Act: selling its soul to the Devil

datePosted on 21:08, February 12th, 2009 by Anita

Some time in the last few years Act sold its soul to the vengeance-and-retribution lobby. I don’t know if the conversion arrived with Stephen Franks (who went on to the Sensible Sentencing Trust), or whether they held onto their principles until after Franks but the temptation of a monied populist lobby was just too great and the deal was done later.

They’ve tried to keep the detail of the deal quiet: they took Garrett from the Sensible Sentencing Trust but have tried to keep quiet his death penalty past, failing to mention his book on their website, they’ve also tried to paper over his bigotry and problematic interpersonal behaviour. 

The EPMU, however, has provided us with some good information about the price. When they released the evidence in the Shawn Tan case we got to see the inside view on the negotiations between the Asian Anti-Crime Group and Act, with the AAG pointing out Act’s low support and their own ability to mass mobilise the Asian community, followed by gems like

As with any serious investment, there has to be tangible and substantial returns. For the three of us to invest our time, energy and money into campaigning for the ACT Party, we need to have guaranteed returns – and that entails being ranked high enough for us to be assured places in Parliament

So Act, “the Liberal party”, became a vehicle for a punitive conservative authoritarian lobby.

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42 Responses to “Act: selling its soul to the Devil”

  1. Lew on February 12th, 2009 at 21:33

    Anita,

    Interesting use of `the Devil’ in this, given the strong base of religious support for the death penalty and highly punitive punishments. Are you implying that, to a classical liberal, adopting such positions makes one an ideological heretic?

    L

  2. Anita on February 12th, 2009 at 21:42

    Lew,

    I used “the Devil” for four associations:

    1) The triumph of “base” instincts over “pure” ideology.
    2) The sense of the fall of one of the angels (in this sense of angelic heralds) of libertarianism.
    3) Contrast with the sometimes used description of Act followers “worshipping Mammon”.
    4) The irreversibility of a pact with the Devil, there is no way back to grace for Act now they have made this bargain.

  3. Quoth the Raven on February 12th, 2009 at 21:45

    Lew – They’re not classical liberals – they’re neo-liberals. In lieu of repeating myself see my comments on this thread.

  4. Lew on February 12th, 2009 at 21:51

    QtR,

    Lew – They’re not classical liberals – they’re neo-liberals. In lieu of repeating myself see my comments on this thread.

    I largely agree, but it’s not germane to the point – I’m not referring to what they are, I’m referring to what they call themselves.

    L

  5. Anita on February 12th, 2009 at 21:55

    Lew,

    Incidentally I nearly called them the vengeance-is-mine lobby, but I thought too few people would know Romans 12 well enough to get my nuance.

  6. StephenR on February 12th, 2009 at 21:55

    Is the link to the book not-working for anyone else?

    I can only nit-pick at the mo – ‘The Liberal Party’ changed to ‘the guts to do what’s right’, cos everyone got confused by that, as ‘liberal’ is now ‘left’. Classical liberalism – as far as i’m aware – does not focus on methods of crime-fighting much, apart from perhaps victimless crimes and perhaps DNA databases (THAT should be a good one, when/if it goes to Parliament!), so I don’t think there’s conflict there.

    That last quote is certainly interesting! Money and politics, who would’ve thought…

  7. Lew on February 12th, 2009 at 21:57

    StephenR,

    That last quote is certainly interesting! Money and politics, who would’ve thought…

    Why should politics not be a market?

    L

  8. Anita on February 12th, 2009 at 22:02

    StephenR writes,

    Is the link to the book not-working for anyone else?

    Now there is a new link it should be working for everyone :)

    Does anyone happen to know how to get a permanent link out of the National Library catalogue?

  9. StephenR on February 12th, 2009 at 22:13

    Why should politics not be a market?

    Perhaps politics is the market of ideas. Ideas can be shouted a lot louder when you’ve got the money to amplify the noise those ideas make in the wider population. Voting for a party is more than just a mutually beneficial transaction like for example the consumer goods/services marketplace, due to the massive power political parties wield over everybody.

  10. Quoth the Raven on February 12th, 2009 at 22:15

    Incidentally I nearly called them the vengeance-is-mine lobby, but I thought too few people would know Romans 12 well enough to get my nuance.

    I don’t know Romans 12, but I know Roald Dahl. Vengence is Mine inc (Romans 12 is probably where he got the title from) – making profit from vengence seems apt.

