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Dr Muriel Newman

Solving Crime not Rocket Science

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3 December 05

Solving Crime not Rocket Science

One of the core roles of a government in a democracy is to protect its citizens from crime. In 1999, New Zealanders were given the opportunity to send the government a message on that issue: by voting overwhelmingly in favour of Norm Wither’s law and order referendum, the public indicated they wanted the justice system reformed and violent crime reduced.

That is why the shocking death on Monday of Kevan Newman, one of the three people stabbed by a mental health patient who went berserk with a knife, is so tragic: dreadful violent crimes committed by dangerously mentally ill patients are not uncommon, yet the government continues to fail to adequately address the problem.

The police warn that there is a significant danger to society from people with serious mental illness and violent tendencies who are living free in our communities. They say that if the public really understood the threat from those who live unstable lives of crime, laced with drug use and psychotic episodes, they would demand action.

Yet, in spite of serious overcrowding in hospital mental health units and a revolving door policy, that sees patients who should hospitalised turfed out in order to admit more urgent cases, the government has continued to turn a deaf ear.

New Zealand urgently needs to follow the lead of Britain and the United States by funding patient care in ‘sheltered villages’. These modern 24-hour residential care facilities are for people assessed as severely mentally ill and prone to dangerous psychotic episodes. Sheltered villages would provide quality living conditions for those who are not sick enough to be in hospital but are too sick to live without full supervision, as well as for patients in need of short term respite care.

Until now, the government has been strongly opposed to the establishment of sheltered villages, but with support for the concept growing within communities and across the political spectrum, maybe this latest tragedy will be the catalyst for change.

Norm Withers 1999 referendum, also demanded more rights for the victims of crime, a cause widely championed by Garth McVicar of the Sensible Sentencing Trust. Garth is our guest columnist in this week’s NZCPD Forum.

A great deal of research has been carried out into the causes of crime and what can be done to reduce it. It is not rocket science. Following are five steps that would help to make New Zealand a safer country.

Firstly, in the overwhelming majority of cases, crime starts in the home with children who become predisposed to criminal activity. While some hard-core criminal families teach their children how to commit crimes, it is usually the abuse and neglect of children by their parents that leads the child into a downward spiral of alienation, underachievement and crime. More often than not, welfare dependency, substance abuse, educational failure, violence, and family instability all form part of the mix.

With prison statistics showing that around three quarters of all sentenced inmates have never been married, it is clear that if our young men moving towards adulthood have attained a good education and have the prospects of a worthwhile career, they are far more likely to look to marriage and a family than crime.

That is why reforming the welfare system to eliminate long term benefit dependency, encouraging marriage and strengthening the family, as well as ensuring children succeed at school, play vital roles in reducing crime. Further, it is important that appropriate help and support are made readily available to parents at every stage of a child’s development, starting even before the baby is born.

Secondly, since it is well known that young people who should be at school commit a large proportion of crime, the government needs to adopt a zero-tolerance approach to truancy. That means not only tackling irresponsible parenting head on by forcing parents to obey the law and send their children to school, but also ensuring that schools are playing their part by providing high quality teaching to their students.

The third step to reducing crime is to give the police the ability to do their job properly – boosting police resources and numbers (they would need 1,700 more police to match the policing rate in Australia), and undertaking a comprehensive audit of police practice and laws in order to eliminate the excessive time-wasting bureaucratic red tape that now keeps police behind their desks instead of out on the beat.

But most importantly, zero-tolerance policing should become standard practice – getting tough on petty crime in order to prevent perpetrators graduating to more serious crime, cracking down on the small number of serious repeat offenders who are responsible for most of the crime in any community, and having a strong public presence to help reclaim streets for families and children.

The fourth step is to ensure that crime doesn’t pay through tougher sentencing and -with almost 80 percent of violent offenders re-offending while on parole – abolishing parole. This should be done in conjunction with comprehensive prison reform: moving the 10 percent of prisoners who are seriously mentally ill into proper forensic institutions where they can have access to appropriate treatment, and moving the 50 percent of low security prisoners into facilities where they can be used to provide contract labour to help pay for their keep. That would leave plenty of room in the prison system for the serious violent criminals who should be locked away, and who clearly need intensive rehabilitation and management if they are ever able to be successfully reintegrated back into society.

The final step is to provide better support for those people in society who, because of mental impairment, can become a serious danger to others. I have already outlined the sheltered village concept for the mentally ill who can become psychotic if they fail to take their medication, but more must be done for drug and alcohol addicts.

