Raybon Kan is an award-winning stand-up comedian

Raybon Kan: Nothing heroic about this batty prison law

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Imagine the progress Batman would make if he spent his billions on policy rather than crime-fighting toys. Photo / AP
Imagine the progress Batman would make if he spent his billions on policy rather than crime-fighting toys. Photo / AP

Three strikes and you're out.

If any expression shows the influence of America, this is it.

We don't play baseball. Yet when it comes to mandatory jail, we don't talk about 10 wickets and you're out, or 15 overs and then the fielders leave the circle.

We use the American language, from the country with the highest prison population in the world.

(It's not even accurate. Since it's mandatory jail, surely it should be three strikes and you're in. But that wouldn't be catchy, and might confuse the sports fans.)

Last week, New Zealand prison history was made when the first Kiwi achieved their third strike, to enter the NZ Prison Hall of Fame. A man pinched a woman's bottom - sexual assault - and was sentenced to seven years in jail. The judge said if not for the three strikes law, the sentence would be no more than 12 months (even then, presumably, only due to his two earlier strikes.) On the spectrum of sexual assault, the judge said this was "not the most serious assault of its type".

Understatement alert. The judge said similar offences had attracted zero jail time.

This pinch (against a female prison guard) took place in prison, while he was serving three years and four months for aggravated robbery (his second strike).

So, for pinching a bottom, he's been sentenced to twice the jail time as for aggravated robbery.

The algorithm is defective. At a restaurant, this is where you'd look at the bill and demand to see the manager. There has been a mistake.

The moral is, if you intend to receive stolen goods, possess a knife, commit robbery and then later, an aggravated robbery - remember to pinch the bottom first. You might get that for free. The law shouldn't care about the order in which you commit offences. "Do the crime, do the time"; not "Get the combo, don't order items separately, sentencing is a Happy Meal."

Justice should have a sense of proportion. And how can we expect the offender to respect justice, or the system, when it multiplies his sentence by a factor of seven?

Mandatory jail, taking the decision out of a judge's hands, is the corrupt product of America's war on drugs, which fuels and funds America's booming prison industry.

Something like 1 per cent of their population is in jail: three million people. No other country comes close. Mandatory jail time provides long-term tenants for jails, a profitable client base.

Reality TV shows about cops - or headlines about soft sentences, or prisoners on release committing crimes - make us focus on individuals instances of crime, stoking our revenge neurons. It's how we're wired to react.

Three strikes was introduced six years ago by Act's David Garrett - the justice expert who once stole the identity of a dead child to acquire a fake passport. By saying three strikes, politicians get sound-bite credit: tough on crime. But we should demand they get tough on the causes of crime.

Imagine the good that Batman could do if, instead of dressing up at night to catch one or two muggers, he decided to spend his billions addressing the causes of crime in Gotham City.

Cop shows don't focus much on social inequality or child poverty. Imagine if Bruce Wayne decided to spend his resources not on sharper Batarangs and a more tank-like Batmobile, but instead on giving disadvantaged youngsters better surroundings, or to campaign for drug legalisation.

How kids grow up is a glaring contributor to crime later on. This is why rich people send their kids to private schools. (And besides, if you go to a private school, at least when you grow up, you commit a better class of crime, and have a mate who's a lawyer.)

The prison population is surging, but not because our cops suddenly became supercops. So are we worse people? Is it meth?

(Drug use is a health issue. It should be addressed with information and education. Legal drugs cost less to the consumer, have clarity of ingredients and warning labels, and don't make gangsters wealthy. And legal drugs don't lead to that most detrimental of side effects, namely, a jail sentence.)

But politically, targeting inequality won't show benefits for a decade or two.

And the improvements aren't the sort to leap into headlines. People behaving well, with education and healthcare provided, doesn't make clickbait. But when talking to an American, it's these things which make us proud.

The crowning of Trump is a good time to drop the love affair with American values. We don't want our economy addicted to imprisonment.

Let's stop playing baseball. And Batman.

- NZ Herald

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Raybon Kan is an award-winning stand-up comedian

Raybon Kan's books of humour include ‘America on 5 Bullets a Day’ and ‘An Asian at my Table’. Before comedy, he graduated with honours in law and his legal research was published in the New Zealand Law Journal. His TV work includes a documentary in which he trained to be a casino croupier. He once held his breath for 3 minutes and 50 seconds. Visit RaybonKan.com

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