A Catholic Monthly Magazine

NZ’s ‘Three Strikes Rule’: unchristian, and unnecessary

by Fr Brian O'Connell sm

In May 2010, the NZ parliament passed the Sentencing and Parole Reform Bill enacting the ‘3 Strikes Rule’ by which a prisoner convicted of three serious crimes receives the mandatory maximum sentence with no possibility of parole.

This happened because a small law and order party in coalition with the ruling National party demanded this law change in exchange for confidence and supply. I suspect that the majority of MPs who voted for this law did so holding their noses under party discipline. The only other jurisdiction having a similar law is California where the law caused the prison muster to increase 25% and cost the state US$19.2 billion annually.Prisoner in jail

It is deeply unchristian because it denies the basic possibility of redemption. The gospel ‘seventy times seven’ becomes ‘3 strikes and we throw away the key.’ The only unforgiveable sin in the gospel is the sin against the Holy Spirit, which is resisting the known truth. Christianity holds it as true that every person is made in the image and likeness of God, and is thus redeemable.

The law is also uncivilised. Every human society finds ways to rehabilitate offenders. A few days in the stocks was probably enough in the Middle Ages to encourage most offenders to mend their ways. The three strikes rule is in most cases a de facto life sentence. Many inmates might prefer the stocks and public ridicule to staring at four walls for the rest of their lives. With no possibility of parole, an offender has no motive to improve himself or undergo the anger management and similar addiction courses provided by the Prison Service.

No one denies that there are a small number of offenders who cannot be released into the community in any circumstances, whether from pathological re-offending on parole or extreme violence. The three strikes rule is not needed for this small category, and thus is unnecessary. What is available to the courts is a sentence of Preventive Detention, which is essentially an order preventing the offender from offending indefinitely. In fact an indeterminate life sentence. There are only 253 inmates held under this provision in NZ, less than 3% out of a prison muster of 9000. Courts are reluctant to impose this extreme sentence but it is there if needed.

A former head of the Prison Service, Mr Kim Workman QSO, has labelled the 3 Strikes Rule as a “blot on our judicial landscape”. He and others will continue to lobby for the repeal of this law. Meanwhile the MP who guided this law through the house has been thrown out of Parliament for stealing a child’s birth certificate. For lawmakers the rule is one conviction and you are out of parliament, and rightly


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