Cost-cutting thwarts crime reduction
Budget constraints and a lack of legislative "flexible tools" could be hampering attempts to reduce offending and prison populations, an Invercargill District Court judge said yesterday.
Judge Raoul Neave expressed frustration at gaps in Invercargill to help those with possible mental-health and drug-and-alcohol problems.
The comments were made during two sentencings - the first for 19-year-old Benjamin Paul Vercoe, who appeared on two charges of assaulting a female, and the second for Regan Charles Lewis Elder, who appeared on charges of drink-driving and driving while disqualified.
Vercoe's lawyer, Mike Newell, said his client, who had been in custody on remand for 10 weeks, needed help but no-one was able to provide it.
Though Southland mental-health services had determined he was not mentally unwell, other support agencies considered him too unwell for them to be able to help, he said.
A psychiatrist who saw Vercoe while on remand recommended that Southland mental health be "stretched" to provide him support, Mr Newell said.
If Vercoe were freed, he could soon be back before the courts because he was unable to care for himself, he said. His client was falling through the cracks.
"I'm concerned that, if my client is released, he's going to be back before the court in a very short period, because he is not able to care for himself . . . We're stuck in a situation where mental health don't want to know about it and the other agencies are not able to help," he said.
Judge Neave said Vercoe's situation was "a very, very difficult exercise" and there appeared to be no solution.
If legislature wanted to reduce crime, it needed to provide more flexible tools, he said.
The obvious place for Vercoe to go was into a mental-health service but, for reasons "I can't quite fathom", that was not appropriate.
His only option was to sentence Vercoe to a short term in jail in the hope it would give the probation service time to find a solution, he said.
He sentenced him to six months' jail.
Budgeting constraints were also raised during the sentencing of Elder, when the court was told changes had been made to the way the region's Drug and Alcohol Specialist Service offered some services.
Duty solicitor Kate McHugh said she believed those changes were funding-related.
Judge Neave again questioned how offending rates could be reduced if various services were constrained by funding issues.
He sentenced Elder to 18 months' intensive supervision and disqualified him from driving for 12 months and one day.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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