Monday, October 30, 2006

Punishment fitting the crimes

Brent Todd arranges for a friend to meet with a cocaine dealer and, when he finally has to face the court, is given a fine of $500. That’s about what I’d pay for electricity over a couple of months.

Ngati Reweti, takes a piece of concrete up on an overhead bridge with the intention of dropping it on the cars below, and kills a young man. Not only is his sentence reduced by the judge from what was first considered, it’s then found that he’ll probably be out of jail by Christmas because (1) he’s already served 14 months, and (2) because of the parole system.

I could no doubt scour the newspapers for other examples of nonsensical justice, but these two will do. They’re all well known.

I’m not the sort of person who naturally demands an eye for an eye, though in my first reactions to crime, especially vicious crime, that’s often how I feel. Why should someone live years in prison when a life has been taken? But I always realise that justice of that kind doesn’t serve much purpose in the end. Killing a murderer is an easy way out.

I’d believe in restorative justice much more if I saw enough evidence of it, but although it’s talked about a lot, I suspect that the increasing prison populations tell me it isn’t working very well as yet.

So while out walking yesterday the old song by W S Gilbert came to mind, the one from The Mikado about letting the punishment fit the crime. Throwing people in prison very plainly doesn’t work: most criminals come out of jail worse than they went in.

My ‘fitting punishments’ aren’t perhaps the most imaginative, and perhaps they don’t need to be as clever as Gilbert’s were, but supposing, instead of Ngati Reweti, being put in jail, he was chained to a lump of concrete roughly equivalent to the one that killed an innocent man, chained in such a way that night and day he couldn’t get free of the thing. He’d have to carry it to school, or drag it; he’d have to go to bed at night with it still attached to him; he’d have to go out with his mates and suffer their ongoing mockery. Perhaps he could be attached to this for the same number of years his victim had been on earth. Maybe the same number of months would be enough. But at least we might start to see some remorse from him. So far there doesn’t seem to have been any.

Brent Todd – how might he be punished? There are plenty of options. Instead of receiving his celebrity fees on television, all his earnings could go to Drug Rehabilitation Clinics. Maybe that wouldn’t be quite strong enough. Perhaps he should go and work in a Drug Rehab Clinic for some long time – 500 days sounds like a good minimum. Maybe he could be made to live with someone trying to overcome their addiction. Maybe the walls of his fancy home could be plastered with the names and photographs of the thousands of people who’ve suffered from drugs in this country – the pictures of those who’ve killed themselves because of addiction might be blown up to full size.

As long as we treat the victims of criminals as unimportant, as has been the case in both of these instances, people like Todd and Reweti, will consider that they got off lightly, and will carry on doing stupid and remorseless acts. If they were made to face some deterrent aspect of their crime in a full-on fashion, perhaps we’d reach their hearts, their souls, and find out whether they really were human or not.
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