Friday, July 09, 2004

More on the parole debate

Don Brash's Orewa II speech has generated a public debate which has shed more heat than light om the issues. If we really believe that it's always a good thing to make sentences tougher, then we could save a lot of time by setting a minimum penalty of life without parole for all crimes. If we take a more balanced view then a more thoughtful analysis is in order.

If (at present) a prisoner is sentenced to 12 years imprisonment then
(1) their normal civil rights will be suspended/restricted for that period;
(2) they will spend at least 4 years (1/3) in prison.

The actual severity of the sentence will also depend on
(3) the type of prison the prisoner is sent to
(4) the actual time served before parole
(5) the restrictiveness or intrusiveness of the parole conditions.

which are all outside the control of the sentencing judge. At one level, Don Brash's entire arguent can be seen as one of semantics. Do we call the above sentence 12 years or "4 years followed by a supervision period of 8 years"? On the other hand we might legitimately ask -
(1) Is the balance of power between the sentencing judge and the parole board (and hence between punishment and rehabilitation) about right?
(2) Is a fixed ratio of minimum time before parole to maximum sentence appropriate regardless of whether the latter is 20 years or 6 months ?
(3) Are parole boards too close to the Corrections Department (eg Are prisoner's released earlier than appropriate because prisons are overcrowded? Is the evidence of prison staff to parole hearings used as a lever to help control prisoners?).

I would welcome an informed debate on these questions but I don't see too many signs of it yet/


Blogger Jordan said...

On your questions,

1) - I think it would not harm anything for the sentencing judge to set the sentence in two parts: a period of the sentence as a minimum non-parole period, and a supervision period (the second might just flow from the first) for the sentence. Seems the Parole Board is a v important institution which is sometimes making errors, at this point.

2) - no, it is not appropriate. There should be flexibility because each case is different. Victim's perspectives could be different; circumstances; ameliorating factors, blah blah.

3) - I don't know, know nothing about that question.

I agree it seems to be a semantic debate in a lot of ways, right now.

9 July 2004 at 4:50 PM  
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