Dr Liz Gordon – Time to act on bail

By   /   March 11, 2018  /   49 Comments

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In September 2010, before the death of Christie Marceau, 20% of people in prison were on remand, that is being held before their case was heard.  As a result of changed legislation and pressure from the no bail lobby, that figure is now 30%.

We all know the story.  A beautiful girl was killed by a mad bloke when he was bailed to a property near her.  A terrible tragedy that should have been avoided by good offender management. But what it has led to has been a ridiculous increase in the number of people held in prison on remand.

Half of them never spend another day in prison once they are actually tried in a court of law, either because they were not guilty or because they had already served their time before they were brought to trial.

In September 2010, before the death of Christie Marceau, 20% of people in prison were on remand, that is being held before their case was heard.  As a result of changed legislation and pressure from the no bail lobby, that figure is now 30%.

Let’s do the maths on that. 1207 more people were in prison on remand in September 2017 than in 2010.  It costs around $103,000 to keep someone in prison for a year, so if these numbers are fairly constant, this means that stricter bail laws are costing around $124 million each year.

Most of the people on remand are young offenders who are inducted into gangs while in the remand prison.    Once they get out, they are more likely, not less likely, to be a criminal. We are actually paying for young people, mainly young men, to be trained up for a life of crime by the worst in our society.

Oh yes, and while in prison they lose contact with their best supports, including family and friends.  Many (about half) have children who are being brought up in single parent families.

And did you know that the Department of Corrections does not provide the full range of therapeutic programmes to remand prisoners because they are not sentenced, and therefore cannot be required to attend courses and programmes?  Added to that, many remand prisoners have a burning sense of injustice about being locked up without trial, which just makes them worse and more likely to re-offend.

In short, the well-meaning and heartfelt call to keep dangerous people in prison awaiting their trial has led to an expensive and counter-factual policy nightmare. There are about 3000 people on remand in prison, each one representing a life crisis and great personal trauma for themselves, victims and family.

A review of all remand prisoners on 3 criteria: community safety; ability to be maintained effectively in the community without re-offending; and family or friends willing to take the person in, would be a good start to reducing prison numbers.  And urgent action is needed!


At the other end of sentences, there are many prisoners who cannot get out of prison on parole because they still need to meet various criteria like going on courses.  Many are at very low risk for re-offending and should serve out their time in a community sentence.

We are now at the end of a 30-year experiment where more people have been imprisoned without making a single bit of difference to community safety or overall crime rates. Each year we spend about another 100m million on the Corrections vote, which is now at the all-time high of $1.673 billion.  At the moment it is still looking likely that another billion of your taxpayer money will be spent on building a new prison. Would you rather build that or spend the funds on health and education?

For years and years, successive government have declared that public opinion is against reducing the numbers in prison.  And yet, what the public opinion consists of is a small number of people with extreme views who just want to lock up huge numbers of people, whatever the cost to us and whatever the cost to the families and communities that lose fathers, sons and workers.

Of course there are people who need to be locked up for shorter or longer periods.  Of course there are people that should pretty well never see the light of day on the streets again. But I volunteer in prisons and I know that most should not be there.  They need alcohol and drug treatments. They need good mental health support. Some need community supervision, a home, a job and some incentives to lead a good life.

It is beginning to look a lot like we are going to get some leadership on these matters from the Minister of Justice. More power to his elbow! This blog will continue to support innovative and therapeutic initiatives, plus new rules for the judiciary (probably via law changes) to bring about a significant reduction in prison numbers. Start with remand numbers – there’s at least 1,000 unnecessary and harmful places right there! And please don’t build that new prison.  Urgent action NOW can remove the necessity for this.


Dr Liz Gordon began her working life as a university lecturer at Massey and the Canterbury universities. She spent six years as an Alliance MP, before starting her own research company, Pukeko Research.  Her work is in the fields of justice, law, education and sociology (poverty and inequality). She is the president of Pillars, a charity that works for the children of prisoners, a prison volunteer, and is on the board of several other organisations. Her mission is to see New Zealand freed from the shackles of neo-liberalism before she dies (hopefully well before!).

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  1. Steve Earnshaw says:

    If charges are of a violent nature, they should be remanded in custody. NO DISCUSSION.

