The Impact of the New Zealand Three Strikes Law on the Assessment of Fitness to Stand Trial by Health Assessors
This thesis explores the impact of the New Zealand Sentencing and Parole Reform Act (2010), colloquially known as the ‘Three Strikes Law’ (TSL), on the assessment of fitness to stand trial (FST) by health assessors located at a Regional Forensic Psychiatry Service (RFPS) in New Zealand. The research included a retrospective file review producing descriptive quantitative statistics and semi-structured interviews with health assessors.
Health assessors are psychiatrists and psychologists who undertake the role of giving expert opinion in FST determinations in New Zealand. Research related to health assessors although scarce, has commenced in recent years (Sakdalan, 2012; Sakdalan & Egan, 2014; Wills, 2016); however, research is lacking on the impact of the TSL on these health professionals. The primary researcher is a health assessor who has an interest in determining the impact of the TSL on relevant FST assessments undertaken by health assessors. The research is in two parts. Part 1 employs a retrospective cohort study which used data from 165 RFPS reports. These health assessor reports on FST were accessed from the period 30 June 2015 to 30 October 2015. In Part 2, the views of health assessors on the significance they placed on the specific assessment of TSL, their methods of assessment, and the optimum assessment of this area were examined via semi-structured interviews. A qualitative thematic analysis of these interviews was undertaken. The results indicated that health assessors were critical of the TSL, and experienced feelings of unease, umbrage, uncertainty and concern for vulnerable populations. The implications of these findings on the practice of health assessors are discussed.