British research from the Home Office shows that while drug related crime has risen sharply over the last decade, other crime has remained relatively stable. That is probably the case here as well, but rather than reducing the problem by helping addicts to beat their habit, the government has not only been busy closing down treatment centres, but through a ‘harm minimisation’ strategy is teaching children how to use drugs, instead of how to avoid and reject them!

This weeks poll. This week’s poll asks: Do you believe the mentally ill are adequately provided for at present? To take part in our online poll

We do need to provide more capacity for these people to be cared for in proper facilities. The concept of the State trying to save money by forcing them out into the community is an abject failure for many of them. Their families often do not have the skill or training to know how best to look after them, and it imposes a huge strain on the families own relationships as well.Then we have these awful incidents were one loses control and totally innocent people are affected by their behaviour. This is not an acceptable price for society to pay!

When I first heard about the attack in Henderson early last week Imade 3 predictions:He would be on welfare, he would be known to Mental Health, and he would probably already have come to attention of police and be known to them. Would not a better solution have been if the Sports shop owner had been able to effectively defend himself? It may not have prevented a death but it would have prevented the death of an innocent man and possibly tens of thousands of dollars in medical costs.

The politicians need to be asking themselves why, in less than a lifetime , homicides have risen from about one a year to 150 or thereabouts. The country is now crime and drug ridden.

Because the genuine mentally ill are getting turfed out into the community and all the money is getting spent to rehabilitate the drug addicts in our communities. The majority of patients in the so-called mental hospitals are either drug addicts or alcohol problem patients.This is contributing to our soaring crime rate. The sooner our drug laws are changed the better. Follow in Singapore’s steps and we will have a safe country again and our genuine mentally ill will then be able to get the service they deserve.

We are enmeshed in so much law that its no wonder there are mental problems. Please, fewer but enforcable laws.

30 years ago people trusted the police. Now, every time you drive, the enemy pops up. I would be interested inviews of a referendum of separating police from road traffic duties -just about everyone I talk too is for this.

Reopen the Mental health institutions as the UK did when it found the same experiment they tried didnt work. You will find that the prison population will drop at the same time.

Increase funding to attract quality professionals. Rebuild facilities to house dangerous persons. Increase funding for those who have no ability to pay for medications.

Discontinue the ridiculous practice whereby if a family member of a psychiatric patient feels it necessary to contact the patient’s psychiatrist, then the psychiatrist must tell the patient!

In my experience with a schizophrenic son, the problem was the stupid privacy act. He ( although he was not rational ) had to make the decision to be treated. Our GP was not enpowered to do this.

There is some extremely good work being done by the early intervention teams, crisis response teams, psychiatric hospitals,psychiatric wards in general hospitals, out- patient clinics and mental health workers in the community but these facilities are under resourced and the staff poorly paid. More money needs to be chanelled into this area of health care.

Responsible monitoring of medication, not leaving it to the patient to decide he/she is well and need not take medication. Safe, supervised, residential care where able patients can lead a normal life within a protective framework.

As I have been a JP for some years sitting in courts my main concern is the number of accused that I have seen in recent times who are in some cases not fit to know what they are doing and should not be remanded in custody to prison. There needs to be safe shelters where they can be remanded to so that overseeing their medication is of prime concern.

Having served in the Police for 37 years, I know better than most how neglected this sector of the community are. In my last appointment I was responsible for a busy Police cell block. Add to that the number of people arrested under the influence of solvents – paint, glue etc – and you have a very toxic mix. The number of people arrested and detained that had a serious mental or intellectual disability was extremely high, but to get them care required superhuman efforts on the part of very busy supervising Senior Sergeants. Add to that the number of people arrested under the influence of solvents – paint, glue etc – and you have a very toxic mix.At the same time as the public are calling for such people to be cared for properly (that does not mean a Police or prison cell but a secure hospital facility)people like Helen Clark (as Minister of Health she started this in the 1980’s) are saying that community care is the answer. Frankly she does not begin to even understand the nature of the problem. It is well past the time when the public, including those who have mental illnesses, got a fair deal.

Many blame organisational culture for the failure of the State to care for the Mentally Ill public at large. Many blame the mentally ill. That is ignorant stupid.

