The Government’s Crime Reduction Plan

  • Tony Ryall

Keynote Address to Grey Power

The Prime Minister has established two key themes for her administration: prosperity and security. As Minister of Justice, I'm committed to improving security, particularly by reducing serious crime.

Overall crime is down to its lowest level since 1989. Crime fell by 3.3 percent last year and by 2 percent the year before. The falls are modest but the trends are right.

Burglary rates, considered by most New Zealanders as their major crime concern, continue to fall steadily and are down 26 percent since 1992.

The Government has a four point plan to continue the reduction in crime.

1. Early Intervention;
2. Crime Prevention;
3. More Police;
4. Tougher Sentences

The best crime solution for everyone is early intervention. It's best for those who consequently won't grow up to be criminals, and best for those who consequently won't become their victims.

Investing early in families under pressure is our best long-term tool for securing their future and is our best weapon against crime.

Many of the programmes National has put in place look nothing like crime prevention. But, they are the things that are going to help the most.

Family Start programmes have brought together our health, education and social welfare services to help families with "cocktails of disadvantage" get the support they need.

To see what happens if you don't help families under pressure, you have only got to look at our prisons. And, there's a couple of striking things I've noticed about prison inmates.

First, a lot of them have health problems, like glue-ear, that haven't been picked up early enough. And, that's made it impossible for them to succeed at school. So our free doctors visits for under-6s is going to help identify and treat these health problems much earlier. That's going to stop health problems causing learning difficulties later on.

The other thing that is really striking is that many prison inmates can't read. 40 percent in fact. That's one of the reasons we are so committed to re-focusing education on the basics of reading, writing and maths. We aim to have every child proficient in reading, writing and mathematics by age nine. Too many New Zealand children have been falling through the cracks and ending up looking back at society from behind bars.

As we all know, crime inflicts a terrible cost on individuals and our society. There are direct costs to Government also.

It costs $70,000 a year to keep just one prisoner in Paremoremo. But to put a family on to the Family Start programme costs just $1,500 a year.

By intervening early we can help 47 families for the same price as one inmate in Paremoremo!

Early intervention programmes are not enough on their own, though. They'll never be 100 percent effective. That's why we are also investing in crime prevention programmes.

A large chunk of this work receives substantial taxpayers' money through the Safer Community Councils network. The concept of the Councils is partnership, and it is working for many New Zealand communities.

They've worked on dozens of programmes from anti-family violence campaigns and mentoring of prisoners' children, through to neighbourhood-based safety programmes, establishing safe houses and support for teenage parents to get back into education.

A great example can be found in a suburb of Whangarei called Otangarei. This was suburb where a large number of people were growing these unusual plants on their front lawns called rusting car bodies. There were drag races in the street, graffiti, and a real crime problem.

So the local Safer Community Council decided to have a neighbourhood renewal. They got rid of the rusty car bodies. They put in some play areas and put some chicanes in to stop the drag racing, painted out the graffiti and worked closely with the schools. The results have been amazing. Using this 'Broken Windows' approach crime has reduced dramatically. The residents are happier. There's less drag racing and it's beginning to work.

The development of strong Police/Community partnerships are making a difference in communities all around New Zealand.

Unfortunately, crime prevention is not foolproof. Criminals have existed in every society and always will. The Government's message to criminals is this: you will be caught and you will be dealt with severely by the justice system.

National has invested in the police to the extent we will have a record 7,000 sworn officers by the year 2000 - up nearly 900 since 1990.

In comparison, Labour reduced police numbers by around 50 in its six years in power. Labour's latest law and order policy is no better. Labour has no commitment to new police. In fact, of the money Labour intends to bleed out of the economy with its tax hikes, not one cent has been earmarked for more police.

But there's no point in having record numbers of Police if we are not using them in the best way. Clem Simich and I have on separate occasions been to New York to have a look at some of the success they are having there. Of course New York is quite a different environment but there are lessons to be learned.

Let me tell you about the conclusions that we drew from New York. The first thing is that they empower their Precinct Commanders to use the police resources that they have as they see fit.

They give the guys on the ground discretion. But they also give them one target and that's to reduce crime. They don't fret only about the arrest rate. The number one priority is to reduce crime. And they hold the District Commanders accountable for that goal alone.

This is the basis of what we have been going through in this country over the last year with the Police restructure. We've focused on getting rid of the middle management and having Police Commanders focussing on reducing crime. The people most enthusiastic about this are the cops on the street.

The second thing that is working really well is Police teams targeting crime hot spots. They choose an area and focus on it in a sustained way.

