Something I find really frustrating about about Garth McVicar and other advocates of tougher sentencing is that they present justice as an either/or issue. Either you're 'on the side' of the victims, or on the side of the criminals. If you raise concerns about the treatment of criminals, it shows your lack of empathy for those affected by crime. Obviously, this is a false dichotomy: we can and should care about both.
There are humane reasons to be concerned about how our society treats criminals; and, as today's Dom Post article makes clear, there are also some very practical ones. National's 'tough on crime' policies are set to have a host of perverse outcomes which no one has really considered. Crowding of prisons means inmates may have to share cells - a situation which leads to increased violence and bullying, requiring more prison staff to keep order.
To those like Garth McVicar, violence inflicted on inmates isn't a problem. Once you enter the prison walls, you're fair game - any abuse or degradation dealt out to you serves you right. More crime - the likely outcome of tougher sentencing - doesn't matter when it takes place amongst people who don't matter.
Leaving aside the ethical dimension of this, increased violence amongst prisoners may produce a range of flow-on problems. The need for more prisons and staff requires more state spending. More importantly, it's hard to imagine that taking people already disconnected from mainstream society - as shown by their anti-social behaviour - then brutalising them is going to make them feel more committed to playing a positive role in the community. And what will an upsurge in prison violence do to recidivism?
Maybe our new government needs to learn something from the short life of Liam Ashley, the seventeen-year-old child beaten to death in a prison van. He didn't live long enough to learn the lesson that tougher sentencing is supposed to teach.