conservatives cranky about Craig leadership

3 News has just reported that Conservative leader Colin Craig could be rolled at a special board meeting tomorrow.

‘A source’ says they have the numbers to replace Craig.

They said there was dissatisfaction with Craig over their election campaign, over their party secretary quitting two days before the election and an election result that was sort of creditable but not close to being successful.

And some of them were very cranky about Craig’s appearance on ‘Newsworthy’ last week : Sauna Session with Colin Craig.

The Sauna Sessions is a weekly feature here at Newsworthy. The idea is very simple: Conduct an interview with a person of interest in a very hot sauna.

That person could be a politician or a musician; a comedian or a writer. David Farrier will ask the questions that will make them sweat.

For the very first Sauna Session David was joined by Conservative Party leader Colin Craig.

Colin talked about his disappointment in the last election and his worries over the debate about New Zealand’s flag.

Colin managed to hold it together, while David described the whole thing as “truly disgusting”.

It probably wasn’t the best look for a Conservative Party leader.


“In 2012, during the Government sitting of New Zealand’s Gay Marriage Bill, Farrier came out as bisexual” – I’ve got no problem with that but some of the party members may not have have been thrilled to see their leader having a shower with farrier.


Patrick Gower said he has spoken to Craig who said he will give the challenge his best shot. And he also gave a party shot over the bows of the party, saying that some of his donated money may have just been a loan and may need to be repaid.

Who will challenge him? Christine Rankin was second on their party list last election, with Garth McVicar of the Sensible Sentencing Trust at three.

Maybe the Conservative Party wlil benefit from a good shake-up, as long as they don’t fly to bits – or get dumped into a financially untenable situation.

UPDATE: Farrier didn’t exactly cover himself with glory either, during that interview and since on Twitter:

to all those that said THE SAUNA SESSIONS were not a force of change – na na na na nah

Newstalk ZB: Conservative leader ‘doesn’t regret’ TV interview

Conservative Party leader Colin Craig says he doesn’t regret an interview that may have put his leadership at risk.

The party’s board is expected to meet tomorrow night to discuss Mr Craig’s leadership, after a TV3 interview he did in a sauna sparked outrage within the party.

Mr Craig says he hasn’t been told about the meeting.

Maybe Craig will regret doing the interview after tomorrow. Or maybe it was a coup waiting to happen anyway.

No sense in Sensible Sentencing Trust

I wonder if Garth McVicar comments as Andre on Kiwiblog, this sounds like his sort of nonsense. No facts, just prejudice.

Lobbyist links gay marriage to crime rise in NZ

Sensible Sentencing Trust leader Garth McVicar has submitted to Parliament that changing the law to allow same-sex marriage will be yet another erosion of basic morals and values in society which have led to an escalation of child abuse, domestic violence, and an ever-increasing prison population.

“The marriage amendment bill will not benefit society at all and will ultimately have detremetal (sic) effect on crime at all levels,” the submission read.

McVicar’s statement said that he considered the bill would be a further erosion of what he considered to be essential basic values and morals that have “stood the test of time for centuries”.

“Furthermore, the bill represents a further decay and erosion of the traditional family that society has been founded on.”

Or maybe Andre is just a repeater of SST talking points.  Which are certainly not based on facts or sense.

Criminologist Dr James Oleson, from Auckland University, an expert in deviance, said he was not familiar with any research that would suggest homosexuals would be responsible for a disproportionate amount of crime.

For McVicar’s argument to be plausible, he said, it would have to be proved that allowing homosexuals to marry degraded morality, and that this produced more crime. “But I’m not sure that’s true.” The more common drivers of crime were economic issues, alcohol, drugs, education and employment and family dysfunction, Oleson said.

But that won’t stop the factless scaremongering being repeated, again and again.

Update: a twitter exchange…

Most against the Bill seem to be hankering for a Truman Show version of NZ: conformist, God-fearing nuclear families

They think that marriage equality will destroy everyone’s morals, like, if you get married I’ll rob a bank.

yes. “#marriageequality then nek minnit sack of Rome” is one of the most common arguments being used by opponents