Round-up of civil liberty news for October 2011.
Police ‘Smart on Crime’, not “Tough on Crime”
“Claims that the drop in reported offending is the result of ‘tough on crime’ policies, including increased Police powers, tazers, three strikes and increased policing numbers, are not borne out by the facts” says Kim Workman, of Rethinking Crime and Punishment, adding that “we should start talking about the Police being ‘smart on crime’ rather than ‘tough on crime’.”
Crime has been dropping in New Zealand since the mid –1990’s, but recent dramatic drops in the reporting of low-level offending, is due in part to the intelligent use of Police diversion and alternative action, argues Workman.
“If the Police can continue to defer the prosecution of low level offenders, it reduces the likelihood that they will eventually be imprisoned. It is low-level offenders who if imprisoned, are the most likely to reoffend on leaving. Alternative disposition is therefore likely to have a positive effect in reducing the imprisonment rate.”
Prisoners' compensation bill introduced
A bill that re-directs to victims of crime all compensation paid to prisoners was introduced to Parliament Justice Minister Simon Power.
The Prisoners' and Victims' Claims (Redirecting Prisoner Compensation) Amendment Bill provides that any compensation awarded to a prisoner and not paid to the direct victims must be used to fund general services for victims of crime.
Otago daily Times 13/10/11
Three Strikes Law
The Sentencing and Parole Reform Act, which established the system of ‘three strikes’ for repeat offenders, came into effect last June. Since then only one prisoner, a recidivist robber, has earned a second “strike” to, but 574 others have earned a first strike.
New Zealand Herald 16/10/11
Website to name, shame convicted teachers
The Sensible Sentencing Trust is setting up a website listing teachers, including ones still at schools, who have convictions.
The Trust had recently completed a dossier of convicted teachers, who had not received name suppression. Several were still teaching.
The Teacher’s Council already has an online database where parents or prospective employers can check on the status of a teacher, but it does not stipulate if they have criminal convictions. Council director Peter Lind has said that the processes for dealing with teachers with criminal convictions are very robust.
MISUSE OF DRUGS
Schools search for drugs without police
Manawatu schools will continue to use sniffer dogs despite a move by police to stop random drug-dog searches in schools.
After changes to the Education Ministry’s search and seizure of drugs and weapons guidelines in August, police have been legally advised to stop carrying out random sniffer-dog drug searches in schools.
A police spokeswoman said the advice from lawyers was that a “generalised search for the purposes of gathering evidence for prosecution is unlawful”, which meant unless police had sufficient evidence to gain a search warrant from the courts they would not take sniffer-dogs into schools for random searches.
Palmerston North Boys’ High School rector Tim O’Connor said it would not be an issue for his school because a drug-testing company was used each year to conduct random searches. “We would only use the police to search the premises here if we had a serious cause for concern.”
Manawatu Standard 1/10/11
Speaker bans Herald for 10 days
In a move believed to be without precedent, Speaker Lockwood Smith imposed a 10-day ban on the New Zealand Herald from covering politics from its press gallery office within the parliamentary complex.
The Speaker handed down the punishment after the Herald published a photograph on its website on Wednesday of guards and members of the public restraining a man who was trying to jump from the public gallery into the debating chamber.
Dr Smith said the photograph was a breach of Standing Orders that prohibit any filming of protests and other disruptions in the public gallery.
New Zealand Herald 6/10/11
High-tech gear snares CBD looters
Police in Christchurch are using high-tech lasers and army night-vision gear to hunt nighttime intruders inside the city centre’s red zone. Over 100 people have been arrested for illegally entering the red zone at night since cordons were erected after the February earthquake.
During daylight hours, the CBD red zone is only open for authorised demolition work and official Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) business, but during the night the CBD is “effectively in lockdown”,
All those arrested for breaching the cordon, which is an offence under the CERA Act, face a maximum penalty of a fine of $5000 and/or up to three months’ imprisonment.
Otago Daily Times 20/10/11
Alleged police surveillance
Police Minister Judith Collins disputed suggestions by Greenpeace activists in New Plymouth this week that authorities tracked their movements.
