Wednesday, 12 March 2008

a life for a life

i was listening to rita croskery on radio nz this morning with considerable sadness. she is the mother of michael choy, the young man murdered by bailey junior kurariki. i felt sad for her loss and pain. i can't imagine what it must be like to lose a child, but it must be extremely difficult to cope with losing him in such a needless and violent way.

it is impossible to provide her with true justice. the closest we could get would be to take the life of kurariki, so that he suffered exactly what his victim suffered. but even then, he would not suffer what rita croskery has suffered, nor can the loss of his life relieve her of the pain of losing her son.

in fact, justice in absolute terms can never be achieved. the victim can never be fully recompensed or brought back to the position they were in before the crime took place. which is why retribution or revenge as a basis for the justice system just doesn't work. and this is why the victim or representatives of the victim do not sentence the offender. that is left to an independent third party, the judiciary.

there is no doubt that part of the role of the justice system is punitive. deterrance is a factor in the sentence meted out. the death penalty should be the ultimate deterrant. except that it isn't. i've seen no evidence to show that murder levels in states that have the death penalty is lower than states that don't.

the next level of punishment is to have the offender incarcerated for the rest of their life. that is closer to justice, in that we take away the pleasures and freedom of life and confine the offender to a living death, as it were. this satisfies the need for vengeance in a less violent way, and it's hard to argue from the victim's point of view that anything less should be considered. as a society, however, we have to consider what is best for all of us - what we can sustain, and what we want to achieve from our justice system. can we and should we be putting so many resources - so many of our hard-earned tax dollars if you will - on keeping ever larger numbers of people in prison for life?

while rita croskery does not go so far as to advocate a true life sentence, she certainly makes it clear that she wants kurariki to serve his full term in prison, without the possibility of parole. but she wants more than that - she wants the sentence to continue beyond that period by ensuring that he continues to be monitored by the justice system once he leaves prison. she gives no particular time frame for this.

in fact her responses to the interviewer are rather confused around these questions, and i felt that the interview was in some way exploitative. the whole interview seemed to take advantage of her pain and loss. she didn't quite know exactly what she wanted - at least in a practical sense. but the underlying message was of a woman who felt short-changed by the system, felt strained by the pressures of constant hearings and wanted more punishment for the young man who had deprived her of her son.

one can hardly blame her. and i've yet to see a newspaper article quoting a victim who agreed with the sentence given out. at the end of the day, offenders will come to the end of their sentence, and there needs to be a transition period for them to become a part of society again. it's only when they can come back into the fold to find community, connections and self-worth, that the chances of re-offending are lessened.

it seems such a difficult thing to ask ms croskery to accept that kurariki will have a life again, and a happy life at that, when her son never will. but unless she can accept that, unless we can all accept that, there is little hope of offenders becoming anything else. in which case, it's time to ditch the resource management act, and to raise taxes so we can start building enough prisons. every time you hear a call for harsher penalties, think of two things: are you prepared to have a prison next door to you? and are you prepared to pay more from your income to have it built?

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