Sunday, August 22, 2010

How do we stop crime?

There's been some conversation on my Facebook profile about how to stamp out crime, specifically in light of this recent NZ Herald article about New Zealand's thriving underbelly:

I linked this article to my profile and made the following comment:

"Several answers immediately occur to me here. 1) Tighten up on our anti-money laundering legislation (already being done); 2) Tighten border control and increase customs staffing so that EVERY package coming into NZ can be searched; 3) impose the death penalty for drug traffickers, to be conducted within 6 weeks of the sentencing (appeals must be heard within 4 weeks of the first trial); 4) compulsory drug rehabilitation for anyone caught using illegal drugs no matter what age, rather than prison, and a minimum non-parole sentence of 25 years hard labour for recidivist offenders."

While a couple of respondents agreed, several others expressed a sentiment that this was reminiscient of a Nazi-style criminal justice system, and one used a derivative of Blackstone's formulation ("better that ten guilty persons go free than one innocent person should suffer") in decrying the death penalty altogether.

This belief has long been with us; in Genesis God announces that he will spare Sodom (or was it Gomorrah? Sorry, I'm too lazy to look this reference up!) if he can find but 50 righteous people; obviously he can't, so the whole place turns to salt. Exodus 23:7 tells us that "thou shalt not slay the innocent and righteous". So this kind of thinking has obviously been around for a while. Benjamin Franklin expanded on Blackstone's idea when he proclaimed that it was better for 100 guilty people to go free than for one innocent to hang. Voltaire and Rousseau also had ideas along this train of thought, as, I believe, did Burke. In fact, one might say that the entire foundation of our Anglo-Saxon jury system and the western liberal justice structure is based around the preference to let the guilty walk rather than coop up the innocent. Here in NZ we have had Arthur Allan Thomas, David Bain, and now John Barlow who have been convicted of murder, served a long stretch behind bars, and then freed or even exonerated. So it is a very topical as well as an emotional issue.

In a perfectly robust state where the police were completely above suspicion, the death penalty would work well. Unfortunately, though our police force is still very honourable and incorruptible as a whole, we do know that on occasion individual police officers have planted evidence to secure a conviction. This will always haunt the debate about the death penalty, and we do need to think about how to ensure that the right person is being executed. The article cited above was mainly to due with drugs, and how Asian crime syndicates have overseen a massive increase in money laundering, drug importation and sale in this country since the advent of P. In China, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Indonesia, to name several examples, they would face the death penalty for importation; here, they face a relatively small fine, a few years in prison, and deportation. As we've seen with cases like that of Shanelle Corby, however, proving that someone is actually guilty of importation rather than being an innocent patsy can be difficult.

There is one thing which is much easier, however. Drug tests. This does not prove importation, but it does prove consumption. If there were no users, there would be no traffickers. Yes?

In Sweden, they recently took a new look at prostitution. Rather than making the sale of sex illegal, and turning the prostitutes into criminals, the Swedish government made the purchase of sex illegal - hence hitting the people whose demand for prostitutes was fuelling the sex trade. I see this as the fundamental reason behind why drug use should remain illegal - if not for the users, drugs would not be a problem. Look at the situation in Mexico at the moment, with many thousands of casualties caused by the drug war being waged by the under-resourced government against drug warlords and cartels who are funded directly by American drug users.

My thinking is simple. Death for traffickers, where guilt can be proven beyond reasonable doubt. But is this enough? That's why I advocate compulsory rehab for anyone convicted for using drugs - rehab to be done in a secure rehabilitation facility which houses other drug users but no other types of criminals, a residential facility where families can also stay to be close to their loved ones and help them through (or receive rehab themselves - lets face it, many of those using drugs are simply following in the footsteps of family members.) People convicted a second time would have the book thrown at them, for fuelling the drug industry. A choice of 25 years minimum non-parole period, hard labour, or a nice, clean death within 30 days with a $50,000 payment to their family (which will still save the taxpayers millions of dollars per inmate).

While no one likes to see innocent people suffer, we all need to get over our obsession with individual rights and start thinking more clearly about collective responsibility, safety, and security. As I wrote on Facebook, is it not better for an innocent person to give their life for the security and safety of their country, their people, their nation, rather than allowing ten or a hundred guilty people to live and potentially cause even more pain, hurt, and suffering to many more innocent people? Surely none of us can deem our own person as being more important than the community as a whole? If the part that we play in providing collective security is that we must die for it, then, to borrow from John F Kennedy, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.


  1. You're talking about things like heroin right? What's your stance on the marijuana issue?
    It's sad though, one of the biggest drug problems in NZ is made here.. P...

  2. My stance on marijuana is that it is illegal. Perhaps this needs to be changed but if it was to be then the supply would have to be highly regulated (sold by a set number of licensed distributors who must have clean police records and no access to firearms, to those over 20; purchasers must also be on a national database and all sales must be logged on this database, with a ban on more than one "tinny" purchased per week; and the product should attract a minimum of a 150% tax rate in addition to GST). Incidentally I'd like to see a similar scheme adopted for the sale of alcohol and coffee...


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