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Repeat offenders could lose benefits

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 2 days ago

A bill before parliament that would see offenders who repeatedly breach community sentences lose their benefits has been declared a breach of New Zealand's human rights obligations.

The government's social services select committee is currently examining a bill brought by National MP Mark Mitchell which he says is designed to punish those who choose not to comply with community sentences, rather than those who can't comply because of their personal circumstances.

"From my own experience there's recidivist offenders who are given an opportunity to attend services but then choose not to ... they'd rather choose to go out there and commit a crime or just basically completely ignore the chance that they've been given," he said.

"This bill is specifically geared for use for people who are not prepared to engage with their parole officer and are not prepared to make any effort to comply and accept the responsibility and the opportunity of actually doing their community service."

But those in opposition fear the legislation will be unnecessarily punitive and increase rates of incarceration.

Alex Rossiter from No Pride In Prisons and Community Law's Helen Kaimarama both noted that the punitive punishment would result in increased poverty, particularly for vulnerable people and children that went against New Zealand's human rights commitments and obligations.

Mr Rossiter said another major issue for his group is the use of warning letters to notify repeat offenders that their benefits would be cut if they failed to comply.

He said letters were ineffective if people had poor English, move frequently or have no fixed address, and that face-to-face interactions were better.

Ms Kaimarama urged the government to take a more proactive rather than retributive approach.

"The department should undertake qualitative research into why offenders are not complying so they have a clear picture of the issue," she said.

"If the department invested in their frontline staff and also worked with MSD (Ministry of Social Development) with proactive wraparound services, then they would have more skills and resources to ensure offenders actually fulfilled their sentence requirement."

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