Judge criticises government 'anti-prison' policy

Judge Allan Roberts said there was a "government direction" to probation officers to recommend other penalties than ...
ROBERT CHARLES/FAIRFAX NZ

Judge Allan Roberts said there was a "government direction" to probation officers to recommend other penalties than prison, in order to keep offenders out of jail.

New Plymouth's most outspoken judge has struck out at what he believes is a government push to keep offenders out of jail. 

Judge Allan Roberts sent Joshua Aaron Salvador Edwards, 26, to jail for four and a half months on Friday, despite a report recommending he be given electronic monitoring for breaching his sentence of community work, breaching his sentence of supervision, driving while disqualified and failing to stop. 

Roberts said there was a "government direction" to probation officers to recommend other penalties than prison, in order to keep offenders out of jail. 

"They wish to see the courts make greater use of sentences other than imprisonment," Roberts said. 

"That's why we are getting reports that sometimes don't have an appropriate penalty alongside them.

"They underpitch, deliberately so."

Roberts said the initial two reports recommended imprisonment and that it was only on the third report that community detention was recommended as an alternative.

Edwards' lawyer Megan Boyd defended the probation officer's latest report.

"Sir, you say that the probation office is deliberately underpitching, but in my submission they are recognising that a sentence of community detention or home detention could be offered to this man."

Judge Roberts said jail was an appropriate punishment for Edwards, in part because he had only completed 66.5 hours of the 300 hours of community work to which he was sentenced in April 2015. 

Roberts said Edwards suffered from gout and that may have precluded him from certain community work tasks, but there was no reason he could not do light duties. 

"Court sentences are not optional," Roberts said.

Edwards was caught driving while disqualified at 2.44am on September 1 in Bulls, where he continued to drive for 24km despite a police officer following him with blue and red flashing lights and a howling siren.

Roberts said Edwards had previous similar convictions and a history on non-compliance with penalties. 

"On the face of things you don't pay fines, you don't do community work, you are non-compliant with supervision demands," Roberts said. 

"Yet here I am asked to send you to community detention.

"I'm intending to jail you. I am not intending to impose a monitored sentence on you in hope that you can show greater application to those sentences than you have previously." 

Roberts sentenced Edwards to four-and-a-half months' imprisonment and disqualified him from driving for 15 months.

 - Stuff

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