    StephenR – Libertarians have many different views, but many, especially those who are principled, would see it (the death penalty) as an egregious use of state power. The Act party is so far off base on so many other issues that you cannot describe them in anyway as libertarian or classical liberals.

  11. StephenR on February 12th, 2009 at 22:31

    I knew ACT wasn’t Libertarian (taxpayer funded education and health, just in different forms, and the GMFI). Classical liberalism (again, as far as I know, which may not be very far) is extremely focused on laissez-faire capitalism, so it’s hard for me to figure out what their line ‘should’ be on crime.

  12. Anita on February 12th, 2009 at 22:32

    Quoth the Raven writes,

    I don’t know Romans 12, but I know Roald Dahl. Vengence is Mine inc (Romans 12 is probably where he got the title from) – making profit from vengence seems apt.

    I don’t know the Roald Dahl :) I found many of his stories quite disturbing and uncomfortable.

    That section of Romans 12 is actually an exhortation against vengeance; it says we should love, be humble, provide food to our enemy if they need it, do what is right, live in harmony, and that we should not seek vengeance. Vengeance is God’s and God’s alone.

    Often when people “quote” the phrase “vengeance is mine” they mean something quite different.

    The Act party is so far off base on so many other issues that you cannot describe them in anyway as libertarian or classical liberals.

    How would you describe them?

  13. Lew on February 12th, 2009 at 23:43

    SR,

    A brief but very interesting comment!

    Perhaps politics is the market of ideas. Ideas can be shouted a lot louder when you’ve got the money to amplify the noise those ideas make in the wider population. Voting for a party is more than just a mutually beneficial transaction like for example the consumer goods/services marketplace, due to the massive power political parties wield over everybody.

    Well, simple arguments based in rational actor theory would hold that electors do vote in their own self-interest, and power blocs do advocate in their own self-interest, or at the very least that they should, and if they did everything would be sweet (these arguments in practice are mostly bogus, for complex reasons having a lot to do with game theory or the fact that altruism itself has utility).

    However this form of argument is frequently parlayed into a different argument, which explains much about this broad political movement we’re discussing – the libertarian version of the `market of ideas’ line which runs, roughly, that if everyone was perfectly free to voice their ideas and opinions and to act upon them insofar as they did not infringe the person or property of anyone else, the world would be perfectly harmonious because each person’s voice would be equally heard. It is essentially a sola scriptura reading of classical liberalism, which is the basis for libertarians claiming to represent the One True Liberal.

    This would be lovely if it were true, but sadly it is founded on a hopelessly naïve position which rapidly devolves into horribly tortured logic. This is so for two reasons; first, it supposes perfect (objective) rationality on the part of all actors (since to be human is to be rational); and second, it holds that no measure is unjustified when defending the person or property of a sovereign individual. This is where the rubber meets the road when it comes to crime, punishment, welfare, toleration and so on: rights of human liberty and dignity are guaranteed only to those whose actions show them to be perfectly rational; because since all humans are rational, anyone who is not rational is manifestly not really human. This has the effect of excluding a fairly large proportion of any imperfect population; those who fail economically, or socially, or in terms of behaviour – well, we didn’t want them in our society anyhow.

    The antidote is what Sir Karl Popper referred to as the paradox of toleration (upon which topic I’m about to write a post), which roughly argues that if we were to be perfectly tolerant of any and all behaviour, we would tolerate behaviour which is destructive of toleration itself, eventually leading to a general absence of toleration. This, it seems to me, is the root of genuine liberalism – the toleration of all aspects of humanity which do not themselves make humanity less tolerant, even those which are imperfect, rather than the toleration only of strictly rational behaviour.

    That, largely, is what we have in New Zealand, and thank goodness.

    L

  14. BLiP on February 12th, 2009 at 23:44

    Incidentally I nearly called them the vengeance-is-mine lobby, but I thought too few people would know Romans 12 well enough to get my nuance.

    Unless your intention was to highlight Act’s hypocrisyirony or, perhaps, irony, I’m not sure that Romans 12 is in any way applicable.

    The passage appears in the New Testament while Act’s behaviour and policy is steeped in the pre-Chrisian Old Testament, specifically The Book of Deuteronomy 19:21 “an eye for an eye” and all that.

