'Three strikes' bill passes

BY MARTIN KAY AND NZPA
Last updated 19:52 25/05/2010

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The controversial "three strikes" bill has been passed into law by Parliament.

After strong opposition from Labour, the Greens and the Maori Party the bill went through its third reading tonight on a vote of 63-58, with National and Act supporting it.

Police Minister Judith Collins said the Sentencing and Parole Bill upheld a government pledge to remove eligibility for parole for the worst repeat violent offenders.

The bill provides for repeat violent offenders to face maximum jail terms with no parole for a third conviction for one of 40 specified offences. It will apply to people over 18 and it is not retrospective.

Under the graduating scale of sanctions within the law, murderers must be jailed for life with no parole if the murder conviction is for a second or subsequent "strike" offence, unless the judge rules a non-parole sentence would be manifestly unjust.

The law will see offenders who commit one of the 40 crimes sentenced as normal, with the usual parole eligibility, for a first strike.

A second strike will bring a sentence under normal criteria, but the jail term must be served with no parole unless doing so would be manifestly unjust.

A third strike will bring a maximum sentence for that crime, with no parole.

The 40 crimes in the schedule include murder, manslaughter, rape and other sexual offending and serious violence.

The Sentencing and Parole Bill that lays out the three strikes regime was opposed by a range of groups, including lawyers and prison reformers.

"Parole is a privilege that will not be available to those who fail to take heed of warnings and continue to commit serious violence crimes," Ms Collins said.

Labour and the Greens have opposed the law since it was proposed by the Act Party and then included in a government bill.

The Maori Party joined them in voting against it, with MP Hone Harawira saying he was worried that more offences would be added to the list of 40 in the bill.

"It won't be long before trespass and other similar charges will be added to the list by politicians too dumb, too lazy and too mean spirited to resolve issues intelligently and choose the big stick as the resort of first choice," he said.

"And, to no one's surprise, it will be Maori who suffer most when that happens."

Mr Harawira said there was systemic bias "and outright bloody racism" against Maori in respect of arrests, charges, convictions and jail sentences.

Labour's Grant Robertson said his party was deeply concerned about rising crime rates but the bill did not address the causes of those crimes.

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"It does not seek properly to address reoffending," he said.

"It is unworkable, unjust and inequitable and if we continue to park ambulances at the bottom of the cliff of crime we will not address the causes of crime and we will not reduce its impact on society."

Act MP David Garrett said it would make New Zealand a safer place.

"We have sent a message to repeat violent offenders," he said.

"They have a choice - they can change their ways or they condemn themselves, by their own choice, to spend most of their lives in jail."

Mr Garrett said that since the election four people had been killed by people who would have been "three strikers" if the bill had been in force at the time they committed those killings.

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