Thursday, July 22, 2010

Sympathy for Bruce Emery

I don't like Bruce Emery. I don't like what he did. Like many people, I think the media and the law went easy on him in both charging and sentencing because he was a white man who killed a poor brown kid. If the colours had been reversed, and an angry Maori guy had killed a white teenager after intentionally taking a knife and intentionally chasing him for several hundred metres, the media would have been howling for blood, and the police would have given the crime the charge it deserved: murder, not manslaughter.

But that's done now. Emery has been tried, convicted, and sentenced, and he's now up for parole. Which has been denied because prison has made him depressed and this makes him an "undue risk" to the community. Having been a poster boy for white man's justice, Emery has now become a poster boy for the cruelty of our prison system and our society's misunderstanding of the mentally ill.

This is where "tough on crime" has taken us. We put a man in prison, making him mentally ill, then we use that illness as a reason to keep him in prison - which will make him iller. And so we continue to imprison a man who is unlikely to reoffend, at huge expense, all the while denying him treatment. The likely result is that when he is eventually released, we'll have a basket-case on our hands. Anyone who thinks this is a sane outcome is probably an "undue risk" to the community.

Meanwhile, its worth pointing out: the Convention Against Torture includes the infliction of severe mental suffering in its definition of torture. Our jails seem to do that as a matter of course. Its completely unnecessary - countries which treat their prisoners like human beings do not have this problem - and it undermines rehabilitation. Instead of running an effective prison system, we're running a mass-torture operation instead. Its time we cleaned it up.