    Romans 12, however, is a call for the application of Christ’s message of love. The words “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord” mean exactly what they say: the practise of vengeance belongs to God alone, no one else, and especially not the Act Party.

  15. Quoth the Raven on February 12th, 2009 at 23:47

    StephenR – Laissez-faire capitalism is a contradiction in terms. Not all currents of libertarianism are based on a free market, see libertarian socialism. As a market is voluntary a principled libertarian, in my mind, can’t oppose it. On the crime issue there are many different views – it’s one of the most difficult issues.

    Anita – How would I describe them? Neo-liberals. Corporatists would probably be the best adjective, perhaps. Vulgar libertarians is used a lot now, but I wouldn’t say that because they’re so conservative anyway.

  16. Quoth the Raven on February 12th, 2009 at 23:57

    Lew – Just read your comment. Take issue with this

    This would be lovely if it were true, but sadly it is founded on a hopelessly naïve position which rapidly devolves into horribly tortured logic. This is so for two reasons; first, it supposes perfect (objective) rationality on the part of all actors (since to be human is to be rational); and second, it holds that no measure is unjustified when defending the person or property of a sovereign individual.

    I really do think you need to read a bit more on libertarianism, especially that last sentence. Try some arguments between libertarians. I think you’ll find how varied it is and how off base with many libertarians you are with your, becoming usual for you, sweeping generalisations.

  17. Quoth the Raven on February 13th, 2009 at 00:14

    Lew – Here you go I found something for you and it covers different positions. Putting The NAP In Its Proper Context
    So next time you make generalisations about a whole school of thought please try to actually understand a thing or two about that school of thought.

  18. jcuknz on February 13th, 2009 at 08:27

    As one of those who helped to found ACT I have for some years thought that ACT’s problem in changing from a centre right party to the far right directly results from the political posturing of the left and ignorance of the media. They painted ACT as far right and sure as eggs is eggs it became that as the likes of me left it and the far right joined. There is little point to being a centrist party unless you are one of the big two, Labour and National .. see how Peter Dunn struggles.

  19. Anita on February 13th, 2009 at 08:38

    jcuknz,

    I would be tempted to argue that current vengeance-and-retribution approach is populist and could be part of being a centre party. It definitely pulled some soft centre voters.

    Don’t you think that Act’s economic policies were to the right of all others from the very beginning?

  20. Anita on February 13th, 2009 at 08:50

    BLiP,

    Unless your intention was to highlight Act’s hypocrisyirony or, perhaps, irony, I’m not sure that Romans 12 is in any way applicable.

    You would’ve understood what I meant if I’d said it, although perhaps you would’ve thought that I didn’t know what I meant :)

    I would have enjoyed making that point that a party which has traditionally stood for small morally neutral government was trying to get the state to take over God’s role. It neatly highlights the inconsistency between their economic liberal and moral conservative constituencies.

    The passage appears in the New Testament while Act’s behaviour and policy is steeped in the pre-Chrisian Old Testament, specifically The Book of Deuteronomy 19:21 “an eye for an eye” and all that.

    I think I wrote in an earlier comment that “an eye for an eye” is counsel against excessive retribution, not necessarily permission for vengeance.

    Three-strikes-and-you’re-out fails the mirror retribution test too.

  21. BLiP on February 13th, 2009 at 09:58

    I would have enjoyed making that point that a party which has traditionally stood for small morally neutral government was trying to get the state to take over God’s role. It neatly highlights the inconsistency between their economic liberal and moral conservative constituencies.

    Ahhh – now I get it. :)

    One of the joys of this site is that one has to actually think and, in the process, usually learn something – youse are just so “heady” and your language quite academic so dummies like me run the risk of not quite getting it. I realise I’ve just done that in relation to a comment I made in Pablo’s post which discussed the “tolerance threshold”. DOH!

  22. StephenR on February 13th, 2009 at 11:49

    And ACT voted for DNA to be taken based on a CHARGE only!

    http://www.nbr.co.nz/article/dna-bill-passes-first-reading-50299

    First reading, but if they support the first reading, they will support watered down versions. Though it is possible that they have to vote for first readings based on coalition agreements…

    Argh!

  23. Anita on February 13th, 2009 at 11:53

    StephenR writes,

    And ACT voted for DNA to be taken based on a CHARGE only!

    Actually they voted for it to be taken on the basis that the Police intend to charge. Although perhaps, as you suggest, they voted only to get it to select committee where it can be fixed and progressed.

