National and ACT agree to three-strikes regimePolice
National and ACT have reached agreement on a three-strikes policy that will ensure the worst repeat criminals receive the maximum allowable sentence.
Agreement on the policy, which will be incorporated into the Sentencing and Parole Reform Bill, was announced by the Prime Minister John Key, ACT Leader Rodney Hide and Police and Corrections Minister Judith Collins today.
The new regime will uphold the Government's election pledge to remove eligibility for parole for the worst repeat violent offenders, and incorporate significant aspects of ACT's three-strikes policy.
Under the regime, an offender will receive a standard sentence and warning for the first serious offence. For the second offence they will get a jail term (in most cases) with no parole and a further warning. On conviction for their third serious offence, the offender will receive the maximum penalty in prison for that offence with no parole.
However, the court can decide not to order the maximum sentence be served without parole if it would be manifestly unjust to impose such an order. The regime will only apply to offending by people aged 18 years and over. It will not be retrospective - it will only apply to offences committed after the legislation comes into force.
"National and ACT are determined to hold serious repeat offenders to account, improve public safety, provide a greater measure of justice and closure for victims and maintain the confidence of the public in the justice system," Ms Collins said.
"The regime will be harsh - but only for the small number of people in our community who show continued disregard for the law and contempt for society."
In the revised Bill each strike will be based on an offender receiving a conviction for a qualifying offence. In the Bill as introduced, the threshold was a sentence of five years or more for a qualifying offence.
On their third strike offenders will get the maximum sentence for the offence rather than a life sentence with a minimum period of imprisonment of 25 years as originally proposed.
As a general rule, the list of qualifying offences comprises all the major violence and sexual offences with a maximum penalty of seven years' prison or more.
"This regime will fill a gap relating to the most serious repeat offenders, yet be fair because it has provision to avoid the possibility of someone getting a life sentence for a relatively minor offence," Ms Collins said.
The regime is expected to create a gradual increase in the number of prison beds required. An extra 142 prison beds will be needed in the first 10 years. This will be taken into account by the Department of Corrections in its planning for future prison capacity.
Ms Collins acknowledged the ACT Party leadership for the constructive and co-operative way in which they worked with the Government and reached agreement on the policy.
"This Government is serious about better meeting the needs of victims. This Bill and its three-strikes provisions is an acknowledgement that the justice system exists to serve them, rather than offenders," Ms Collins said.
"By helping keep the worst repeat offenders behind bars for longer and deterring criminals from committing further crimes because of the escalating severity of sentences, this legislation will help make New Zealand a better, safer place."
Ms Collins said the Bill was currently being considered by the Law and Order Select Committee. "I will be writing to the Committee to advise them of the proposed changes and inviting them to seek further written submissions from those who previously submitted on relevant aspects of the Bill," she said.
The Select Committee is due to report back to Parliament at the end of March 2010.
Why has this policy been agreed?
The National and ACT parties both campaigned heavily on law and order in the election campaign. The agreement, which will be incorporated into the Sentencing and Parole Bill currently before the Law and Order Select Committee, will keep the most violent repeat offenders in prison for longer and be a deterrent to further offending.
How will the three-strikes regime work?
For the first qualifying offence the offender will receive a sentence solely as determined by the court. For the second offence, the offender will serve any prison sentence that is imposed in full, without parole. For the third offence, the court will be required to impose the maximum sentence for that offence with no parole.
However, the court can decide not to order the maximum sentence be served without parole if it would be manifestly unjust to impose such an order. The regime will only apply to offending by people aged 18 years and over.
Does the proposed Bill allow for judicial discretion?
In the second stage of the process, judicial discretion remains with regards to the sentence imposed. The offender will be required to serve any sentence of imprisonment that is imposed in full, without parole.
Stage three of the proposed new regime removes judicial discretion in sentencing, but does enable judges to not make an order for the sentence to be served without parole if it would be manifestly unjust to impose such an order.
Will the public have an opportunity to provide their views on this change to the Bill given that submissions have already been heard?
Yes. The Minister of Police will be writing to the Chair of the Law and Order Committee to advise them of the proposed changes. Because of the significance of the changes, the Committee will be invited to seek further written submissions on the changes from those who previously submitted on relevant aspects of the Bill.
Will all third-strike murder convictions receive life without parole?
Currently murderers cannot receive a life sentence without parole from the court. They must be sentenced to life imprisonment unless the judge deems such a penalty would be unjust when applied to a particular offender.
Under the proposed new regime the court must order the sentence of life imprisonment be served without parole unless it would be manifestly unjust.
How many offenders are likely to be affected?
The impact on the New Zealand prison population is estimated at 56 additional beds after five years, 142 beds after 10 years, 288 after 20 years, 433 after 30 years and 725 after 50 years.
These figures are based on 1980 - 2008 figures and do not factor in the deterrent effect of the new policy. As such, they are expected to be conservative.
How much is this policy likely to cost?
After 5 years: the operating cost is estimated to be $5.1 million per year with a total capital cost of $22.4 million.
After 20 years: the operating cost is estimated to be $26.2 million per year and the capital cost will be a total of $115.2 million.
After 50 years: the operating cost is estimated to be $66 million per year and the capital cost will be a total of $290 million.
Will it result in an immediate rise in prison numbers and the need for new prisons?
No. It will take time for the Bill to take full effect. Given the relatively short sentences often given for first violent offences - commonly 3-5 years - the first ‘second strikers' may be sentenced to a term of imprisonment without parole quite quickly. It is probable that we will begin to see more third strikers 8-10 years from the date the Bill comes into force.