Saturday, 18 July 2009

David Garrett - liar or fool?

Below is a transcript of the comments made by ACT MP David Garrett, speaking on Morning Report, Friday 17th of July, 2009 (1). He was in debate with Jim Boyack, discussing the comments by Dame Sain Elias, around penal reform, particularly an anmesty for some prisoners.

I've preserved it as it is interesting as a summary of the Garrett/ACT/rightwing view on the purpose of prisons, and their preferred tactics. It has been lightly edited for interruptions, questions, hesitations and the like. After each paragraph, I ahve included my own comments in square brackets.
I don't think it's a sensible idea at all. We've already got a bizarre, Orwellian sentencing act which converts every sentence handed down by a judge in New Zealand into something less. What this is suggesting is that there will be a further cut, so the ten year sentence that's already three and a half under the sentencing act, now becomes, on a whim, get out of jail tommorrow. That's an outrageous precedent. Now, can I just come back a second. Mr Boyack used the word 'observed,' twice in those answers. Dame Sain has done way more than observe. She has suggested - one could even say directed - the executive that this would be a good idea to give half the jail population a Get Out of Jail card. That's far more than simply observing something.

[I think you meant 'Orwellian ACT,' Dave. Orwell describedaa world where meanings were reversed, lies became truth, war became peace. You're the one altering meanings here. Elias did not suggest, direct or observe that it would be "a good idea to give half the jail population a Get Out of Jail card". She made no suggestions about how such a scheme could be implemented. She said she wasn't in a position to do so (2), but that the disadvantages of confining prisoners in overcrowded, degrading, unsafe jails had to be considered. Your cheap rhetorical flourishes do you no credit, though I suppose you're not really aiming them at me. Still, talkback radio is the correct home for this sort of nonsense.]

My view is that we actually need more imprisonment, not less. The experience in the United States has been that when they abandoned the"Criminal as a sick person who needed therapy" model in the late seventies and went to the "If you do this you get locked up" model, sure, the prison population grew there, but crime, and violent crime in particular, plummetted. Now I think the "Head in the sand" thing or "The elephant in the room" is perhaps that we need to consider the unpleasant reality that violent crime is at a level we have never seen before and we need more jails.

[Actually, Dave, the according to the FBI, the crime rate soared between the end of the seventies and the millenium. In 1970, the incidence of general crime was 3984.5 per 100,000 population. Every year after that, except for 1972, it was higher, until 2004 when it finally fell below the 1970 level. 1970, incidentally, had a higher rate than any year recorded in the preceeding decade. So, the Golden Age you claim did not exist. In fact, it was the longest period of sustained high crime in the USA on record.

Violent crime, which you claimed "plummetted," did nothing of the kind. It also soared, from 461.1 incidents per 100,000 population in 1974, climbing steadily through the late seventies, exceeding 500 incidents per 100,000, through the 80s, where it passed the 600 incidents per 100,00, and breaking 700 incidents per 100,000 population in the 90s. By the mid 1990s, it began to tail off, but it is still far higher than it was in the early seventies, or at any time before.

So - unless you just invented that bit about the USA abandoning rehabilitative programs in the late 70s (and I think you probably did), the data confounds you. Things got worse, not better.]

Only a fool would say that we shouldn't try to rehabilitate prisoners to prevent reoffending. We've got a five year recidivist rates of, I think, seventy per cent plus, so absolutely we need to do more in that regard, but we also need to accept that there are some people who are habitual criminals who will keep on reoffending, whatever you do, and they need to be banged up and left banged up.

[Actually, the 60 month recidivism rate is a sniffle over 50%, as of 2002/3which is still far too high, but far less alarmist than your off-the-cuff claim (4). Elias mentioned this in her speech. You did read the speech, didn't you, Dave?