  24. Peter J on February 13th, 2009 at 14:44

    Some time in the last few years Act sold its soul to the vengeance-and-retribution lobby. I don’t know if the conversion arrived with Stephen Franks (who went on to the Sensible Sentencing Trust), or whether they held onto their principles until after Franks but the temptation of a monied populist lobby was just too great and the deal was done later.

    Two things I would like to correct here;
    1) Longer/tougher sentencing is not first and foremost about vengeance/retribution but about Incapacitation – i.e. isolating dangerous repeat offenders from the public so they cannot reoffend further. Any other consequences such as deterrence, punishment etc are secondary.
    2) If it is the Sensible Sentencing Trust that you are referring to as a “monied populist lobby” then you are incorrect. The Trust’s power arises almost entirely from its large public following and support. The Trust does not have a great deal of money to throw about – in fact most of those that work for it do so on a voluntary, unpaid basis. The budget most years would be in the very low six figures at best

    Regards
    Peter Jenkins
    Webmaster for Sensible Sentencing Trust

  25. BeShakey on February 13th, 2009 at 14:58

    Two things I would like to correct here;1) Longer/tougher sentencing is not first and foremost about vengeance/retribution but about Incapacitation – i.e. isolating dangerous repeat offenders from the public so they cannot reoffend further. Any other consequences such as deterrence, punishment etc are secondary.

    That may be the official view, but that isn’t consistently expressed to the media. The deterrence effect is often highlighted, as is the desire for vengeance of the victim/s and members of the public. If that really is the official view, then you are failing miserably in communicating it.

  26. Lew on February 13th, 2009 at 16:29

    QtR,

    I really do think you need to read a bit more on libertarianism, especially that last sentence. Try some arguments between libertarians. I think you’ll find how varied it is and how off base with many libertarians you are with your, becoming usual for you, sweeping generalisations.

    I already struggle to keep my comments brief, and you want me to wedge in yet more material which proves that I understand what I’m talking about as well? I suppose I could do more in that regard, but the purpose of this comment (which was already only tangential to the topic) was to sketch how ACT and others of their ilk use precepts of liberal thought to come to illiberal conclusions – not to engage with the wider dispute of what constitutes libertarianism, or which of its factions are the real true liberals. That’s a question I’m not wildly interested in (though I am somewhat morbidly curious about the JPF-PFJ conflicts common to such movements).

    I do, however, concede that my view of libertarianism is particularly jaundiced, and that I’m by no means an expert on the topic. To me, it’s just another fractious utopian cult. So, thank you for the link, and I shall try not to be quite so broad in future.

    L

  27. Rich on February 13th, 2009 at 17:36

    Romans? They had that machine that lopped peoples heads off after burying them up to their necks, didn’t they?

    Anyways, I think that ACTs illiberalism is a simple bit of political packaging. Pure propertarianism is attractive to maybe 2% of the electorate. In order for ACT to have any chance of getting elected, they have to serve it the main course of neo-liberal economics with a big side order of unreconstructed bigotry. It’s a bit like the way German businessman and aristocrats backed the Nazis, not because they wanted to kill Jews and go to war with the rest of the world, but because they thought Hitler would be good for business.

    (Yes, I know about Godwin, but have made a New Years resolution to ignore ‘rules’ created by beardy geeks in the late 80s).

  28. Pascal's bookie on February 13th, 2009 at 17:46

    Peter, further to BeShakey’s comment, I’d like to know how ‘tougher’ prison terms are not about “vengeance/retribution”.

    Longer terms may be about protecting the public, but why does the SST talk so much about the supposed luxury of the prisons? Why should that matter if the point of the prison is to keep them off the streets?

    Much of the rhetoric the SST uses seems very much to be about retribution. The whole thing about ‘victim’s rights being ignored’ when talking about ‘lenient’ sentencing surely presupposes that the victim has a right to retribution, that the state is denying them. No?

    That’s how I hear it anyway, so maybe, as BeShakey suggests, the SST needs to work on it’s language so as to more accurately reflect it’s more New Testament views.

  29. BeShakey on February 13th, 2009 at 19:30

    In SST’s defence I suspect they don’t have much truck with rehabilitation, and therefore think prison should be as cheap as possible. Unfortunately all the evidence suggests otherwise.

