Three Strikes Keeping Repeat Violent Offenders Off Our Streets

National Radio (May 29) invited Professor John Pratt, a criminologist from Victoria University of Wellington, and Mr Eric Forster, Elijah Whaanga’s legal counsel during his second strike trial, to discuss the success of ACT’s Three Strikes legislation.  Mr Pratt has publicly expressed his abhorrence of the three strikes concept since the policy was first announced.  Mr Forster said the wrong people were being targeted, and that it was his view that his client was treated unfairly as a consequence of the legislation.

Although the Minister of Justice was invited to participate, she declined to appear, instead providing a statement.  Unfortunately, Radio New Zealand did not invite ACT New Zealand - the party responsible for Three Strikes legislation - to contribute to the broadcast.  The resulting discussion lacked an alternative point of view.

Predictably, Mr Pratt dismissed the effect the Sentencing and Parole Reform Act 2010 was having on crime in New Zealand.  He chose not to discuss how the consequences of serious offending on its victims are traumatic, long-lasting, and often irreversible.

Twenty serious offenders have received a second strike since the inception of the Three Strikes Act. Each of these offenders has committed at least two serious offences against New Zealand communities since 2010.  Because of Three Strikes, these twenty serious offenders now must serve out the full term of their sentence, without parole.  If they commit a further serious offence, they will serve the maximum penalty for that crime.

Over 2680 offenders have received their first strike since 2010.  Each of these serious offenders has been publicly warned that the Courts have no option but to treat their next serious offence with greater severity.  If they disregard this warning, they only have themselves to blame for the consequences.

The case of Elijah Akeem Whaanga, 21, was not discussed in any detail during the interview but was referred to constantly.   To give context to the participants’ comments, the facts of Whaanga’s case should have been explained in detail.

Elijah Whaanga is the poster boy for the anti-three strikes movement.  Unfortunately, his supporters rarely refer to his criminal history when criticising the focus of the Act: recidivist serious offenders.

Recidivist should be Whaanga's second name. His offending stretches back to 2006, including burglary, theft, resisting arrest and indecent assault.  He has committed twenty offences as an adult, seventy offences since reaching the age of criminal responsibility, and served a short prison sentence in early 2010.  In July 2010, he and an accomplice committed aggravated robbery. Whaanga punched the victim in the head multiple times before taking $68.  For that he earned his first strike in December 2010 and was sentenced to jail for two years and one month.

Whaanga was sentenced to two years’ jail and issued with his second strike by Judge Tony Adeane in the Napier District Court on 18 April 2013 after pleading guilty to two charges of aggravated robbery. The offences involved Whaanga and an accomplice attacking victims on two occasions last August.

Unlike Mr Forster, ACT believes Mr Whaanga’s sentence under the three strikes regime is appropriate.  He is a repeat violent offender who has no regard for other people’s property or safety.

ACT does not want to see people waste their lives in jail.  But this man, like everyone else has a choice to make.  We hope he makes the right one.  He will have two and a half years to address his problems while he is serving his sentence without parole.   If he doesn’t, and he commits another strike offence, he will be in jail for a very long time. 

Three Strikes is working exactly as intended. 

Radio NZ Nine To Noon broadcast can be found here: http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/national/136364/twenty-on-second-strike-under-sentencing-law

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