    As for parole, it should be wiped all together. You will get out at the end of your term if you have been well behaved and have proven that you deserve to be released. If not, you will stay longer.

    Until the time comes where punishment fits the crime, the taxpayers are happy to foot the bill. On the other hand, id be more than happy with the return of public floggings in the city square at noon of Fridays and a return of a prison diet of bread and water while showing steak dinners on the tv, Joe Arpaio style.

    • john says:

      guess you never read the article then

    • Wanman says:

      I’m a tax payer and I am not happy to foot the bill. I can think of far better things to spend money on than prisons which simply don’t reduce crime. The type of prison you suggest would not work either as so many of the prisoners have addiction problems or mental health issues – they are only in prison because our mental health system is such a disgrace. The disgrace does not arise just from the past nine years either, it is an issue we have had for far too long.

      • Steve Earnshaw says:

        That’s what you get when you shut down the lunatic asylum’s.
        Yes, prisons are a waste of money. Bring back the death penalty and corporal punishment and chopping off hands of thieves.

        • Sam Sam says:

          That New Zealand is amongst the top 20 educated nations in the world could not produce state punishment as you suggest. That the system could create a conveyer belt that ends in the dead hand of capitalism means our attractiveness as a 100% clean green democracy is worth less, and less. So we shouldn’t put our reputation on the line to satisfy ones own confusion.

        • “Death penalty”?! “Chopping off hands”?!

          Dear gods, are you for real, Steve? If you’re such a fan of that kind of barbarity, I don’t understand why you’re living here? I would’ve thought Saudi Arabia would be more to your tastes.

          Your brutal, simplistic “solutions” indicate you have no concept of the complexities behind what pushes some people into crime.

          You also haven’t stopped to consider that the most heavily incarcerated nation – the United States – is still a violence-ridden society.

          To achieve the kind of brutality you apparently desire, our entire society would have to become more harsh; more uncompromising; less tolerant. A Victorian-age society on brutality-steroids.

          I doubt very much you’d want to live in such a society, Steve. After achieving your goals, you’d end up leaving that violent, brutalised society because the next person who broke into your home would be even more heavily armed and ready to use extreme violence against you.

          If you brutalise people, they will be brutal toward you.

          Be careful what you wish for.

          • Steve Earnshaw says:

            I know what stops people committing crime. Fear of the consequences.

            “If you brutalise people, they will be brutal toward you.”
            That’s a great quote. Such a shame the legal system don’t stand by those words when sentencing offenders.

            It would only be the brave or the stupid that broke into my place, frank. I have 6 foot color steel fencing and gates from both front corners of the house to the side boundaries and right around the back with my vehicles contained within. And two large dogs that bark at everyone that passes, either from under the gates or from the front room where they are standing with back feet on a couch and front on the window sill.
            Many have commented that it looks like a gang pad. I’ve put gravel everywhere so the dogs will hear anyone lurking and when they wake me in the night, first thing I do is open the back door and let them out. If by some fluke chance they manage to get past them, they’ll either end up shot or run through with a 50cm bayonet.

            As that game show host says, “Come and have a go if you think you’re good enough”

            • Sam Sam says:

              Steve… It’s not my place to say, but have you ever thought about a nice holiday on a tropical island, some pina calabas and a crouch rub while having a wet shave. I highly recommend it.

              • Steve Earnshaw says:

                Haha, im on permanent holiday. I retired just before my 50th. I travelled for a couple of years when I was younger and quite frankly, find it to be a waste of money.
                As for the other, its only a phone call away and in the comfort of my own home 🙂

                • Sam Sam says:

                  I was trying to say that the whole world isn’t a war zone all the time. And I’m not here to tell you how to live your life but a cultural tradition to be good neighbours in New Zealand.

            • Michelle says:

              well it hasn’t stopped people from committing crimes in America steve they had to release prisoners thousands why steve cause your backward ideas don’t work unless your in the phillipines

              • Steve Earnshaw says:

                Rodrigo Duterte for PM of NZ. Now that has a nice ring to it. He’d get my vote.
                He’s my favorite world leader after Mr Putin 🙂

        • Michelle says:

          Are you talking about the lunatic asylums that gave our people electric shocks steve

    • On the other hand, id be more than happy with the return of public floggings in the city square at noon of Fridays and a return of a prison diet of bread and water while showing steak dinners on the tv, Joe Arpaio style.