    The thing that I find weird is their overwhelming desire to import the American justice system. Have they actually seen how that works? Assuming they have no concerns about the social costs, have they thought about the economic costs if we doubled or tripled the number of people in prison (by my off-the-top-of-the-head calculation it’d be around have a billion PER ANNUM to double it). If there were no alternatives then maybe that would be a good thing, but there is (not just in theory, but in practice, Finland is a common example).

  30. Quoth the Raven on February 13th, 2009 at 19:39

    Lew – I think your view of libertarianism is that of most people’s – that of the so-called right libertarians. If you take libertarianism to be synonomous with anarchism, as I do, then it becomes even more confusing as some would find all property to be illegitimate (I certainly don’t). I think the JPF PFJ comment is a little naive or purposely dismissive – your talking about a whole school of thought with a long history (being most active and popular around the late 19th early 20th century) and many currents. If you take this view of things you’d be just as right to say that Labour and National have a JPF PFJ conflict because they’re both state capitalists. Charges of uptopianism are unwarranted and just a way to dismiss something without providing a substantive argument and you well know this. Do you have ideals? Do think that things would better if action was taken on those ideals? or is it that just have faith in the status quo? If so without providing any argumentation I could just charge you with utopianism.
    PS – Talking about Popper so much your starting to sound like some nutty popperian like the right wing nuts at samizdata.net. It’s a bad look as many of his philosophical ideas can be so easily proven erroneous. I wouldn’t put too much faith in his other writing.

  31. StephenR on February 13th, 2009 at 19:51

    QtR, care to attempt to shed some light on the subject of this post at Not PC? Either here or there…

    http://pc.blogspot.com/2009/02/locke-libertarian.html

  32. Lew on February 13th, 2009 at 20:34

    QtR,

    Lew – I think your view of libertarianism is that of most people’s – that of the so-called right libertarians.

    Guilty as charged!

    If you take libertarianism to be synonomous with anarchism, as I do

    I don’t see why I should privilege your interpretation of a political ideology over the apparently dominant one when generalising about it. I have conceded I’m not familiar with all the currents of it, and indicated that I intend to look a bit wider.

    If you take this view of things you’d be just as right to say that Labour and National have a JPF PFJ conflict because they’re both state capitalists.

    I have indeed made such arguments, as recently as yesterday, and I stand by it.

    Charges of uptopianism are unwarranted and just a way to dismiss something without providing a substantive argument and you well know this.

    I disagree. I think utopianism is an integral element of any minarchist ideology, which is primarily the reason I am not fundamentally a minarchist. I often wish I was – things would be so much simpler, if only it actually worked. I say this with some understanding, as I have actually lived an anarcho-primitivist lifestyle, and retain strong tendencies in that direction. That sort of thing might be a useful backstop, but it’s no substitute for civil society.

    PS – Talking about Popper so much your starting to sound like some nutty popperian like the right wing nuts at samizdata.net. It’s a bad look as many of his philosophical ideas can be so easily proven erroneous. I wouldn’t put too much faith in his other writing.

    Well, in fairness, I quoted the same passage twice in the space of a few hours on the same topic – I’m hardly an incorrigible Popperphile. I can’t bear cults of personality. Perhaps I could have cited Rawls’ ideas about toleration (some of which aren’t that different from Popper’s), but I didn’t think it was a competition to see who could prove their knowledge of modern liberal philosophy.

    Oh – and is there a philosopher whose ideas can’t easily be proven erroneous? Plato is probably the leading contender – but then, Popper wrote a book on that topic, too ;)

    L

  33. Quoth the Raven on February 13th, 2009 at 23:43

    Lew – It’s not just my interpretation, far from it, the word libertarian has a long and convoluted history. Historically (if you’ve been reading my comments you’ll know I like to interpret words through their historical usage) is broadly synonymous with anarchism. Most people still use the words synonymously today especially those on the left, like me. See this little bit of the wiki. It would be much easier if people just used the word anarchism. You could say utopianism is a part of any political ideology full stop. Conservatives have some romanticism with some nonexistent past, progressives think things will enviatably change for the better (not all). That was sort of my point bandying around charges of utopianism is largely meaningless and doesn’t replace substantive argument. Take Marx’s criticism of early socialists as utopian that was fair – they painted pictures in their writings of a utopian future where people would all be living communally in great palaces. They were utopian, but saying an ideology is utopian simply because adherents think it would be better and solve a lot of our current problems is unfair and could be applied to any doctrine. That’s just my thoughts anyway.

