Guest Post – Rebutting Rudman

David Garrett has sent in a guest post to rebut Brian Rudman. Apparently the NZ Herald prefers running opinion pieces from Labour hacks like Bryan Gould – Britain’s answer to Bill Rowling. They refused to look at a rebuttal of Rudman’s crim hugging whine.

A watchtower at the northeastern corner of Mou...

In a recent Herald article Brian Rudman writes – utterly predictably – that imprisonment does nothing to reduce crime, and we should not follow what he calls  the “…bray of the ‘lock ’em up’ lobby.” About the only surprise in his piece is the admission that New Zealand doesn’t after all have “the second highest imprisonment rate in the world” as is  claimed ad nauseum, by those on the left  but  is in fact fifth in the OECD.

Leaving aside that the imprisonment rate in a population is meaningless unless one also considers the offending  rate in that same population, Rudman’s conclusion is simply not supported by the evidence from overseas jurisdictions, particularly the United States. Nor is it consistent with an emerging trend here.

It is well known that  crime rates have plummeted in New York State since the introduction of  so called “broken windows” policing in the early 1990’s. Homicides in New York City fell from a high of 1,946 in 1993, to 673 by the turn of century – a  decline of  more than 60%. What is less well known is that as well as “broken windows” policing, New York also introduced “sentence enhancement” laws,  of which New Zealand’s “three strikes” law is a variant.

In California – the home of “three strikes” – the decline in  crime has been second only to New York’s, with violent crime reducing by 43% during the decade after the introduction of “three strikes” in 1994. Although the rate of decline has since leveled off, crime rates in California  remain about half what they were at their peak in 1991.

On the left, there has always been the greatest reluctance to ascribe any reduction in crime rates to more punitive policies. As the late Dennis Dutton once observed, the precipitate decline in homicide and crime generally  in New York prompted a feverish search by left wing academics across the country to find the “real” explanation – any explanation would do – because it couldn’t possibly be the result of more intense policing and longer prison sentences. Could it?

On this subject as on  others, left wing commentators such as Rudman have no hesitation in massaging data, or selectively quoting from scholarly works. The best example is the theory promulgated by economist Steven Levitt –  in ‘Freakonomics’ and elsewhere  – that more readily available abortions from the mid 1970’s onwards led to a drop in crime twenty years later  According to Levitt’s theory, children of the poor –  who are supposedly  more crime prone -were aborted instead of growing up to be the next generation of criminals.

Aside from the huge holes in that thesis itself, what those who quote Levitt  never  say is he identifies six factors which in his view explain the drop in US crime over the last 25 years. The sixth and  least effective, says Levitt, is more readily available abortions. The top two, in order of effectiveness,  are more comprehensive ‘community’ type policing, and more punitive sentencing laws.

When New Zealand’s “three strikes”  was passing through parliament, the Howard League for penal reform toured a Californian prison chaplain through New Zealand to talk up the iniquities of the Californian law – notwithstanding that New Zealand’s version is utterly different, and under it the famous “locked up for life for stealing a   chocolate bar ” simply cannot happen.

Columnists such as Mr Rudman breathlessly reported the view of Mr Kim Workman, once head of prisons  before he lost his job following a disastrous rehabilitation program he designed  called He Ara Hou was abandoned in the mid 1990’s following its spectacular failure. Mr Workman confidently predicted that if “three strikes” was enacted, the prison population would triple in two years, assaults on prison officers and policemen would increase sharply, and if there was any effect on offending at all, it would likely increase.

Almost two years later the  reality  has been very different. Prior to Christmas, Justice Minister Collins announced that the prison muster per head of population  had fallen for the  first time since the 1930’s. Recently it was announced that a new prison at Wiri would be built after all, after serious consideration was given to abandoning it because of falling prisoner numbers.

For those willing to examine the evidence honestly, and without ideological bias, the reasons for this change are clear. In 2010, the police quietly adopted a New Zealand style version of “broken windows” in Manukau, the country’s most crime ridden district. Offenders coming before the courts for serious violent “strike” offences – more than 900 thus far – are now warned that if they continue to so offend they will spend much longer in jail than earlier in their criminal career.

What is happening in New Zealand mirrors what happened in New York twenty years ago, whether Rudman  acknowledges it or not. A combination of more effective policing and more punitive sentencing has led to a decline in crime. If we do not lose our nerve, that decline will continue. The worst thing we could possibly do would be to repeal “three strikes” – as Labour has pledged to do.

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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.

To read Cam’s previous articles click on his name in blue.