      Well then, go live in Arizona with Sheriff Arpaio, Steve.

      But you’d better be damned careful you don’t drive 1 mph over the urban speed limit, Steve.

      That would be worth a flogging.

      Can you take your own ‘medicine’ Steve?

  2. Steve Earnshaw says:

    Well, yes I did read it and object to the writers “oh the poor prisoners” attitude. Unless the intent is to install a non pc and human rights attitude into corrections, you can go ahead and build that new prison. In fact, lets make it two new prisons.

    Put me in charge, with no restraints, and I will have the prison population halved in 5 years.
    I’ll make it a place where 50% of the population would consider ending their lives rather than be sent there. In fact, there’d be a noose hanging in every cell to help things along.
    The air con would be set at 10 degrees. No tv, except in the dining room for torment at feeding time. No gym, no pool tables or games. Books only.
    No meat on the menu. Oats for breakfast and a mix of fruit, veges bread and pasta for other meals. And if you want fed, you’ll be working for it.
    The chain gangs will be back with AR-15 armed guards overseeing them. These armed guards will also oversee the outside yards from a tower with instructions to shoot any trouble makers.

    Lets see how many are keen to go in with me in charge.

    • Shona says:

      Well if you read the article you sure as hell did not comprehend it! And the treatment for those in prison which you are advocating Steve contravenes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as the Bill of Rights.No meat and you expect prisoners to carry out physical labour???You are a moron Steve ! And when it comes to NZ’s prison population you don’t know shit from clay.

      • Steve Earnshaw says:

        You’re on to it. Human rights is exactly why we and every other western country has overflowing prison populations.
        Look what happened to the middle east when the US took out the dictators that were keeping them all in line? That worked out just fine didn’t it.
        Funny that vegetarians manage just fine, eh. Did I just not read recently that something like 41% of New Zealanders are not buying meat? Protein is also available from eggs didn’t you know.

        And considering that I know members from just about every gang in the country, it would be naïve of you to be assuming that I don’t know exactly how the prisons work.

        • Sam Sam says:

          Have you even done the numbers? Every prisoner means forty two thousand dollars for somebody. Prisoners switch on lights, eat, cloths. That’s all payed for by the state into a totally private supply chain. All the equipment and training is big bucks. With people like you prisons are a safer investment than housing. And that’s not what prisoners are about. Doing more prisoners for the sake of it will make tax payers poorer and society unhealthy.

      • Steve Earnshaw says:

        Yes, I would. The victim still needs to receive justice..
        The court may well impose a tax payer funded holiday. And id be living for the day of release. My mother doesn’t describe me as vindictive and nasty for nothing.

        Some years back, my pride and joy was destroyed by a dick head. A while later I was visiting mother and she mentioned that such and such’s death notice was in the paper, followed by he was the guy that torched your car and that he’d taken his own life. I said how do you know that and she replied that my father had found out and let on to no one but her.
        Didn’t advise police either as he knew that then i’d be aware of who it was and he knew what my response would be.
        He was also fully aware that even if the court threw him prison, it would only be a temporary reprieve, until he was let out and I got my hands on him.
        She followed up with oh, he had mental health issues.
        I replied, no, he knew he was a dead man walking. I then explained that I had spoken to him the day after and had told him exactly what was going to happen to the culprit when I found out their identity.

        So, yeah. I have no faith in the police or the justice system and as far as I’m aware, the police are still looking for the arsonist.

        • Priss says:

          ” I replied, no, he knew he was a dead man walking. I then explained that I had spoken to him the day after and had told him exactly what was going to happen to the culprit when I found out their identity.”

          Riiiight, Steve.

          So you’re admitting to be willing to break the law for your own selfish needs?

          I look forward to you going into the same harsh prison environment you’re advocating here, with your hands chopped off, and a good whipping.

          Let’s see you pontificate then about how tough you want things to be in jail.

          • Steve Earnshaw says:

            Well girlie, That action turned my retirement fund from half a million to zero.
            And since I have principles, damn right its worth doing ten years for.

