Tuesday, 2 December 2008

The very definition of a perverse outcome

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.


The ex-expat said...

You might be interested in this from NoRightTurn.

The thing that bugs me about the tougher sentencing crowd is they always say prisoner rehabilitation doesn't work. Which is interesting because it is based on two false assumptions

First that rehabilitation has actually been tried and second that the prisoners were actually integrated into New Zealand society in the first place!

Idiot/Savant said...

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.

Given that the "Sensible Sentencing trust" supports the death penalty, I suspct they'd see that as an efficient outcome, rather than a negative one.

Hugh said...

Given that the "Sensible Sentencing trust" supports the death penalty, I suspct they'd see that as an efficient outcome, rather than a negative one.

Jesus christ, Idiot.

Supporting the death penalty doesn't mean approving of people being beaten to death any more than being pro-choice mean supporting enforced abortions.

Idiot/Savant said...

Hugh: Logically, no. But in reality, the "S"ST divide people into "decent people", and "crims", and do not care at all what happens to the latter. They've even gone so far as to support outright murder of "crims" by "decent people" on the slightest of pretexts (e.g. Graffiti).

Seriously, I suggest you examine their views before giving them the benefit of the doubt. These are not reasonable people. They are revenge-obsessed sadists.

Anna said...

I completely agree that Garth McVicar is motivated by sadism (and a general desire to hear the sound of his own voice. I suspect that's not true of all his 'followers', though.).

I don't know how the guy can justify saying such idiotic things, devoid of any evidential support. Claiming, for example, that bringing back caning in schools will reduce crime - what planet is the guy on? And if he can find any evidence that the death penalty or three strikes has made the US a safer place, I'd be very much surprised. He's spoken out against prisoners receiving compensation for abuse of their rights in prison, which suggests to me he doesn't place a premium on inmates receiving the same rights as others.

Also, his lack of sympathy for 'unworthy' victims is notable - eg the graffiti case. I didn't see him speak out in support of Louise Nicholas, or the young woman raped by English rugby players. There's something very nasty in the psyche of Mr McVicar.

Hugh said...

Idiot, if that's what you meant, perhaps you should have said it. Your earlier post posits a clear causitive link between supporting the death penalty and supporting murder.

muerk said...

Garth McVicar has written specifically about Liam Ashley as a victim who could have been spared if his killer had been kept in jail on the basis of his previous violent offending.


I'm not a fan of the SST, but nor do I like to see people misrepresented.

Anna said...

I didn't actually suggest that Garth McV had said anything about Liam Ashley - I used Ashley as an example of what may happen when you put criminals in close proximity.

I can't help but feel that McVicar spoke out about the Liam Ashley case either because the Ashleys were by and large nice middle class people, or because he recognised an opportunity to have his two cents' worth in the media. It makes no sense to sympathise with Liam Ashley (criminal) on one hand, then take the part of a middle aged guy who stabbed a child poised to spray paint his garage.

muerk said...

Anna: I was responding to Idiot Savant who said that Ashley's death would be likely regarded by the SST as "an efficient outcome".

I think the SST's focus on victims is overlooked. I don't agree with the death penalty because it destroys the sacredness of life, but I can see why victims of violent crimes want longer sentences for offenders.

I don't think our justice system focuses much on victims - partly thats just the way it's set up, it's purpose is to determine guilt and punish it. But it's a hard road to go down if you're the one who has been hurt.

Anna said...

Yes, Muerk, you're completely right that victims of crime have a hard road. I think, though, that the justice system isn't merely there to punish - we expect it to rehabilitate to some degree, and to protect the public by taken dangerous people out of circulation (whether or not they're currently serving time - ie preventative detention after someone has finished their sentence). These different rationales sometimes conflict.

I don't see why a victim of crime should feel any better because the person who victimised them is mistreated. When my father was a young man, he was badly beaten by a bunch of guys and nearly died - he spent many months in hospital. This obviously effected both him and our family negatively. To his great credit, he doesn't take a vengeful view of justice matters at all - he has very thoughtful views on the kind of factors which influence people to commit crime, and the importance of humane treatment of criminals. This is partly for ethical reasons, but also for the reason that dehumanising people quite clearly doesn't make them less likely to commit crime.

So it doesn't necessarily follow that a victim of crime will seek retribution, or be made to feel better by it.

muerk said...


I totally agree with you. I think an "eye for an eye" type of justice just exacerbates the pain and suffering. Religiously I feel called to forgive enemies, but I also think this works well as a justice policy. That's not to say that there are some people who need to be separated from society, or that some people need help over the long term in a secure environment.

My personal view is that those who break the law in a serious fashion need to be screened, some will be recidivist criminals who aren't candidates for rehabilitation, others will be suffering from mental illness, substance abuse or learning disabilities. Others will be the product of just stupid, unthinking behavior.

Different tactics will be required for different people, but the goal should be that people come to realise what they did was wrong, to regret it and to be able to act in new ways in the future.

Justice shouldn't be punitive, in and of itself, it should be healing.

Anna said...

Very well put Meurk - the idea of inflicting more hurt in the interests of a 'better' society absolutely leaves me cold. But that's not the same as saying that criminals ought to be allowed to run about freely. The welfare of the community should always come before the rights of the individual, I feel.

Simply punishing someone, without any concern for whether they're likely to emerge a better person or whether the community is any safer, seems incredibly counter-productive to me.