RAW DATA: ACT Leader Jamie Whyte's "Three Strikes for Burglary, Three Years' Jail" speech

Jamie Whyte (TV3)

Last year there were more than 52,000 reported burglaries. According to the Treasury, for every 10 reported burglaries, there are another 12 that go unreported. This means there were more than 120,000 burglaries last year – or over 2000 a week.

The public suspect the police give burglary a low priority. That is why so many uninsured victims do not report the crime. With less than15 percent of reported burglaries are “cleared up”, they know they have little prospect of getting their possessions back.

The courts also give burglary low priority.

The maximum sentence for burglary is ten years. But even professional burglars who head professional gangs never get anything like this maximum sentence. In 2012 a man with 388 prior convictions for burglary got a mere 2 years and 9 month sentence when convicted for burglaries number 389 and 390.

With a 15% apprehension rate and such absurdly soft sentencing, burglary is a low risk, high reward enterprise. It is no wonder that many find it an attractive career.

Both major parties also give burglary low priority.

National is claiming credit for falling crime rates, saying it is because they are “tackling the causes of crime”. Yet they cannot name a single “cause of crime” they have tackled.

Violent crime is falling because ACT’s “three strikes and the maximum prison sentence” is working.

Labour and The Greens’ prediction that three strikes would result in our prisons being filled with innocent people who had merely touched someone have proven false.

Instead, we have 4,000 people on one strike, 32 on two strikes and not a single person convicted of a third strike offence since the ACT policy was made law in 2010. That looks like pretty effective deterrence.

The Greens and Labour support the system of infringement points leading to lost licenses because it deters bad driving. But, for no apparent reason, they believe that a system of strikes leading to years of imprisonment doesn’t work. Well, there is plenty of evidence from New Zealand and abroad that it does.

Yet burglary is the most serious crime that people are likely to experience and public concern about the crime is widespread.

Over two thousand families will come home after this Easter Weekend to discover that burglars have robbed their homes.

If they are lucky they will just have lost their TVs, computers, cell phones, jewelry and cash. If they are unlucky the burglars will have trashed the home.

If they have insurance then the victims can claim. But they will discover the insurance company requires new locks, security screens, burglar alarms and, for commercial clients, possibly even the hiring of security guards.

Because successive governments have failed to do their primary job of providing for the secure use of our property, we must pay private firms to protect us against thieves. First we pay with our taxes and then we pay again because our taxes have been poorly spent.

Half of those who are robbed this Easter Weekend have no insurance. There will be students, beneficiaries, pensioners and other families who will lose everything they own. It happens every day.

Many will be traumatized. I know of people who, having been burgled, never feel safe again. No dead locks, sensor lights or alarms let them sleep well. The emotional cost of burglary is incalculable, but it is real.

When I was elected Leader of the ACT Party I said at our conference that we were considering a three-strikes policy for burglary, similar to our three-strikes policy for violent crime. I was attacked by commentators who said the idea was half-baked.

ACT has carefully researched the policy.

Three strikes for burglary was introduced to England and Wales in 1999. As in New Zealand, burglary was out of control and given a low priority by the police and the courts. A Labour government passed a three strikes law whereby a third conviction for burglaries earned a mandatory three years in prison.

Burglary in England has fallen by 35 percent.

There are reasons to believe the law will work even better here. In England there are professional criminals who come across from Europe to conduct crimes and their previous convictions are often unknown to authorities. And the English law allows parole for third strike offences.

ACT has consulted with experts on the likely cost to the taxpayer. Our view is that any increase in prison population will be moderate. Indeed, if it has the deterrent effect we expect, it may ultimately decrease the prison population. Four years after becoming law, that seems to be the effect of our policy of three strikes for violent crime.

Unlike violent crimes, which are sometimes spontaneous, burglary is a calculated crime.

Burglaries happen when burglars figure the rewards outweigh the risk of detection or likely punishment. Three strikes for burglary will change the calculation.

In a 2006 report, the Treasury estimated the average cost of a burglary to be $9,000, making the total cost to New Zealanders more than

$1 billion a year. If our policy reduces burglary by 30%, it will save New Zealanders over $300 million a year.

As a party that believes in the rule of law and the importance of property rights, it is wholly appropriate that this is my first major policy release as ACT’s new leader.

But this three strikes policy is also a matter of compassion. Burglary is a serious crime that causes misery to tens of thousands of New Zealanders every year. Those who want to treat burglars with leniency display a callous disregard for the victims of burglary, whose number is vastly increased by this supposed kind-heartedness.

Burglary is a problem that requires strong leadership. ACT is the only party with a policy that can significantly reduce this blight on our society.

ACT Party Q&A: Three Strikes for Burglary (PDF)

ACT Party Three Strikes for Burglary Policy (PDF)

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