Justice Minister Annette King responds to readers' five key points on crime
Readers: We need to be seen to be tougher on criminals with longer sentences rather than parole after a few years.
King: The Government took the call for tougher penalties for crime very seriously. In 2002 we increased the length of sentences, increased the range of offending that qualifies for preventive detention (essentially a life sentence) and increased the minimum non-parole periods on life sentences for murder. At the same time, the Government also made changes that meant that offenders sentenced to finite terms could be kept in prison for their entire sentence. Under the previous National Government offenders had to be released at two-thirds of their sentence.
Readers: Why can prisons not be a tougher and harsher environments for criminals?
King: In recent years prison populations have increased significantly under this Labour-led Government. This is because sentences are longer and the time offenders spend serving their sentences has increased. The average proportion of sentences actually served has increased from 50 per cent under a National government to 72 per cent now.
Readers: The police can be given more powers rather than focus on human rights.
King: Police have been given considerably more resources and support to carry out their role under a Labour-led Government than ever before and this includes 1000 extra Police officers and 250 extra non-sworn officers to support them. There are additional cars, refurbished and rebuilt police stations and more equipment to help the front line Police Officers be more effective. We are also introducing a Bill that will give them additional powers to tackle organised crime and gangs, and we look forward to all political parties supporting this initiative.
Readers: A call for juries to be given the full facts about criminals rather than supression of previous convictions.
King: The Prime Minister has asked the Law Commission to investigate the ability for juries to be given the full facts about criminals, rather than have previous convictions suppressed. The Law Commission has just released its report and has recommended that we await further development of case law before we make any changes to the Evidence Act.
Readers: More work to be done with youth to keep them out of trouble.
King: The best way to keep youth out of trouble is to ensure they are engaged in education, training and employment. The approach that the Labour-led Government has taken has seen the number of young people under 20 on an unemployment-related benefit reduce from 17,514 in Dec 1999 to 1,073 in March 2008, a reduction of 94 per cent. Alongside that, considerable action is being taken to ensure that those youth who get into trouble are subjected to an approach by multiple agencies that includes Police, Justice, Education, MSD and local government. This approach is showing positive results.