Wednesday 3 May 2023

Low-hanging fruit and criminal justice

If there are obvious answers around what to do with kids under 12 who steal cars and use them to ram into shops to steal stuff, those answers aren't obvious to me.

But in other areas... the low-hanging fruit is just so obvious. 

The results of South Dakota's 24/7 programme have been obvious for years.

How does it work?

If the court assigns a no-alcohol condition, you either get an alcohol monitoring ankle cuff, or you have to show up at the police station to keep blowing zero on a breathaliser. The ankle cuff is simpler. 

If you're found in violation, you spend a night or two in the cells soon after - possibly the next weekend. Punishment is certain, swift, and short. 

Initially set to deal with repeat drink drivers, it wound up even reducing domestic assault. It also reduces mortality among drink drivers assigned the no-alcohol condition. RAND ran the numbers on it. It works.

It would easily mesh with New Zealand's Drug & Alcohol courts, so long as they kept the aspects that seem to make it work in the US: the certainty of swift consequence. Not going back to have a conversation with your probation/parole officer that might or might not lead to something in a few months. The certainty of that you'd ruin your next weekend if you breach conditions. 

It's not hard to see how it works. If your mates insist that you come out drinking with them while you're on a no-drinking parole/probation condition, it's a heck of a lot easier to say no if everyone involved knows that that means you'll soon be spending a night or two in the cells. 

When Mark Kleiman came out to give a talk on this stuff for the NZ Drug Foundation almost a decade ago, he noted that offenders coming off the no-alcohol condition in Hawaii's version of 24/7 sometimes asked to be kept on the requirement, as a way of binding themselves to the straight and narrow. If you have a metapreference against drinking, because you know that your future self will be tempted and can't handle it, the programme helps. 

Anyway, I was reminded of it when reading this.  

The driver behind a fatal car crash which claimed the life of mother-of-five, Kat Broad, has pleaded guilty.

Brent James Tiddy, 26, who appeared via audiovisual link, entered the guilty plea to the charge of reckless driving causing manslaughter before Justice Cameron Mander in the Dunedin High Court on Tuesday morning.

Kat Broad, a 42-year-old mother-of-five, was a passenger in a white Honda Accord which crashed into a tree near the southern entrance to the Otago town of Waikouaiti about 11.20pm on January 23

The court heard the Palmerston-based labourer held a driver licence, and was forbidden from driving by police.

The night of the crash he was driving Broad’s Honda, with Broad in the passenger seat.


A crash investigation showed he lost control due to excessive speed, with speed data retrieved from Broad’s cellphone showing the vehicle travelled up to 158kmh.

Tiddy’s blood alcohol level was recorded at 140 milligrams (mg) per 100 millilitres (ml) of blood, the legal limit is 50 mg.

He was remanded for sentencing at August 20.

A monitored no-alcohol condition, with certain, swift, and short punishment for violation, can be a more powerful deterrent than a driving ban where breaches are unlikely to be detected - unless something very bad happens.

It's impossible to say if 24/7 would have stopped Tiddy from deciding to get drunk and then violating his no-driving condition.

But the US evidence suggests that 24/7 stops an awful lot of people like Tiddy from doing this.

I don't know why we aren't running 24/7. It's simple. There are a lot of hard problems in justice. This isn't one of them. 

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