Auckland-based Greenpeace activist Simon Boxer raised questions about a large police presence and their high-level readiness when a group of Greenpeace supporters descended on Port Taranaki in protest against the survey ship Polarcus Alima, and were stopped by a large police contingent near New Plymouth.
Taranaki Daily News 24/10/11
Police and use of powerful camera
Police are using a new camera with a powerful lens to covertly photograph drivers up to 400 metres away. Western Bay officers started using the Canon camera to catch motorists breaking the law and committing offences such as cutting corners or following too closely.
Sergeant Lester Polglase “If it saves one life then it’s worth it. If people don’t like this covert activity then too bad”
The camera is one of several issued to police districts around New Zealand New Zealand Council of Civil Liberties secretary Kevin McCormack said he had a number of reservations about the camera, including how much consultation with the public, if any, had been carried out prior to its implementation.
Bay of Plenty Times 29/10/11
Human rights values key to prisoner rehabilitation
A new review of human rights and prisons for the Human Rights Commission reveals that human rights values have a key role in the rehabilitation of prisoners. The review points to a number of improvements relating to human rights in prisons since 2004, such as an expansion of drug and alcohol programmes, and increased access to education and employment opportunities. This has resulted in increased numbers of prisoners involved in employment activities, vocational training and literacy or educational courses. According to Department of Correction figures, more than 70 per cent of sentenced prisoners are now engaged in some form of employment or training.
The same report however identified a number of concerns about long lock-down periods, prisoner health and access to mental health services.
Prisoners to have income deducted for board
Prisoners who earn income while behind bars may have their pay deducted to pay for their board and other bills such as child support, under a new Government bill. Currently Corrections can take 30 per cent of a paycheck from a prisoner’s work-to-release programme, up to $269 a week.
The Corrections Amendment Bill is a response to convicted murderer Phillip John Smith, who has been operating a company selling electronics since 2008 from inside Auckland’s Paremoremo Prison.
Under the Bill the Inland Revenue Department will also be able to deduct money from prisoners’ wages for child support bills.
Corrections Minister Judith Collins said Ms Collins said she was not against prisoners working because it helped rehabilitation.
New Zealand Herald 14/10/11
Credit checking and fines payment
People with overdue court fines may find it harder to get loans under credit-checking changes from next year.
Courts Minister Georgina te Heuheu announced that the Government had approved an initiative allowing information about overdue fines and reparation to be released to credit agencies such as banks and hire purchase providers.
New Zealand Herald 31/10/11
Bar will keep facial tattoo ban
A Christchurch bar says it will keep its policy to refuse entry to people with facial tattoos. Tunahau Kohu was drinking at The Turf in Parklands on Saturday when staff asked him to leave because of a tribal tattoo covering his entire face. He said the policy was unfair as a staff member had a tattoo on her neck.
The Turf owner Louis Vieceli said the tattoo policy was about improving standards, and was still in place although the bar signage has been altered to say the bar reserves the right of admission.
“The premises will ensure that its staff are properly trained and hoped not to have a repeat of the matter. Whilst the tavern does have standards, these are not intended to be discriminatory in any way,” he said.
Otago Daily Times 4/10/11
Racism claims rife within Ports of Auckland
Angst amongst older Ports of Auckland workers about the employment of Tuvaluan workers has seen the Employment Court recommend the group seeks help from the Human Rights Commission to deal with racism in its workforce.
Two dockworkers have been fired from the port for alleged racism after one wrote a column in a union magazine about the employment of workers from ”one of the island nations”.
The other former employee slipped an anonymous note under the door of an administrator saying he wanted to apply for a job and ”if it helps I can do a month or two on the sun beds”.
Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement
TPP papers will remain secret for four years after deal
The parties have apparently agreed that all documents except the final text will be kept secret for four years after the agreement comes into force or the negotiations collapse. This reverses the trend in many recent negotiations to release draft texts and related documents. The existence of agreement was only discovered through a cover note to the leaked text of the intellectual property chapter. “The secrecy that shrouds the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations just got even more outrageous”, said Professor Jane Kelsey, who monitors the negotiations.
Helen Kelly, President of the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions stated “We want to see the terms that the government agreed to that stop us from seeing what they have done in our name until it is too late to hold them accountable”.