    • BrettC says:

      I have met many people who feel the same as you until their son / brother is in the cells on the word of a person they feel to be dishonest. It’s amazing how quickly the old ‘throw away the key’ line catches in the throat then.

      You seem to believe that if a person pushes a bouncer while being thrown out of a pub they should be locked up until sentence NO DISCUSSION. Presumably you have never acted in a manner which is anything less than perfect. You should run courses for the rest of us.

      • Steve Earnshaw says:

        Actually, I believe if you assault that bouncer, you deserve the beating he dishes out when he gets you out the door.

        • Sam Sam says:

          They’re aren’t bouncers any more. They’re crowd controllers. Insurance and legal costs built up to now no one wants to pay for stupid any more.

          I don’t know if people are getting softer or your average joe throwing punches are getting heavier and stronger. But it seems like more people are ending up dead from one punch assaults.

          Face it Steve. Your old.

          • Steve Earnshaw says:

            Just a number mate. Usually means I’m smarter than them
            I’ll tell you a funny story. I was at a bbq last Xmas. The property owner had two male dogs, an American pitt bull and a fox terrier. I took my male Huntaway x who plays well with them both. There was also a young (mid 20’s) lout there with a female pitt bull.
            Everything was going well but after about 3 hours this female pitty started staunching out my dog. A couple of the guests made comment and the owner did and said nothing. Thirty mins later it was still going on and the property owner said something. The lout still said and did nothing.
            I’ve been a dog owner for 25 plus years so I’m pretty good a reading dogs and about 15 mins on, I could see things were about to get out of hand.
            So, I got up to go to the toilet and let rip with a mouthful. It went “If that fucking mongrel takes a chunk out of my dog, I’m gonna kill it”
            Tell ya what, you coulda heard a pin drop. No one was brave enough to open their mouth as many there that knew me know that when I get to the point of making threats, I’m about two fanny hairs away from turning psycho and enacting on that threat.
            I looked at the guy as I was passing and he was glaring. I looked him in the eyes and gave it back.
            I still don’t know what was said when I was out of earshot but when I returned, dickhead was rounding up his two and four legged bitches and making ready to leave.
            Pretty good effort from the oldest (56) fella at the party and likely the smallest 63kg). Never under estimate the older guys, we’ve been well around the block

    • Put me in charge, with no restraints, and I will have the prison population halved in 5 years.

      “No restraints”?!

      No thanks, Steve. A brutal prison environment produces more brutal people. That’s the last thing we need.

      Your simplistic, violent “solutions” haven’t worked in the US – I fail to understand why you think they would succeed here.

      To be honest, I think you’re living in the wrong country.

      • Steve Earnshaw says:

        Here’s a wee reminder for you, Frank. Violence solves everything. It always has and it always will.
        If you have violent members in the community, violently is how you deal with them, as that’s all they understand.

  3. kd says:

    Syria or Norway? I know where I’d rather live. Syria has the kind of justice system Mr. Earnshaw is in favour of while Norway (and a lot of other democratic countries in Europe) have a justice system far more in line with the human values of a democratic society.
    It is so discouraging (scary really) to hear people advocate for physical and mental torture as a good thing.
    Great article Dr. Liz Gordon

    • Steve Earnshaw says:

      I actually like the way the Chinese do things. I recall seeing a video where this guy was up on a bridge threatening to jump. Traffic had been held up for 2 or 3 hours. A police man climbed his way up and spoke to him for a short time. It was evident that he wasn’t going to come down so the policeman pushed him off.

      A quick easy fix in the end.

      • Steve, your humanitarianism (or lack, thereof) leaves much to be desired.

        • Steve Earnshaw says:

          Don’t you bleat humanitarianism to me Frank. I want the criminals treated exactly the same way as their victim.
          That’s called justice.
          The legal system refuses to do that because of this humanitarian pc bullshit. No wonder people like me take matters into their own hands. That’s the only way justice is served.