The Prime Minister has picked up on this when she announced the targeted enforcement teams in the February Prime Ministerial statement. These teams are going into the areas which are bucking the general national trend of reducing crime. They are going to focus on property crime such as burglary and car crime and violent crime.

The differences between National and the Labour/Alliance bloc are even greater when it comes to sentences. New Zealanders have made it clear that for the worst offenders they want sentences not sympathy.

People who break into old ladies' homes and beat them up or rape them should be punished with the utmost severity.

The Labour-Alliance bloc have attacked the Government's strong stance on home invasion. They say they will repeal the home-invasion legislation which imposes tougher penalties on home invaders.

But, we should not be surprised, they also opposed National's 1993 plan to put rapists away for longer.

We stand firmly behind the need for tougher sentences. Home invasion crimes deserve special attention. They strike at the fabric of our society and the sanctuary of our homes.

The elderly, who are often immobile and alone, feel particularly vulnerable. As do people in rural communities whose homes are often isolated.

The home invader not only inflicts a terrible cost on their victim, society as whole pays the price. For some, such as the elderly, this price is very high indeed. They do not feel safe in their own homes - something I believe every New Zealander is entitled to.

This Government is saying that if criminals are going to inflict such a cost, then the price they must pay will be heavy.

Another area of concern for the Government is criminals who offend while on parole or bail.

I am pleased to say that parole is getting harder to come by. Parole cases approved have fallen from 32 percent in 1995 to 23 percent in 1998. We are also increasing judges' power to impose longer non-parole periods in more cases.

And we are cracking down on offenders staying out on bail despite having continued to break the law. We have introduced tough new bail laws, making it harder for repeat serious offenders to get bail.

But, we must not lose sight of the future.

We must not focus so completely on the crime and criminals at hand, that we neglect trying to save young vulnerable New Zealanders from becoming the hardened criminals of the future.

We now know that the effectiveness of intervention very much depends on the young offender.

Our youth justice system is working well for most young people who get into trouble a couple of times.

But then there's the hard-core 10 percent.

The ones for whom the system has most trouble dealing with.

Neither soft hearts nor big sticks will stop some kids from offending.

National has led a visionary plan to give judges and child welfare services more options in dealing with persistent young offenders.

Labour scrapped virtually all options for dealing with persistent young offenders.

Except one. Sending them back onto the streets.

Our plan is the better alternative; seeing us build new secure facilities for these hard-core young offenders, with a focus on changing their criminal tendencies.

We are separating victims of abuse from young violent offenders, and it is making it easier to deal with these troublesome young people.

We are complementing this work with a network of seven new youth prisons, which will also give judges more options for dealing with persistent offenders.

To save this generation of young people, we must send the message back to our homes, neighbourhoods and schools that if you break the law you will be held responsible for your actions.

Young offenders must learn discipline, respect and responsibility for their actions.

For many it will be the first time anyone has taught them these fundamental values.

The reason the Government is having to do this is because other people in these kids' lives have failed them.

Well, young offenders need to know that there is a risk/reward ratio.

Our job is it make it clear and certain in young people's minds that the risks really do outweigh the rewards.

At the same time New Zealanders want to know that we are doing all we can to save young offenders from a life of crime.

This too is vital and must go hand-in-hand with other initiatives such as Strengthening Families.

By setting boundaries these young people will see that someone cares about them.

Young people need self-respect, esteem and to know they are valued.

And, we plan to do much more.

National is working on a new plan to deal with repeat young offending.

National will give judges and the Police more powers and options to deal with repeat young offenders.

Our approach to juvenile crime will emphasize personal responsibility.

It will not shy from making the punishment fit the crime.

National is investigating:

 Electronic Monitoring Of Serious Young Offenders.
 Giving Judges The Power To Alert Parents To Their Responsibilities;
 Increasing Access To Juvenile Records For All Court Types
 Expanding The "Youth At Risk" Initiatives That Focus On Persistent And Serious Young Offenders
 Clarifying The Retention Of Identification Evidence From Young Offenders
 Inviting The Police To Start Joint Patrols With Probation And CYPS Officers
 Longer Supervision Orders
 Target Truancy

Many of these young people are the serious offenders of the future.

It is our responsibility to save them from a downward spiral of offending while we still have the chance.

If we do not accept this responsibility the crimes they commit will almost certainly become more serious as they get older.

We have already made taken huge steps to save a generation of at risk children.

We need to offer them more from life than crime can bring.

We have done a lot. Now is the time to do more.