Thursday, February 10, 2005

Letting Corrections off the hook

The Prisoners' and Victims' Claims Bill has run into trouble in its first days in select committee, attracting criticism from government MP's Russell Fairbrother and Lianne Dalziel. No doubt the whips will be swiftly deployed to restore order and prevent any further embarassments, but in the meantime it's an interesting sign of the tensions within Labour over the bill. Many Labour MPS are no doubt wondering why their party, which is supposedly supportive of human rights, is passing a piece of legislation like this.

Criticisms of the bill have focused on the way it tramples human rights, but another problem, as pointed out by Fairbrother, is that the bill creates a lottery. Only victims who abusers are themselves abused will receive any compensation. Except that that's not quite true, as one of the purposes of the bill is to prevent payments to prisoners and discourage them from seeking compensation in the first place - making it a lottery with no winners.

This tension in the bill comes from it muddling the issue of compensating prisoners for unlawful treatment by the crown with compensating their victims for pain and suffering. But as Just Left points out, these are things which should be kept seperate;

This is not about the victims of the original crime. It is about what happens when someone is abused in custody and the Courts find that they were abused. If people are concerned about victims' rights, then they should focus on compensation at the time of the sentencing, not try and link the two unrelated issues together.

If we want to end compensation payouts to prisoners, then the best way of doing so is to ensure it doesn't need to be paid in the first place. And the best way to do that is for the Department of Corrections to actually hold its staff accountable when they abuse prisoners or develop and implement unlawful and inhumane policies. The present bill does not do that. Instead, by discouraging claims, it effectively lets Corrections off the hook, and allows the abuse of prisoners to continue.