Critics hit out at home detention

By Brendan Manning

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More than 130 Bay of Plenty offenders are on home detention, but new figures suggest one-in-five are likely to be re-convicted within a year.

Last week a Greymouth trial was aborted after a 42-year-old man on electronic bail cut off his ankle bracelet and fled to Australia before he could face trial on sex charges.

Police believe he is now in Sydney.

Details released under the Official Information Act show 132 offenders are on home detention in the Bay of Plenty district.

The Corrections Department failed to specify how many of these criminals had breached their conditions. However, during the 2010-11 financial year, 21.2 per cent of offenders nationally were re-convicted and 5.8 per cent imprisoned within 12 months of beginning home detention sentences.

The dairy farming community was left outraged at a home detention sentence handed down in October.

A Waikino dairy farmer was sentenced to 10 months' home detention with judicial monitoring at three month intervals after being convicted on three separate charges of ill treating his dairy cows.

The Waihi District Court was shown evidence of how Lourens Barend Erasmus, 40, broke the tails of 115 of his herd while other cows suffered broken bones.

He could have faced a maximum jail term of five years' imprisonment and/or a maximum fine of $100,000 and disqualification from owning and or exercising authority in respect of animals.

Nationally, there are currently over 40,000 offenders serving community-based sentences, 1700 on home detention.

Home detention was introduced in November 2007. Corrections describes it as the second most restrictive sentence available to the courts after imprisonment.

It is also comparatively cheaper.

The daily cost of administering a home detention sentence is $58, compared to $249 for imprisonment.

Corrections assistant general manager Maria McDonald said home detention was intended for offenders who would otherwise have received short jail sentences of two years or less.

The sentence requires an offender to remain at an approved residence at all times under electronic monitoring.

The maximum home detention sentence is 12 months, the minimum is 14 days.

Sensible Sentencing Trust spokesman Peter Bentley said home detention should be regarded as a privilege.

"A lot of these people that are on home detention are not deserving of any breaks, they've committed a crime for which a custodial sentence is warranted.

"They should be put in a place where they can reflect on their misdeed."

By letting offenders serve out their sentence in their home, the justice system was putting the offender in the same situation as when they committed the offence.

While home detention may be warranted for "very low level, minor crime", it was not an appropriate sentence for crimes of a violent or sexual nature, he said.

If home detention conditions are not met, offenders can be fined up to $2000, jailed for a year, or given another community-based sentence.

Ms McDonald said home detention had one of the lowest re-conviction rates of all community sentences and orders.

"A significant proportion of re-convictions that do occur are for a breach of the sentence as opposed to any other criminal act."

Corrections would not reveal the number of ankle bracelets currently active, or how many had been damaged or broken in the past five years - citing commercial sensitivity.

The bracelets are not owned by Corrections, but leased from G4S, a British multi-national security services company.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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