New Zealand's worst drink-driver to be released from prison

Raymond Charles Laing being sentenced in 2012.
Bruce Jenkins

Raymond Charles Laing being sentenced in 2012.

A man believed to be New Zealand's worst recidivist drink-driver will be released from prison next month, despite describing himself as a "danger to the community".

Raymond Charles Laing was jailed for three years in 2012 after notching up his 26th conviction for driving under the influence of alcohol. He was also convicted for the 31st time for driving while disqualified.

Laing was previously jailed for two years and six months in 2010 for drink-driving, refusing to give blood, assault and dangerous driving causing injury. He was also indefinitely disqualified from holding a drivers licence, but it did not stop him from getting behind the wheel again when he was released from prison.

When stopped in April 2012, he blew almost three times the legal limit for breath alcohol - 1198 micrograms of alcohol per litre of breath.

Laing was due to appear before the Parole Board on March 19, but declined to appear in person.

In a late paper received by the board he said he was not interested in appearing, quoting the words of a previous Parole Board panel: "I am a high risk offender and danger to the community".

With a final release date of May 15, Laing will leave prison but will be required to reside at an approved address, complete an alcohol and drug treatment programme and attend any psychological assessment and counselling deemed necessary by his parole officer.

He will also be banned from possessing or consuming alcohol.

The board noted Laing had the benefit of a lengthy and serious intervention while in prison, and recommended he enrol at the residential programme at addiction centre Odyssey House if seen as suitable.

According to Ministry of Justice figures, there were three people with more than 20 drink driving convictions in the country as at January 1, while 10 people had between 15-20 convictions.

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Drink Driving Interventions Trust co-director Roger Brooking said punishment for the offence in New Zealand was lenient compared to many other countries, and perhaps there was a need to keep certain people behind bars.

"In terms of dealing with the problem on a larger scale, I think there needs to be a law change so judges can impose preventive detention on them, so they can lock them up in prison for the rest of their lives.

"We do this to people who sexually offend, why can't we do this to drunk drivers?"

More money needed to be put into rehabilitation, either inside or outside prison, but there was no easy fix, he said.

"Our programme uses an example of a guy with 18 convictions who gets released, what happens to this guy, how do you prevent this from happening? There's no answer to that, unfortunately."

Sensible Sentencing Trust spokesman Garth McVicar agreed with Brooking that recidivist offenders should not be released.

"In my opinion we should be using a tool like recidivist detention for those offenders who are most likely to just get out and commit another crime. A lot of people think drink-driving is not as bad as committing a violent crime but ultimately it can have drastic and horrific consequences."

He also agreed in a need for greater funding into the rehabilitation of offenders while they were in prison.

"The first thing you need to do is figure out what is working, and focus on those programmes rather than some of the very very warm fuzzy stuff that just has no track record of working at all."

Technology to stop repeat drink-drivers is available, but rarely used

Fitting breathalyser-like-devices to the cars of recidivist drink-drivers like Laing is a sentencing option, but advocates say it is rarely used because of the prohibitive cost.

Interlocks, which are devices that stop a vehicle from starting until the driver provides a breath sample that confirms there is no alcohol present, became available in 2012.

An interlock license can be imposed on an offender, meaning they can only drive a vehicle fitted with the device after their disqualification period ends.

The cost of applying for the license ($200), installing the interlock (150) and a monthly monitoring fee ($150) must be met by the offender.

Automobile Association motoring affairs senior advisor Ben Young said at the end of September last year, only 181 interlocks were actually fitted compared to the thousands of offenders that could have had the sentences imposed.

But those 181 interlocks had prevented around 1000 attempts to drive by offenders, showing how useful they could be.

Since an offender could choose not to drive rather than pay for an interlock, making them compulsory with some kind of government funding would be beneficial, he said.

"Home detention bracelets are funded, we don't see that these are very different."

Brooking also supported the interlock, but said the cost often meant it was not used as part of an offender's sentence.

If the offender did not have the money to pay, their lawyer would often argue an interlock was not imposed, he said.

"In my opinion it's a very valuable solution but the fact the Government seems to think the offender should have to pay for it has caused an extremely reduced uptake of interlock in the country."

McVicar said interlocks should be compulsory for serious drink-driving offenders, and urged the Government to fund the programme.

"The Government talk about the safety of the community, but really it's just lip service...so it would be quite nice to see Government funding for this and see if it works."

 - Sunday Star Times

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