To my surprise, my first reaction to National's proposed crime tax wasn't entirely negative, although I've certainly got some concerns. It's suggested that all those convicted of crimes will be fined $50 to go towards a victim compensation scheme. The scheme will help victims with crime-related costs not currently met by the state, such as the costs of funerals or traveling to court.
Victims deserve support, and someone's got to pay for it - sounds fair enough so far. But, as with all policies, the devil will be in the detail. My questions/concerns include:
- Perhaps the most dodgy aspect - it is proposed that compensation awarded to prisoners for human rights abuses suffered in prison will be immediately confiscated and put into the scheme. This makes a mockery of the concept of 'compensation', suggests that prisoners shouldn't have the same human rights as the rest of us, and reduces the deterrent against prisons treating inmates inhumanely.
- People who get heavy sentences are unlikely to be able to pay the fines, meaning minor criminals (whose actions cause less hardship to victims) will end up carrying the can. Although it's called a tax, what's being proposed is really a punitive measure - and it doesn't seem fair that the young guy who gets done for possessing a bit of cannabis pays as much, or more reparation than the person who commits murder.
- Could such a scheme be administered without descending into absurdity or poor taste? Could it result in WINZ-like situations where claimants had to show three quotes for the funeral costs of someone who'd died as the result of a crime?
- All sentences impose hardship on the families of the people sentenced - that's a given, and a whole different issue. But if a man is convicted of domestic violence and has to pay an additional $50 in crime tax, his wife/partner/kids end up sharing the added financial burden. They end up being victimised twice.
If the more objectionable parts of this scheme - like the confiscation of prisoners' compensation - were taken out, would it be a good thing? Is there a better way to support victims of crime? What do you lovely THM readers think?