A University of Otago-led group of academics and
practitioners has questioned the need for a Bill which would
allow very high risk offenders who have served their full
prison sentence to be kept in detention indefinitely.
The group, led by Associate Prof Colin Gavaghan, from the law
faculty and Bioethics Centre director Prof John McMillan,
says the Bill is a populist gesture that might make people
feel better, but is unlikely to make them any safer.
In fact, it could make it more difficult to rehabilitate
other dangerous offenders released into the community.
The group, which was funded by the New Zealand Law
Foundation, assembled experts in law, ethics, psychology and
psychiatry to assess the proposed Public Safety (Public
Protection Orders) Bill.
In its submission to the justice and electoral committee,
presented at Parliament yesterday by Profs McMillan and
Gavaghan, together with clinical psychologist Dr Armon
Tamatea, of Waikato University, the group identified concerns
with the Bill in principle and in practice.
Prof Gavaghan said the principal concerns were that the Bill
breached domestic and international human rights obligations
by imposing retrospective penalties and arbitrary detention.
He said the group was not convinced the sorts of arrangements
already in place, particularly extended supervision orders
(ESOs), perhaps ''beefed up'' a little in terms of duration
(at present limited to 10 years) and made wider (limited at
moment to sex offenders), could not be used to adequately
manage the population being talked about.
''We've been offered no evidence whatsoever, not been given a
single case study where [ESOs] have failed to do the job.
''The last resort option, really, is to lock people up in a
prison forever, based on what we think they might do in the
''But the Government seems to be jumping to that first, and
we think that is premature. We think that's jumping to the
extreme, without any evidence it's necessary.''
Practically, evidence from similar programmes in Australia
was that it was making no difference to offending rates and
focusing on a very few high-profile offenders could take away
resources from other programmes.
''Also, it might create a greater public risk by jeopardising
the rehabilitation prospects of the bigger prison population
who won't be caught up in this Bill, and will be released
into society, potentially to offend again.''
The group had not been convinced a case had been made for
violating rights, Prof Gavaghan said.
''If we were to be convinced there was literally no other way
to protect people, that would be different, but we haven't.''
The group recommended the committee gather more evidence on
what was working and what was not, particularly analysing the
ESO regime and whether extending it would work, before
thinking about the extreme option of locking people up and
throwing away the key.
''It would have to be a last resort, to be justified.''