    Oh – and is there a philosopher whose ideas can’t easily be proven erroneous? Plato is probably the leading contender – but then, Popper wrote a book on that topic, too ;)

    Of course your right. I just have a little bug with Popperians like Randians. Popper hardly knew the difference between induction and deduction it just bugs me when people take a docrtinal view of someone so obviously erroneous.
    You’ve got an interesting history Lew – primitivism!

  34. Lew on February 14th, 2009 at 11:10

    QtR,

    Lew – It’s not just my interpretation [...] It would be much easier if people just used the word anarchism.

    Wouldn’t the world be lovely if people just used terminology correctly all the time? Of course, that begs the whole question about whose terminology is right. I often accept your argument that historical usage usually points to valid modern usage, but terminology is also a marker of identity, and when I’m not prepared to align myself with one or other `sides’ in a battle for terminology I tend to use the term in its most broadly-understood (hegemonic) meaning.

    You could say utopianism is a part of any political ideology full stop.

    Well, you could, if you were content to rely upon ever-decreasing definitions of `utopian’. By branding libertarians and minarchists/anarchists in general as such, I’m arguing that they’re more glaringly utopian than most, in that they place greater stock in theoretical concerns and give less consideration to matters of practical implementation than the adherents of other political ideologies. Here probably isn’t the right context to debate that proposition, but no doubt the opportunity will come.

    it just bugs me when people take a docrtinal view of someone so obviously erroneous.

    Yes, I too am deeply suspicious of dogma.

    You’ve got an interesting history Lew – primitivism!

    I know, right. Not the really hard-core end of things, just as part of the great NZ hippie tradition of getting back to the land. But one of my earliest memories is milking goats :)

    L

  35. Lew on February 14th, 2009 at 12:01

    Rich,

    (Yes, I know about Godwin, but have made a New Years resolution to ignore ‘rules’ created by beardy geeks in the late 80s).

    I’d be very interested indeed to hear which `rules’ you mean and why you think they’re not worth following. On the face of it, it seems I’ll disagree, but I’m fascinated by the idea. Would you mind sketching it out in more detail?

    L

  36. Quoth the Raven on February 14th, 2009 at 12:26

    Well, you could, if you were content to rely upon ever-decreasing definitions of `utopian’. By branding libertarians and minarchists/anarchists in general as such, I’m arguing that they’re more glaringly utopian than most, in that they place greater stock in theoretical concerns and give less consideration to matters of practical implementation than the adherents of other political ideologies. Here probably isn’t the right context to debate that proposition, but no doubt the opportunity will come.

    We won’t go into a debate about it, but I will say a few things. There has historically been a lot of practise from the left side of things. The anarchists in the Spainish civil war is the most famous example. Of course anarchists were fighting left right and centre in those days, but I’m not just talking about the fighting – there were the agarian communes and the collectivisation of industries in the cites, like Barcelona. Another example is the Israeli Kibbutzim, in the early days, not today. They weren’t explicitly anarchist, but they shared many of the same ideals. Further, there have been many experimental communes putting their ideals into practice. As for today the mutualists and syndicalists still try to build the future society in the shell of the old and work through radical unions, most importantly through the IWW. Many free-market anarchists, of which mutualists are, support the IWW. Then there are, as you know, primitivists who put their ideals into action still today. Also today there is the agorist movement putting theory into pratice. So I would say there is a lot of concern with practical implentation among anarchists.

  37. George Darroch on February 14th, 2009 at 12:39

    Longer/tougher sentencing is not first and foremost about vengeance/retribution but about Incapacitation – i.e. isolating dangerous repeat offenders from the public so they cannot reoffend further. Any other consequences such as deterrence, punishment etc are secondary.

    It is of course true that prisoners cannot commit most offenses while in prison (assault remains high). They are however eventually released, in all but the worst cases.

    Peter, I could take this claim seriously if there was any evidence that there was a correlation between rates of custodial sentences and reoffending rates, and sentence lengths for custodial sentences and reoffending rates.

    I’m happy to be proven wrong, and if you could point me to population based studies that would be wonderful.

    But in the absence of such evidence, and with evidence to the contrary – that sending people to socialise with criminals for years increases reoffending rates – I have to assume that the policies of the so-called Sensible Sentencing Trust are in fact based on retribution.

