Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Steve Baron: Do Citizens Have A Right To Know?

The release of serial sex offender Stewart Murray Wilson to the grounds of Kaitoke Prison has raised serious concerns, not just for the nearby Wanganui community, but also for the whole of New Zealand. While some high profile Wanganui representatives may mean well, these representatives need to ensure they do not portray Wanganui in a bad light to the rest of New Zealand. Wanganui is not a hick town with lynch-mob mentality baying for blood, which was unfortunately the impression given at recent public meetings.

 Caution and thought needs to be given to this predicament. Wilson is not the first, nor will he be the last, piece of excrement to be released back into society. While New Zealand Courts may be able to impose minimum non-parole periods, they cannot lock criminals up forever. Sooner or later they must be released.

There will be more of these low-life’s in the near future—Barry Alan Johansen, James Tamata, Malcolm Rewa and Teina Pora, who represent the worst of the worst, are also due for release. Where will they go? When low-life’s such as these leave prison they rarely have any wealth, they struggle to find employment and usually end up living in low cost areas so their unemployment benefits go further. That makes places like Wanganui, where it is fairly inexpensive to live, compared to many towns, and close by a prison from where many are released; a likely spot for these low-life’s to end up.

 However, it is not the likes of Wilson that citizens particularly need to be concerned about. Given his high profile and the public disgust for him, he would have to be moronic to venture into town and face the threat of being recognised and attacked by some outraged citizen.

What New Zealanders categorically need to be concerned about are the released sex offenders and murderers that have already infiltrated their way back into society—the low-life’s no one knows, or even where in town they live.

On this note I have had personal experience. If it was not for an observant and concerned local Police Officer (also a neighbour) warning me, one of my children would have been at great risk from a former sex offender who had befriended my unbeknown ex-wife. This low-life was offering to take one of my children to events that were particularly exciting to a young child. Believe me; these people are very cunning and very manipulative—we got lucky that we found out in time.

Over the years there have been calls for a national sex offender’s register. Although the Sensible Sentencing Trust operates such a list, information is limited and relies on the public, not government officials for information. There is no official government register available to the public and even if it were to be compiled, it is highly unlikely that it would be made available to the public due to fears of retribution.

Many would agree that criminals do deserve a second chance and after all, some criminals do rehabilitate, seeking to live on the straight and narrow and to live a worthwhile and honest life.

Consider then the recidivist rates in New Zealand which are indeed interesting reading. The Corrections Department state that: “The re-Imprisonment rate for all released prisoners within five years is 52%” and also that “The reconviction rate of Adult Sex Offenders (54%) is significantly higher than that of Child sex offenders (30%).” If there is some consolation in the Wilson case, Adult Sex Offender recidivist rates drop to 7% for those over 50 years of age.

So, what can society do with the worst-of-the-worst—the Stewart Murray Wilson’s and the Malcolm Rewa’s of this world? Perhaps the safest place for the released convicts themselves, and for communities such as Wanganui, is to have centres such as Miracle Park which is a 24 acre religious community outside of Pahokee, Florida. This community was created by Richard Witherow, a church Minister, who has worked in prisons for over 30 years. This community caters for over 65 released sex offenders and is three miles from city limits being surrounded by cane fields.

When Pahokee residents first became aware of Miracle Park’s existence there was a public outcry, as has been the case in Wanganui. Yet, as James Sasser, Mayor of the city of Pahokee, commented to me; “Everything has died down quite a bit. It is my understanding that several of the residents have been arrested again for various issues. But the overall affect has been minimal”.

While releasing Wilson to the grounds of Kaitoke Prison or to some community like Miracle Park, where ever it may be located, might cater for the worst-of-the-worst, it does not protect society from other deviants living amongst the community already. This is the issue New Zealand needs to focus on and the question that needs to be asked is; do New Zealanders have the right to know if their neighbours have serious past convictions? Without this knowledge it is difficult to be vigilant and protect our families.

Feedback to: Steve Baron is a political commentator. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science & Economics. He is a published author; a regular columnist in various publications throughout NZ; the Founder of Better Democracy NZ; a former businessman and Waipa Mayoral candidate.


Kiwiwit said...

It is, indeed, a dilemma. As a father, I recognise the need to be vigilant to these predators. However, sex offenders' registers overseas have proved to be problematic with people condemned to a life of pariah status for minor offences like a 16 year old boy having sex with his 15 year old (or older in the USA) girlfriend. They are also seen as sanctioning ill-informed vigilante justice (the worst example being the Portsmouth paediatrician who had her house attacked for being a 'paedo'). The formal justice system should deal with these people and keep the community safe. If they are still a risk, they shouldn't be released from prison.

Billy Joan said...

A published author should know how to use apostrophes, e.g. low lifes is plural so no ' needed. Your holier than thou attitude isn't helpful. Certainly sexual predators remain a problem to society as long as they live, however I would hate to be born one. It would be an unimaginable trial to live one's life wired in such a fashion, so there should exist some compassion for their predicament.