The other day I came across this open letter by Jonathan Temm, President of the NZ Law Society. In his letter, Mr Temm responds to the Sensible Sentencing Trust statements that ‘the justice system is failing’ and that the sentencing guidelines for the Courts need revising.
Its a very well written, good letter, and instead of repeating it here, I have linked it below and encourage you to read it yourself . But just to highlight the key points:
One: harsher and longer sentencing does not reduce crime. Despite having the death penalty, the US are still on of the most violent countries on earth. In Asia, you also find an absolute zero-tolerance policy on drug trafficing. Getting caught smuggling drugs in Singapore or Bangkok might not result in the death penalty, but certainly many years in the most dangerous prisons of the planet. Which probably also means death. But are there still murders in the US and drug tafficing in Asia? You bet.
Two: The numbers of people in prison is increasing, not decreasing. There are more people in prison today than ever before in history. If you measure the success of the criminal system by the occupation rate of its prisons, the system works extremely well.
Conclusion: crime can not be prevented by harsher sentences. With sentences, you work on the surface and fight the results, not the causes of crime.
So what can be done? Mr Temm suggest that the difference between those who commit crimes and those who don’t lies in the fact that the former have nothing to lose and the latter everything. The key is then to make the former group investing in the community they live in, so that committing a crime could mean more than just being caught and going to prison.
That reminds me of something Principal Youth Court Judge Beecroft once said. That in all his years as a Youth Court Judge he had never ever seen a kid in his court who was engaged in a sports club.
Maybe thats a starting point?