Monday, 4 February 2008


the national party had fired the first shot in the bidding war on law and order (see looks like they want to outbid nzfirst and the act party as to who can be toughest on crime.

what i can't figure out is the promise to build more prisons. i've watched national party MPs consistently fight plans to build youth justice facilities in hamilton & rotorua, backing NIMBY groups to the hilt. one of the funniest examples were protest signs painted on the back of a national candidate's campaign hoardings. not even an attempt at impartiality there!

so how are they going to get the resource consents for lots more prisons? oh that's right, they're going to repeal the resource management act - or at least repeal large parts of it. so basically they get to build prisons where ever they want, without local communities getting a say. it amazes me that a lot of these NIMBY groups have not thought that one through, nor have the national MPs that support them.

more concerning though, is the failure of the policy to deal with causes of crime. crime reduction doesn't happen by locking criminals up and throwing away the key. if it was that easy, everyone would have done it long ago.

once the debate really heats up, all the hard work going into justice policy gets lost. while family group conferences don't work for everyone, they can often be a powerful tool in making people face up to the effects of their actions, and to put a human face on the suffering that they have caused. similarly, home detention is an effective tool in that the recidivism rates are so much lower. i remember going to a seminar last year, where someone from the justice sector said that the worst thing you could do to criminals was put them all together in one place. it's a very ineffective way of dealing with them.

i guess there's just that overwhemlming need to do _something_, anything. and that something should be sharp and painful. having been the victim of a burglary some years back, i remember how violated i felt at the thought of some unknown person being in my home, going through my stuff, picking the best of it and taking off. i remember being really angry at the time. but thinking back now, if that person ever got caught, the best outcome at a societal level would be for that person to stop stealing, get a decent job and become a contributing member of society. long and harsh sentences will never achieve that. an effective rehabilitation policy will.

it depends on how much effort we want to put into making people suffer like the victim has suffered; and whether any good comes from that in the long term. having said that, i do think that there is a lot more to be done in supporting victims of crime, but i'll leave that for another day.

on another note, good news today that turkey has lifted the ban on women wearing headscarves at university. finally women can choose to wear what they want. for a democratic country, i could never understand the ban. if they're afraid of women will be co-ereced into wearing scarves by conservative elements in their country, then surely the way to deal with that is through education, through advocacy and through public debate. why use the force of law to remove a woman's choice as to how she should dress?

the interesting thing is that in countries like egypt and turkey, it's the educated women who are going back to wearing the headscarf. whether, as in iran, it's a statement of protest against the west, or a return to their culture and heritage, or a simple act of faith, it's a conscious choice that many muslim women are making in countries where there is no overt social pressure to cover. it's sad that this choice is being linked to extremism & terrorism.

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