In truth, it is the refusal of officers charged with the protection of the public (NZ Police State Health Psych Crisis Teams) to take personal responsibility that leads to death of the innocent. To say that it is the weekend … we are not paid to work outside work week hours … (Psych Team) or It is not our job to be dealing with the Mentally Ill … (NZ Police) means they are accessories to the crime in that they refused to secure the situation before it happened. The Police after all, are under an obligation to honour an agreement they signed five years ago with the Ministry of Health to safely transport mentally ill sufferers to care when required. The Police visited the sufferer concerned on the morning the incident happened … yet refused to act. The Psych Team had visited him the day before (Sunday) … after his family had repeatedly warned them of impending danger … yet refused to act stating they were in a professional position to assess him within 20 minutes when clearly it was unprofessional, incompetent and arrogant in the extreme. All it would have taken would be for a psych team member to administer the sufferer a depo injection … On the spot … Or as an outpatient … And the sufferer’s condition would have improved avoiding the death … Possibly without even the need to commit him to hospital as an inpatient until later …

There should be restablished secure places for those with mental problems such as Cherry Farm where a lot of normal people used to admit themselves for a ‘time-out’. This also gives the community a greater sense of security The original concept of puttingpeople with mental illness into the communiy was great for some, but has been a disaster for those that could not handle the open living situation.

The mentally ill are not adequately provided for with models of health and tailored pathways to direct the years of their lives towards healthy outcomes. The victim mentality prevails through the Invalid Benefit system and mental health profession.

First more Facilities. I am aware of a mentally ill person seeking assistance at an institution and being told to come back in the morning when they were open.

Increasing (introducing) real support for those families who currently struggle to care for their mentally ill family members.

Stop catering for the scumbag criminals and support the victims. Stop the PC Nonsense like what happened in KawaKawa where the farmer was taken to court for protecting his property while he was being robbed-and was almost bankrupted having to fight for his rights.

Additional psychiatric (not psychological or counselling) resources), accessible directly to mental health sufferers and their families. Half way houses, sheltered villages or whatever you wish to call them, available to mental health sufferers as an alternative, at their choice, to being admitted to or released from the acute care system.

Villages similar to hammner Springs – take them away from health boards.

Have a comprehensive education system in all our schools to teach kids the misery of drug addiction, instead of teaching them how to use condoms and encouraging premarital sex. Abolish the Family planning outfit.

I’m attaching an invaluable report on the effects ofbehaviour in prisons and schools simply by altering (for the better) the diet available: (see attached)Forget tougher punishments and hiring more police. The solution to crime and violence is on your plate. Here’s how healthy food can reduce aggressive behaviour http://www.odemagazine.com/article.php?aID=4143

Absolutely essential that there are medium security villages for long term care: these must have attached high security units for psychotic care. Next step is an organised half-way house with sheltered employment (OUTside of present job law requirements!) that will re-equip patients with social skills to reintegrate into society. Some will of course stay here forever. Will it work? Oh yes, I have actually worked overseas in such a system for ten years…So, wake up NZ!

Special homes with 24 hour care centers should be provided.Ifdoctors want to release these unwell patients, then there should be a house next door to the doctors for the released patients to live in so they are notjust sent back into society where they are free to do as they please. It seems thatLabouris all too fond of just paying lip service, andcontuinue to abslove themselves of blame.

More government support for the sheltered workshops for IHC patients – stop the insistence on making the existing workshops pay award rates for people who may only be capable of working 1 – 2 hours a day.

I worked at Porirua Hospital when it was a farm, producing meat and vegetables for self sufficiency. The unwell had jobs there or in the laundry or villa kitchens or cleaning the villas or working in the sewing rooms. These villas were staffed minimally as the people who were stable lived there. In the acute wards were the psychoitic people and as their treatment succeeded, they moved to the villas or out into the community. They could go home to their families for week ends or over public holidays, and if they were unwell when they were out the families knew that they were free to return them immediately. If there was non- compliance, then a staff member who knew the ill person went and brought them back. Then the ‘do gooders’ came and inspected the place and said that they could do these jobs in the community and could live there too. Trouble was, when the ill person got up in the morning at the villa, a staff member administered the medication, and if the person appeared to becoming floridly psychotic, they suggested that they did not go to work today, and treatment began. When they were well, they returned to their job, which I might add, they took great pride in. The people had socials, movies, games evenings and bingo nights. There was a cafe to meet and mingle and a totally accepting environment. Now I am not saying it was perfect, for there was over-crowding and the psychiatric medicine was in its infancy, but it was so much better than it is today and the land sits there empty and wasting.

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