Thursday, February 17, 2005

Prisoner compensation: underlying axioms

Today's Herald coverage of the select committee hearings into the Prisoners' and Victims' Claims Bill provides a perfect example of the underlying axioms of those who oppose compensating abused prisoners. Speaking before the committee, Ida Hawkins, the mother of murdered 15-year old Colleen Burrows, opposed compensating her daughter's murderer for the systematic abuse he suffered at the hands of prison guards because:

He murdered my daughter ... because my daughter refused to have sex with him. He ran her over and booted her and kicked her all over her body

To which my response is that that is precisely why he is in jail - and furthermore, that his conviction does not give others the right to do the same to him, or deprive him of the protection of the law generally against crimes committed against him.

As Tony Ellis said later on, there are not two classes of victims. Prisoners can also be victims of crime, committed by other prisoners, guards, or the state. And those crimes are equally deserving of punishment.

What those opposing prisoner compensation are saying is that we should establish a class of persons - convicted criminals - against which crimes can be committed with impunity. That people with criminal convictions should be allowed to be beaten, raped, abused, and subjected to psychological torture, without having any protection from the law. There are words for these sorts of underclasses denied legal sanctuary. "Helots" is one. "Niggers" is another. Is that really what New Zealand stands for?

If we wish to have any moral basis for punishing criminals, then we must ensure that the protection and sanction of the law applies to everyone. Otherwise what we have is not a system of law, but the depradations of an organised gang.

Correction: That is of course Colleen, not Coral, Burrows. Thanks to davidr for pointing this out.


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Posted by Anonymous : 11/29/2005 06:18:00 AM