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Sensible Sentencing Trust
After considerable publicity the government has abandoned an ill advised proposed amendment to the Parole Act which would allow only those who had been "invited" to appear at Parole Board hearings. The entire saga is disturbing on a number of levels, not least that it appears the Labour minority government was not actually aware of the effect of the proposed revision until its attention was drawn to it by a prominent lobby group. For those who understand the process by which law becomes law, this is a sobering reminder of the power of policy analysts and advisors as compared to our elected representatives.
Rather than imposing restrictions on who may be heard, there is a good case for more rather than fewer people being entitled to make submissions at Parole Board hearings. The Resource Management Act allows persons "affected" by a proposal to make submissions on it. If a coalmine - or a supermarket - is planned anywhere in the country, councils with responsibility for the area will often hear not just from prospective neighbours, but also enviromental lobby groups such as Greenpeace, and even those whose major concern is clearly the economic rather than the physical effects of a proposed development. Where there is any question of the "standing" of those wishing to object, lawyers and other specialists are adept at establishing that their clients have such standing.
When the Parole Board is considering releasing a convicted murderer, rapist or child molester, EVERYONE is potentially affected, whoever they are and wherever they live. Why should the definition of those entitled to make submissions on the wisdom of releasing that person be any more limited that those entitled to object to - say - a new supermarket on the North Shore?
The most common objection to opening up the process is the argument that if anyone was allowed to object, the Parole Board would be unable to function because of the flood of objectors taking up its time. This simply would not happen. Parliamentary Select Comittees regularly advertise for submissions on bills before them. In most cases, there are very few if any submissions - only on the "big issues" will there be hundreds or thousands of people wishing to be heard. The reason of course is that unless something is perceived to be very important to us personally, most people have better things to do. Issues such as abortion, the drinking age, or whether we can smack our children affect most of us in some way, and therefore attract far greater attention. That is as it should be.
There is no reason to think it would be any different if anyone was able to make submissions to the Parole Board. Put bluntly, no-one but the relatives of a victim are likely to be interested in taking the time and trouble to make submissions when a common - or - garden "domestic" murderer comes up for parole. That the rest of the community has little to fear from such offenders is evidenced by the fact that hundreds of such parolees are in the community now, mostly living quiet and blameless lives. But then there are the exceptions.
Take Paul Bailey, the murderer of Kylie Smith, whose father Bevan emerged from seclusion to protest the now abandoned amendment. At the time he raped and murdered Kylie, Bailey was on bail for the rape of a 12 year old. He later pleaded guilty to both crimes. His most recent parole application was declined, and he may not apply again for three years. Under our present system, he will almost certainly eventually be released. What good would allowing anyone who wished to make a submission to be heard by the Board the next time Bailey appears? The answer is a great deal of good - and not just for Bevan Smith.
A forensic psychologist of my acquaintance knows Bailey well. In his view Bailey is a psychopath who should never be released. By virture of his training and experience, my acquaintance has more credibility that most. While the Parole Board is not bound to follow his advice, his views should be heard. This is particularly important as time goes on, and memories of Bailey's crimes fade. It is important that future Parole Boards be reminded - not just by the immediate victims - of the background of the persons whose fate they are to decide.
Few now remember the crimes of Rufus Marsh, first jailed for killing an old man in 1975, and then again for the murder of a young woman in 1986. Journalists are mostly young. Few of them were born when Marsh kicked Taffy Williamson to death as part of a gang initiation rite. Marsh is history not news. While some members of the Parole Baord may have some dim memory of twenty and thirty year old crimes, it is incumbent on those whose major concern is victims' rather than criminals' rights to keep the memory of those victims alive. To do that, everyone who wishes to should be allowed to make submissions at parole hearings for violent offenders.
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