    Prisons are terrible instruments to control crime with. They simply don’t work for that purpose. They’re next to useless in that aim, and worse than useless if you consider that they soak up billions of dollars of Government spending which could be used elsewhere and keep people who could be reforming in the community and making themselves into productive individuals in a criminal wasteland for years.

    If the Sensible Sentencing Trust was actually sensible, they would work on prison reform, into making them into institutions where people were confronted with the reality of their actions, made to feel their gravity, and then actively put on a new path with support and guidance. Unfortunately, the prison system is essentially the same as it was 100 or even 200 years ago, and bears little resemblance to these aims. It is primarily an institution of retribution, and longer sentences as advocated by the SST are simply about more retribution.

    This isn’t to say that a measure of retribution isn’t a socially just goal. I believe that it is. But please don’t bullshit me by claiming this has anything to do with crime rates.

  38. Ari on February 14th, 2009 at 12:42

    I would have enjoyed making that point that a party which has traditionally stood for small morally neutral government was trying to get the state to take over God’s role. It neatly highlights the inconsistency between their economic liberal and moral conservative constituencies.

    Can I nitpick you on moral conservatism?

    That makes it sound like they’re conserving morals at all, rather than conserving a particular moral viewpoint… I’d tend to go with social conservative. Not entirely sure if I mentioned that earlier so apologies if so.

    The thing that I find weird is their overwhelming desire to import the American justice system. Have they actually seen how that works? Assuming they have no concerns about the social costs, have they thought about the economic costs if we doubled or tripled the number of people in prison (by my off-the-top-of-the-head calculation it’d be around have a billion PER ANNUM to double it). If there were no alternatives then maybe that would be a good thing, but there is (not just in theory, but in practice, Finland is a common example).

    While there’s a lot of other factors involved, (for instance, Finland is a racial monoculture without the sort of income disparities found in New Zealand, and the United States has about the least strict gun control laws in the world) I do agree that at the very lleast, the American approach is failing.

  39. George Darroch on February 14th, 2009 at 12:45

    Oh, and putting a 17 year old into prison is absolutely the worst thing you could do to him, if you’re interested in keeping him away from a life of criminality.

    Send him away to a remote island for 6 months, where he can build DOC huts and paths in the quiet bush (under competent supervision, of course) and get away from the gangs and drugs, and straighten his life out. This is different from a “boot camp”, in that the person is treated with the respect they’re so desperately after, and which they’re only likely to get elsewhere from criminal associates.

    There are bloody good ideas about how to reform our criminal justice system, but the reACTionaries have no interest in hearing them.

  40. George Darroch on February 14th, 2009 at 12:55

    Longer terms may be about protecting the public, but why does the SST talk so much about the supposed luxury of the prisons? Why should that matter if the point of the prison is to keep them off the streets?

    That’s because for reACTionaries, the harsher the conditions in prison, the less likely the person is to reoffend. Never mind that there is absolutely ZERO evidence for this proposition, and plenty to the contrary, it’s what they’re thinking.

    This seems to me because these people think “what would scare me/make me reform” and assume that works. It’s stupid, but that’s how it appears.

  41. Rich on February 15th, 2009 at 17:33

    On rules, I’m talking about the various accepted rules of internet discussion that mostly go back to the invention of Usenet in the late 80′s / early 90′s. Godwin’s law (you mustn’t make comparisons with mid-20th century fascism) is one of the well known ones.

    I just feel that these can be a bit of a straightjacket. Fascism was a massively important political ideology which dominated 20th century history – of course it has ripples and reflections today. I don’t think it’s neccesarily destroying an argument when you point that out (like I did above).

    Likewise, while it’s not generally nice to attack people personally, sometimes it’s too good to pass up. (Like sledging in cricket).

  42. Anita on February 15th, 2009 at 17:39

    Rich,

    I’m pretty sure that Godwin’s Law only says that in any thread that goes on long enough someone will eventually mention the Nazis or Hilter.

    A popular corollary is that this point will be about the point it turns from a discussion into a flame war, but that’s not Godwin’s Law.

    My more general view about people mentioning the Nazis is that it is often (but not always) intellectual sloppiness – another example would be better, clearer or more precise but the Nazis are used because it’s easy. It doesn’t help that many of those mentions are, in fact, inaccurate.

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