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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs
Stimulated by a one hundred year old newspaper article.

Submitted: November 11, 2016

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Submitted: November 11, 2016



Denying freedom to people who break the law is supposed to be the ultimate deterrent for criminals and there are some who believe a softer approach and rehabilitation is the best way to prevent reoffending. On the other hand there are others who believe in a harsher approach like locking up the crims and throwing away the key. Presumably too there are those who have an attitude that’s somewhere in between.

In my volunteer role, I attended a seminar on restorative justice and conflict resolution, which while informative, had little to do with my work and something I will rarely encounter. I was blown away though by the statistics of violent crime and family violence and how victims are not only the direct victims but also the people surrounding the victim.

Back in the day, the police used to ask us employ ‘troublemakers’ just to get them out of town and away from their associates. These guys were more or less petty offenders and on their own and away from booze, they soon became a part of the team. We had no jurisdiction to keep them and they did not usually stay for long. There is no data whether or not we made a difference, but I would say any difference was limited.

I’ve never been to a prison but like everyone, I hear stuff through the media or anecdotally, but it seems to me that justice isn’t quite served when prisoners have a better choice of food than the aged in rest homes or patients in hospitals. It costs more to house a jailbird than it does to house a pensioner. Prisoners are able to work out in gyms, so when they are released, they can outrun a cop and probably out-fight him/her! Crims, apparently are a huge cost to society and to the taxpayer and yet victims struggle to even have a voice and are seldom compensated adequately.

With that in mind, I was interested to read the following in the newspaper (ODT) from one hundred years ago, it read like a reply to a correspondent:

The Hon. Dr M’Nab (Minister of Justice) has sent us a telegram with reference to a prisoner in Invercargill gaol sentenced to 10 days’ bread and water for refusing to work. The message says: The position in regard to the sentence passed upon Hooper by Mr Cruickshank, SM., is that the magistrate sentenced the prisoner to 10 days bread and water for refusing on four successive occasions to go to work. The maximum penalty under the Prisons Act for this class of offence is 14 days. The practice in the prison at Invercargill and elsewhere when a prisoner is sentenced to solitary confinement is as follows: The prisoner, on returning to the prison after sentence, is locked in the solitary cell, in place of the hammock and where the floor is of concrete, as at Invercargill, prisoners are supplied with a bed board, without mattress, or with a ruberoid covered by a strip of matting or some other material. He is not required to sleep on the bare concrete, nor is he deprived of his clothes for the period of the sentence, as suggested in the paragraph. At 7:30 each evening his outer clothes are taken away from him until the following morning. His blankets are removed during the day, but are returned each evening. His diet consists of bread and water. After he has been in confinement for two days he must be seen by a medical officer of the prison, who is directed by the regulations to order the prisoner to take such exercise in the open air as he deems necessary, so that it is not the case of continuous solitarily confinement. The medical officer also has full control of the dietary, and, if the prisoner appears to be suffering in health, he always improves his diet.

You would think that is a fairly severe deterrent.

Related, the very next day was the following:

One of the worst uses a man can be put to is to be made a convict. They are realising this in America. The New York Evening Mail, in an editorial article, has the following account of an interesting and successful experiment in the scientific use of criminals: ‘Quietly, with no blast of trumpets and no writing of text books, Henry Ford has performed a great modern achievement in sociology. The Ford factory today employs 36,000 men, nearly the entire army corps. Among these are 600 picked men. They are picked convicts. They are mainly men who came direct from prison, paroled by the authorities to work for Henry Ford. Six hundred of them! Everyone said that it could not be done. Ford was crazy. But of the 600, only one has failed to make good, and has been sent back to prison, and that man was sent back, not for being a criminal, but for being immoral. There is no fuss and talk about it. None of the ex-convicts’ fellow-workmen, and not five persons in the Ford plant, know who any of the 600 are.

In a remote Tanzania village I saw a line of prisoners in striped uniforms carrying buckets of water to the hospital. They were treated roughly and a mate who lived in the village supplied a blanket to each prisoner because they were not supplied at the prison. Likewise I saw prisoners tending gardens and lorry loads of them being transported to and fro. Certainly I would not like to be an inmate of those prisons!

Apparently here in New Zealand, while some say the prisons are like hotels, they can be dangerous places because gangs seem to have influence beyond the guards. There will be a pecking order and as long as the line is toed, you are ok, but if you happen to be pecked, you are in considerable danger. The authorities know this goes on, so is part of the process?

It is beyond me to have an opinion as how best to punish offenders, but if the deterrent is the goal, why are prisons full to overflowing? Again, why are there so many offenders? If mind-altering substances have to be paid for, so robbery seems to be a good source of income. The repeating theme seems to be that there is so much anger out there, sometimes pent-up and when there is a trigger, the result is an explosion.

There are experts out there from social workers to phycologists and presumably they produce good outcomes and set the standard, but the crime stats keep climbing together with the cost of processing, legal aid, conviction and punishment all of which lands squarely on the shoulders of the taxpayer. Another unheralded victim.

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