Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Mike Butler: Crime and punishment

Crime and Punishment, the first part of the Real Crime series on TV One on Tuesday nights, looked at crime and punishment largely from the “don’t jail them, rehabilitate them” perspective. The documentary gave considerable space to initiatives tried by Finland’s corrections department, which reduced its prison population by replacing jail time with community service, shorter sentences and suspended sentences.

Politicians in Finland don’t use crime and punishment as a way to get votes, and the news media doesn’t sensationalise crime. Inmates there who don’t study can get paid employment in jail, picking up work skills, and support continues after release with open prisons and halfway houses. Two thirds of police time there is spent on crime prevention. Even so, two thirds of Finnish inmates re-offend within four years, the documentary pointed out.

Kim Workman, of Rethinking Crime and Punishment, a “don’t jail them, rehabilitate them” spokesman, pointed to the wider causes of crime, such as dysfunctional families, poverty, the lack of education, and poor housing, all of which can be part of the background of people in jail.

He does not seem to recognize that committing a crime involves a personal choice, and that a disadvantaged background does not predestine a person to jail time, since most people from poor, horrendous backgrounds don’t end up in jail.

Principal Youth Court Judge Andrew Becroft was ecstatic that diversion means that 80 percent of young offenders are directed out of the system to community-based intervention. He is seemingly unaware that this allows young offenders more time to do more crime. He did acknowledge that youth violence is increasing.

Baroness Vivien Stern, of the King’s College, London, Centre for Prison Studies, recycled the “major cause of crime is income inequality” argument, which led the presenter to link a big increase in inequality in New Zealand in the 1980s and 1990s with and increase in the crime rate. Nothing was suggested as a solution, such as taking from the rich to give to the poor, which is already being done, and nothing was said about the relationship between crime and welfare.

Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop, as an old saying goes. Welfare is paying people to be idle, abuse drugs and alcohol, and abuse each other, and this is the height of stupidity. The welfare approach has failed for long enough for everyone to accept that it just does not work.

The get-back-to-Maori-culture strategy was advocated for Maori offenders. Josephine Karanga told the interviewer that Maori “come from a culture that is great and rich and nurtures whanau and it is not normal to be violent – it is alien to our culture”. A former Mongrel Mobster showed young Maori how to use the taiaha. The non-violent Maori culture is just as much at odds with the Maori history of warfare, infanticide and cannibalism, as it is absurd to teach young Maori males peace through weapons training and war dances.

A former inmate said that the documentary did not show what jail is really like. He said inmates take everything from a new prisoner unless the new prisoner fights back. Gangs offer protection, but once in a gang, that new prisoner becomes a slave to the orders of the gang’s head honcho.

One would think that prisons have total control over prisoners. Not so. With six prison officers controlling 80 prisoners in a block, they can be tied up in a diversionary fight while the real damage is being done, where a stab wound inflicted by a sharpened toothbrush is recorded as “appendicitis”.

In this dog-eat-dog realm of violence 24/7 it is meaningless to talk about counseling to deal with the 40 percent of inmates who have mental health issues, because the real mental health issue in jail is having to constantly watch your back, and be ready to fight for your life at a moment’s notice.

The former inmate said there should be greater use of home detention so that a young kid on his third DIC is not sent to the turmoil that could cost him his life.

He said that there should be greater aftercare for released inmates. The current weekly reporting to the “probie” needs to be greatly extended if the state has any interest in rehabilitation. That is the time to provide drug and alcohol-free supervised accommodation and a job until the end of the parole period, and “sponsor” to provide help and support way beyond the end of parole. This approach is used in Finland.

The link between alcohol abuse and crime is unequivocal. Finland’s high homicide rate is linked to alcohol and drug abuse, as everywhere else. The state often has near total control over the welfare class in that it often provides the accommodation (state houses) and income (benefits). It is within the state’s capacity to provide work, require attendance at substance abuse programmes, and provide mentors for at-risk families.

My view is that perhaps alcohol laws could be amended to reduce availability to the level it was 40 years ago, as an experiment, to see whether it will change alcohol abuse patterns throughout the entire society, not just among the welfare class.

The Real Crime documentary opened with the story of Emaline, who did eight years for aggravated robbery. She had been sexually abused between the ages of six and 13 while in foster homes.

The dirty little secret is that sexual predators infest the foster home system, and the runaway kid escapes violence and neglect from his or her own family to face daily sex abuse at the hands of a state-funded foster parent. The abused kid runs away from there, spends time on the street, stealing to exist. The next step is jail. It’s a familiar pattern that is repeated many times over.

The family is the building block of society, according to another old saying. If so, once the family is broken, so too is the society.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


One of the most insightful, realistic, and decisive articles I have read. Ban the DPB for parents who have kids for the sake of their own existence and you will drop the prison population by half! Period.