And by admitting that you agree more needs to be done to reduce the recidivism rate, you legitimize Elias's comments. She is pointing out that when prisoners are imprisoned in over crowded, degrading prisons, where little is done to help prisoners - many of whom have identified mental illnesses and personality disorders (5) - they are more likely to reoffend. So a spectacular own goal, Dave. ]

We need to face up to the fact that our experiment with treating criminals as people who need therapy has failed, it's failed abysmally. We've got a revolving door prison system wherehabitual offenders rack up ten, twenty, a hundred convictions in the case of some of our worst killers or people who've become killers, like Mr William Bell. I think it takes some bravery to simply say, well, look, this experiment has failed. The Americans did it twenty five years ago. We are where the Americans were in the late seventies when they abandoned that model and said, "No, you'll get a chance, sure, in fact you'll get two, but you won't get a hundred and two, and once you've demonstrated that you're intent on a life of crime, you can stay in jail. Now that's what they did from the late seventies on, with "Three strikes" and with "Zero Tolerance," right across the states, in fact, and right across the states what we've seen is a plummetting in crime rates. Now, okay, they've paid a price. They've paid a price in greater levels of imprisonment, but far less than was predicted. The same alarmist predictions about the 'Three strikes' law that are made here were made in California and other states and they didn't happen.

[If I were you, I wouldn't keep going on about the alleged change of emphasis in the USA in the 1970s, Dave. It really doesn't do your cause any good.]
Garrett provides a super-simplified model of crime, where criminals are criminals because of the perceived laxity of the justice system. Increase the consequences, he claims, lock up offenders, and the crime rate will fall. This is, of course, grotesquely reductive. Crime is a social phenomenum, and the crime rate rises and falls in relation to social factors beyond the penal code - otherwise, the USA would have the lowest crime rate in the developed world, as it includes some of the most savage sentencing and most brutal jails. But the experience has been quite different - Crime has increased, from rates already higher than most other decveloped countries would tolerate, to figures in the 80s and early 90s, that were absolutely beyond belief.

Now, were I as reductively minded as David Garrett, I'd posit that the (alleged) change in policy caused the surge in crime from the mid seventies to the early years of this Millenium. But it isn't as simple as that. If it comes down to anything, it comes down to the economy, stupid. The USA is a country that has grown more unequal of the last fifty years. The crime rate has risen - roughly - in relation to the Gini coefficient. Though that in itself is too simplistic. On top of that, there have been booms and busts, times of increasing unemployment and times when it has fallen. And there are plenty of other factors, beyond the economic, all of which combine to create a very complicated situation.

But Garrett - and, by extension, ACT and the right - prefer to reduce, simplify and misrepresent. They will also try to present every problem as being the result of liberalism, political correctness, human rights, government, and so on. They don't miss an opportunity to start spitting out the tired lines and lies, regardless of how little resembleance they have to the truth. This is entirely predictable - as soon as they have to admit things are complicated, they lose their kneejerk appeal factor. People debating with them need to have the information to hand, and pull them up on their inconsistencies and outright untruths.

Which begs the question - when Daid Garrett went on Morning report, he either didn't know that he was talking nonsense, or he knew it, and he said it anyways. So is he a cynical liar or a blethering fool?
1 - The audio is available at a the time of blogging. It is the segement broadcast at 7.25, titled, "Chief Justice criticised for commenting on prison numbers."
2 - "Blameless Babes," a speech delivered by Sian Elias, the Chief Justice, to the Wellington Branch of the New Zealand Law Society, Women in Law Committee, 9th of July, 2009. Reproduced in full by TVNZ. The comments on amnesty are in paragraph 42. (
3 - Courtesy of, viewed 17th of July, 2009. ( The statistics here are based on the FBI's Uniform Crime Report. Try as I might, I can't find a more helpful compilation of the data, on a mor ereputable site. I carried out spot checks against the Bureau of Justice records (, and Disaster Centre appear to be accurate.
4 - Elias,
op. cit., paragraph 14.
5 - Elias,
op. cit., paragraphs 39-41.
6 - 'Gini coefficient - US income Gini indices over time,' wikipedia article, viewed 17th of July, 2009. (

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