Alternative sentence praised

LYN HUMPHREYS
Last updated 05:00 14/07/2014
carmen rogers
ROBERT CHARLES/Fairfax NZ

TALENTED ARTIST: Carmen Rogers was believed to be getting out of her car when she was hit.

Hogan Bolton
ANDY JACKSON/ Fairfax NZ
IN REMORSE: Hogan Bolton says he understands the backlash to his home detention sentence for killing a woman as he drove home drunk. Part of the sentence requires him to spread a message about the consequences of drink-driving.

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The hardline Sensible Sentencing Trust has come out in support of a judge's decision not to jail a drink-driver who killed a New Plymouth woman.

Hogan Bolton, 31, of New Plymouth, was sentenced on July 4 to nine months' home detention following the death of artist and mother Carmen Rogers after she was hit in Brougham St on May 6.

His breath alcohol was 1297mcg. The legal level is 400mcg.

As well as making a $50,000 emotional harm reparation to the family he has agreed to appear in an anti-drink driving documentary.

The sentence, worked out through the restorative justice process, has reignited debate on the futility of imprisoning offenders rather than focusing on more effective alternatives.

Yesterday, Sensible Sentencing Trust spokesman Garth McVicar said he was supportive of Judge Allan Roberts' decision.

"Normally I'm not a big fan of restorative justice. Often victims haven't been told the full picture, that attending a restorative justice conference reduces the sentence.

"But I'm a big fan of offenders being held to account. And if that involves public speaking and a documentary in this case, then that's great."

His stance might put him out on a limb with others in his group, McVicar said.

Obviously Bolton was incredibly remorseful and the judge should be given a pat on the back for thinking outside the square, McVicar said.

Before sentencing Carmen Rogers' husband Che, his family and Bolton had met in a day-long restorative justice conference.

Che Rogers said he did not want Bolton jailed.

Rather it was agreed that Bolton be part of an anti-drink-driving documentary and also give a speech to senior Spotswood college students with Nouveau, 15, Che and Carmen Rogers' older daughter.

By sharing his story publicly and encouraging and inspiring others never to drink and drive Bolton could save other lives, Che Rogers said.

"What I want to see happen is not going to cost the taxpayer but will give a bigger and better return. Fewer people drinking and driving and fewer deaths is the ultimate outcome for me.

"I'm hoping that having him speaking and being part of the documentary will have that effect."

Going to prison would do nothing to help put things right, he said.

"This way he can feel like he's done his bit. It's not about letting him off. It's an alternative sentence which is having a bigger and more positive impact.

"And if I'm right and the impact I'm wanting does happen then I will be forgiven for going down this road."

He was pleased at the controversy the process had stimulated in the community which was putting more attention on the case and opening debate.

"Putting people in prison is not working. And I don't think I'm alone in believing the justice system is not working," he says.

Taranaki Restorative Justice Trust facilitator, trustee and lawyer Pamela Jensen, a passionate advocate for the process, is also pleased at the community debate raised by what she saw as a unique restorative justice conference.

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And once the amendments to the Sentencing and Victims' Rights Act come into force on December 6 this year, a pre-sentence referral to restorative justice by the courts, or at a victim's request, will become mandatory when an offender pleads guilty, Jensen says.

The RJ provider determines whether or not the process is appropriate in each case, she said.

The service has expanded to include family violence cases and Jensen is being trained to facilitate cases of sexual violence, for which she says there is a tailored and very robust model.

The main goal of restorative justice is to provide opportunities for both victims and offenders to be involved in finding ways to, as far as possible, address or repair the harm caused to the victim and community.

"Offenders come along to make amends and ask what they need to do to assist the victims to move forward. In so doing there is the potential to restore a sense of balance. It enables everyone to move on."

Pre-conferencing processes assess offenders' motivations for attending a conference, and those who simply wish to "tick the box" before they are sentenced in court will not be offered a conference.

"The process is a voluntary one and it is essential that victims are not re-victimised. It's all about total integrity."

The New Zealand criminal justice system, like many others, is founded on retribution or "eye for an eye" attitudes, she says.

New Zealand has the seventh- highest rate of imprisoning offenders in the OECD, with the United States at number one.

But Jensen can see Kiwi attitudes gradually changing as the public become more thoughtful and informed.

"Sweden is closing prisons and the United States is building more. What sort of society do we want to live in?"

Bolton is taking part in the educative film documentary being made by Wellington film-maker Costa Botes. Judges David Carruthers and Allan Roberts have both agreed to take part.

Jensen believes that Bolton and Nouveau Rogers together may have saved lives as a result of their speeches to Spotswood College students the day before sentencing.

"Both of them have boldly initiated and promoted debate," Jensen said.

- Taranaki Daily News

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