Whatever Happened to Outrage by Trevor Plumbly
Swings and Roundabouts
New Zealand is a green and peasant land on the face of it, relatively crime free by most other standards and, if the tourist publicity image is to be believed, populated by easy-going folk with a love of the great outdoors, rugby and livestock. But, like everywhere else, we’ve got our dark spots and, just like everywhere else, we’re not quite sure what to do about them. We basically operate under the British system, which god knows has tried for centuries to get to grips with crime. Hanging, hard labour, close imprisonment and deportation – you name it and the Brits have had it on the menu along with a few variations like solitary confinement and flogging. Sad to say that while these measures have restricted the activities of individuals, they seem to have had little effect in reducing the rate or severity of offending. The new wave thinking seems to be inclined to punish more with therapy than deprivation; justice, it seems, is a moveable, albeit sluggish, feast.
Serving Them Right
In an almost comical attempt to solve repeat and serious offending, we are building new user-friendly prisons; these houses of detention will have underfloor heating, computers and telephones in each cell (is it still OK to call them cells?). In a country where all are touted as getting ‘a fair go!’ it’s little short of ridiculous that the annual cost of keeping one criminal locked up would more than provide a welfare-trapped family with the basics and maybe even the educational tools to allow their children to lift themselves out of the poverty trap by legal means. Surely it makes sense that if you want to do anything about youth crime, deprivation should be regarded as the primary source of offending.
If It Aint Broke . . .
Don’t fix it! But it is broke and we’re not doing anything about it; hundreds of burglaries get committed on a daily basis, the majority of which are regarded as ‘minor crimes’ by an overworked and over-regulated police force and judiciary. We can scarcely fund a reliable women’s refuge system, which in a country that boasts of a Ministry for Women along with an epidemic of domestic and child abuse, is, quite simply, pitiful. This week two teenagers will face charges of murdering a convenience store owner; at the time of the offence one was aged 12 and the other 13. There will of course be the virtually obligatory infant abuse victims along with untold numbers of women beaten and/or raped by their laughably mistitled ‘partners’, yet we as a society blandly accept the pithy spin of the justice minister and social service gurus that things will improve if we inject a bit of ‘feelgood’. I’m sorry, when this corrective claptrap was first tried I thought it was worth a shot, but all it seems to have achieved is to inject a sort of numbness into our attitude towards violence and senseless crime. In short, they’ve yanked the pendulum too far over and robbed us of basic outrage. I confess to not having the answers but I’ll grab any opportunity to ask the questions of those whom we appoint and pay to provide more than bland assurance and occasional hand-wringing.
Attaboy Plum… hang ’em high! But on a serious note, outrage is fine, and I’m all for it, and I agree, it needs be constructive; the money should be spent attempting to get inside their heads (no easy task and it won’t work for psychos, etc.) and making them genuinely want to change their ways – to better themselves, so to speak. One thing’s for certain: Locking them up ‘per se’, be it in luxury or penury, has never worked.