Tuesday 20 April 2010

Three strikes, and politics as mind-killer

Labour apparently has obtained under OIA the Ministry of Justice's analysis of New Zealand's proposed Three-Strikes Law. From the pages Labour has chosen to release on its blog, we see that the Office of the Minister of Police & Corrections recommended three changes to the Bill:
  • Changing a qualifying strike from a five year sentence for a qualifying offense to any conviction for a qualifying offense [making it more strict];
  • Changing a third strike penalty from life without parole for 25 years to maximum offense penalty without parole [maintaining marginal deterrence nicely]; and,
  • removing a couple of items from the list of qualifying offenses.
We also see that they're estimating less than a 2% increase in the prison population.

They then summarize the American literature, reaching much the same conclusion that I'd reached: strike laws very likely reduce crime, most likely through deterrence rather than by incapacitation, and that eliminating marginal deterrence is a really bad idea because there's then some chance that murders increase among third strike offenders. That's probably why they recommended changing the third strike penalty, and very reasonably so.

Finally, they give a regulatory impact analysis. They figure costs on the prison system will be small and, as they didn't quantify the deterrence effects, their estimates will be more of an upper bound than a median.

That all sounds pretty reasonable.

Of course, the Labour Party blog certainly doesn't make it sound reasonable. Here's their screaming headline:
"3 strikes law could increase murders – Nats’ secret official advice"
The post then goes into hysterics on the one bit of the document that sensibly found that result in the American literature where there's no difference in punishment between murder and other third strike offences. And, of course, Justice recommended changes to avoid that result and, best I understand things, the compromise between National and Act implemented those changes. So, the better headline, "Three strikes law could have increased murders among third strike offenders had they not changed the proposed legislation back in December, but now there's really nothing to worry about on that front so do carry on...".

Politics remains the mind-killer.

I do wish the whole document would be released somewhere. But if the pages Labour has put up are the ones they reckon most damning, either they're idiots or there's really nothing damning in there.


  1. Re the standard - I think that anyone who has visited that Blog can confirm that they are indeed idiots.

  2. I wouldn't say that the mind-killer explanation is as salient here. Looks more like a simple case of partisanship and party politics/demagoguing

  3. @contemplationist: Reading through the comments on their post, they really seem to believe what they're saying.