‘Public safety & victims will always come first’

A younger Mark Mitchell pictured with his police dog partner Czar.

I found it interesting to read former Labour Party president Mike Williams recently reference my attitude towards crime as “disgusting nonsense”.

I will not support his government’s policies to transfer the responsibility and risk away from themselves, and back into our communities with the early release of serious offenders.

Williams struggles to understand why the National Party won’t be shifted off a position that when it comes to our justice system, public safety and victims will always come first.

I had an interesting conversation with our leader Simon Bridges last week.

We were observing how the Labour Party continually attack us for being tough on crime. They think it’s a soundbite or hollow slogan – because that’s the world they live in.
What they fail to understand is that both Simon and I have dedicated most of our adult lives to community safety and trying to look after those who can’t always look after themselves.

I had a policing career, most of it as a police dog handler and a member of the Armed Offenders Squad, Simon as a Crown Prosecutor. I caught offenders and he made sure they were held to account.

We have both spent years on the front lines of our justice system, and we actually understand how bad policy decisions made in Wellington will affect the communities we have spent years trying to make safer.

No Mr Williams, our belief that public safety and victims come first is not one of your soundbites, it’s an inherent part of who we are and what we believe in.

I’ve watched as this government first tried to scrap the Three Strikes law. A law which has been proven to deter our most serious and violent offenders. Data from the Ministry of Justice shows that there has been a 4.9 per cent reduction in “first strikes” warnings and that the number of second strike offenders has decreased by 34 per cent. Put simply, fewer people are going on to commit more serious crimes.

I’ve also watched as this Government made the bold claim that it was going to lower the prison population by 30 per cent – but hasn’t made a single mention of lowering the crime rate. It simply wants to set free criminals, who have been sentenced to jail because they committed a crime.

The reality is 98 per cent of people in our prisons are there for Category 3 and Category 4 crimes. These are offences punishable by a prison sentence of two years or more, things like murder, sexual violence and serious assault. Let’s just take a minute to remember that for every one of those crimes, there is also a victim.

National is unapologetic about being on the side of victims and safer communities. My view is that we can do more to keep people safe by stopping people ever becoming victims than repealing laws that make New Zealanders less safe. This government is so focused on reducing the prison population to save their bottom line that they’re forgetting about the reason we go to Wellington ? to keep New Zealanders safe.

Yes, I accept that some offenders and prisoners come from complex backgrounds. But just because you’re a victim yourself, it doesn’t mean you can make someone else a victim. The fact is, dangerous criminals are behind bars for good reason. If you seriously offend against someone, there should be a punishment. The public deserves to be kept safe. Public safety should come before everything else.

Prisoners absolutely deserve rehabilitation. National made rehabilitation a real focus in our term of government because we know prison can change lives. We increased investment in rehabilitation programmes by 60 per cent since 2008 because this helps to reduce reoffending and the amount of crime.

More than 3500 prisoners were put into education and over 4600 achieved qualifications. Almost another 9000 prisoners were put into employment, equipping offenders with practical skills for life after prison. We delivered alcohol and drug treatment to almost 22,000 offenders in the community and more than 6400 prisoners. But the person who is being offered that rehabilitation also needs to want to be helped.

Photo: Stuff
Live scribing reflects some of the concepts being discussed at the criminal justice summit.

National went in good faith to the Criminal Justice Summit, hoping the government would have some ideas about how to reduce crime. Sadly, we were not just disappointed ? we were alarmed. I stand by my comments about the Criminal Justice Summit being a talkfest. This government had nine years in opposition to come up with policies. It should have been doing the work then, instead, it got into government and has no idea so it’s outsourcing its policy work. There are now more than 160 working groups.

Oh, and a side note to Mike Williams. You said you didn’t see me at the Criminal Justice Summit, you should have just looked up. I was at the front of the room, leading the Powhiri.


by Mark Mitchell

National’s spokesperson for Justice.