      • Michelle says:

        good why don’t you go to china on a slow boat steve I wish you a safe passage

        • Steve Earnshaw says:

          My preference would be Russia but as I can’t speak either lingo, i’ll be staying put. And for the record, I don’t travel anywhere slowly. I’m a speedfreak

  4. Michelle says:

    As a victim of homicide and a person that attended the Red Raincoat trust(no longer exist) conferences I met many other kiwi victims some dealing with them most heinous of crimes. I believe some people have to be locked up and stay locked up but I don’t advocate for the bullshert espoused by steve earnshaw. Have we not learned from the past.
    I also do not agree with the 3 strikes that was pushed by the sensible sentencing trust this is american policy and not suitable for our country. If someone commits a serious offence ( like murder or rape ) then the penalty needs to reflect that. The high incarceration rates of Maori is unacceptable our Aussie mates have high rates of aboriginal people in their prison and so does countries like Hawaii a pattern has emerged here.
    The Marceau case highlights a number of issues, Firstly why did the judge not ask the lawyers to check where he was bailed to? Why did the crown lawyer not check out this address?
    Where was the mental health advocates ?
    Would the knee jerk reaction occurred if it was brown person killed ? as the gnats government were quick to change the law when battered women have dealt with protection orders that are just a piece of paper with no monitoring from our Police.
    Our justice system needs an overhaul. And if people like steve want that backward type of justice he can move elsewhere maybe the Phillipines.

    • Steve Earnshaw says:

      Well, that 100g a year to keep them in the lap of luxury can come out of your pocket.
      I’ll foot the bill for a van ride to the quarry and a lead pill.

  5. BrettC says:

    Excellent, thought provoking article Dr Gordon and so refreshing to see some common sense applied to this area.

  6. Michelle says:

    Does that mean the cricketer Ben Stokes (NZer who plays for UK) should be sitting in custody instead of playing cricket against NZ.

  7. gsays says:

    Excellent article, thank you very much.
    I am heartened our justice minister seems to have a heart and a head.
    What a contrast to the last regime.
    Must admit, I haven’t visited this site for a while, I am pleased I dropped by.

  8. Priss says:

    Excellent points raised, Liz! National’s “tough on crime” has been a “moral and fiscal failure” as Bill English admitted a few years ago.

    We need to move away from the ignorance of red necks like Steve Earnshaw, and look at ways of rehabilitation and reintergration into our communities.

    If we keep people apart, they will stay apart.

  9. bazza says:

    Murderers deserve harsh punishment. All the great socialist societies penalised murderers and other violent offenders in an appropriately brutal manner. Christies murderer should be put in a hard labour camp until he dies and be denied medical treatment along the way should he require it. As one of my family members was a victim of a murder there isn’t a single argument anyone can make to convince me to change my mind.

  10. Michelle says:

    what about manslaughter Bazza should they be put in hard labour camps
    That young man that did this, wasn’t he mentally ill. Now I’m not making excuses but where were our mental health advocates why wasn’t he in a mental health facility being monitored? what has happened to our systems? why is there so many sick people walking around at large.
    Also what about people like Pora and Dougherty, our police don’t have a very good track record this is why we cant put people to death we cant even trust our own system. Yes some need to never be released.

    • Steve Earnshaw says:

      What happened? The pc lot decided to shut down the asylum’s and re integrate them into society.
      Being montitored in the current facilities is also a proven failure as the one that recently walked out the front door and proceeded to take their own life attests.
      Not too up with the play on the Pora and Dougherty cases but I’m 100% sure Bain is guilty.
      Just goes to prove that money and a good lawyer can get you off anything. If I had my way, lawyers would be banished to the bottom of the ocean and courtroom activity would be conducted Judge Judy style.

  11. Michelle says:

    based on what you have said steve Pora and Dougherty would have been put to sleep when they were both innocent please don’t raise the d -penalty in our country we already have a litany of innocent people in our history. I prefer murders to suffer in prison and stay till they die not the d.. penalty

    • Steve Earnshaw says:

      Murderers don’t stay in prison until they die in NZ. Life in prison is 20 years and many are out in half that.
      I am 100% behind the return of the death penalty and corporal punishment in schools.
      The first bunch of experts say they are guilty, the next bunch say innocent. Whos knows which bunch is 100% correct. My guess is that more guilty ones have got off than innocent ones wrongly convicted.

      For the most part, I don’t agree with prisons and locking people up. In my world, those found guilty would receive a sentence the same as what the victim received. Its an eye for an eye in my book.

  12. Michelle says:

    don’t you mean judge and jury steve style. I take that back about the slow boat to china you need to be put on a jet boat

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