Retribution v Rehabilitation

5 Apr

Prue Goward, recently appointed NSW Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, last week expressed her disgust at prominent community members writing “glowing” character references on behalf of convicted rapist Luke Lazarus, in the hope of achieving a noncustodial sentence for his crime of anally raping an eighteen-year-old woman in a lane way behind his father’s nightclub. Ms Goward was subsequently taken to task by barristers for her comments.

I exchanged tweets with my Twitter friend Nick Andrew on the situation and he followed up with an email that I thought raised interesting points on the topic of punishment, imprisonment, and rehabilitation. With Nick’s permission I’m publishing his correspondence. 



G’day Jennifer,

I’m sending this by email cause it’s way too long to attempt to tweet,
and would probably cause misunderstanding as well.

You wrote: “Must say I find it very odd that anyone could believe
imprisonment is ‘completely undeserved’ for a rapist”

I replied: “Only if they thought gaol was undeserved for any crime.”

Then: “I’ll have to reread the article but I think it was only one
person, who gave a justification for that assertion.”

I’m not disagreeing with you, but it ties somewhat into an area which
intrigued me a few years ago – retribution vs rehabilitation for
criminals. My thoughts on this are still very unformed. It’s something
I should look into one of these days when I get around to it.

The article I read this morning was

I agree with Goward, and I find it appalling that these prominent people
supported the rapist rather than the victim. The person who made the
“completely undeserved” comment was the parish priest and not who I
thought was being quoted when I replied to your tweet. I wonder if this
priest’s dismissal of the seriousness of rape is an attitude he would
take toward all his parishioners, or only the rich, well-connected ones.

The person I was actually thinking of was Waverley mayor Sally Betts,

“… insisted that her request was based on her long association
Bondi’s Ways Youth Services, where she saw the benefit of
non-custodial sentences for some young offenders.”

There may be benefit yes, for some crimes, but it’s only half the story
when considering if incarceration is also a benefit or does harm.

My interest came from a regular commenter on Pharyngula blog, Walton,
who I gather may be a lawyer or criminal defense law student. Walton
has commented a few times on this subject and of course I don’t have
links from years ago but I found this in a search, to give you a flavour:

Walton wrote:

“I’d argue that imprisonment should be used, if at all,
exclusively for rapists, murderers, domestic batterers and
other seriously violent people who pose an immediate danger
to others’ physical safety.”

It’s prevarication to say “if at all” here; Walton is leaving an
opening in which rapists may not be imprisoned but is not providing
an alternative response.

I wouldn’t say that; I’d argue that imprisonment is necessary to
keep the general population safe from people who pose a danger to
society (and if not prison, then something equally effective at
keeping us safe … ship them to the Moon perhaps??)

Moving on to Walton’s last paragraph:

“Criminalization is a crude and destructive tool for
effecting social change, and I’d argue that the criminal
justice system’s intrusion into our lives should be kept
to an absolute minimum. [etc]”

A few minutes of research should demonstrate the truth of this. I’ve
read about the US’s justice system, and their “school to prison”
pipeline, and the way it sucks people into a vortex they can’t escape
(which is a money-maker for various parties). There has been research
to understand what factors influence rehabilitation such as this one
from the UK in 2013.

My opinion is that prison is minimally rehabilitative at best, and at worst it is quite the opposite, teaching “survival skills” in
an environment where might makes right. The research (including
the above link) shows that authorities are trying to improve
prison’s effectiveness.

The flip side to rehabilitation is retribution, and I think this is
where a lot of people’s’ mindsets are stuck. After some heinous crime
is proven, people want to see the offender punished good and proper,
with little regard for whether the offender will do it again. People
(to generalise) want their pound of flesh.

I believe this attitude belongs to the infancy of our society. If
free will is an illusion (which I think it is – our brains work
with chemistry and electricity, and these things are physics) then
the person didn’t have a choice in the act; the choice was the
culmination of everything that person experienced in their life
and the working of their brain. Some people’s’ brains don’t work
properly – the flaw might be “hardwired” or learned – which leads
them to make really bad choices. Punishment becomes an obsolete
concept – the *only* thing that matters is stopping them doing
the crime again, which is rehabilitation (or execution, but I
won’t go there in this email). That leads me back to my main point,
that prison is only useful insofar as it rehabilitates a person
or protects society (or individual victims) from that person and
the chance that they will re-offend.

Interestingly, while writing this email I read the Wikipedia article
on Rehabilitation.

It pointed out that psychopaths often re-offend. Psychopaths have “an
uninhibited gratification in criminal, sexual, or aggressive impulses
and the inability to learn from past mistakes”; they’re resistant to
“punishment and behavior modification techniques” and worst of all,
they’re the ones most likely to be released from prison.

Maybe we should keep all the psychopaths in prison.


As Nick points out, the privatisation of prison services in the US is a “money-maker for various parties,” as is the off-shore asylum seeker detention system the Australian government outsources to private companies. When imprisonment becomes a profit motive, rehabilitation inevitably takes second place. 

I don’t think I can recall agreeing with Prue Goward on anything, however, I do agree with her stand against the “glowing references” provided by powerful people for rapist Luke Lazarus. I have no way of knowing if these references influenced his sentencing. As well, providing references in such circumstances is perfectly legal and ought not to be otherwise. It’s down to the judge to determine how much weight to give references in light of the crime committed. 

My questions would be to those who provided the references. Do you have any understanding of what rape is, and do you think it is less of a crime when perpetrated by the son of a wealthy family?  

23 Responses to “Retribution v Rehabilitation”

  1. paul walter April 5, 2015 at 11:16 am #

    Cutting to the chase, my reading is that he got the sentence he deserved.

    I think Father Gerasimos Koutsonis’ comments, in particular, are pitiful and that much of the other reasoning is deficient also.

    Sorry, no more.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Anonymous June 17, 2015 at 5:33 pm #

      Taken me a while to respond to this piece….

      – as a woman who was raised in a Greek Orthodox family & a survivor of CSA & FV, i was (& still am), v. tuned into to the tightly knit dynamics that operate in the Greek collective cultural psyche in Australia.
      Misogyny runs v. deep & the blatant confidence with which Father Koutsonis displayed in the public defense of the rapist did not surprise me in the least.
      Nor did the silence & complicity of the Greek Orthodox Church, the Greek Community, Greek feminists, Greek-Aussie pollies & the rest.
      Koutsonis was v. quick to change his tune when he was called out by Pru Goward.
      I find it worrying & nauseating that the GO Church has come out squeaky clean in the RC into Institutional CSA.
      There are aspects of my Greek-Cypriot heritage that are the heart of who i am.
      Aspects that i love, treasure, nurture & generously share.
      There are also many that i find oppressive, archaic, & imprisoning.
      I hope i have succeeded in freeing myself from them.


  2. hudsongodfrey April 5, 2015 at 12:02 pm #

    With respect to the priest offering a completely underserved character reference I wonder if this stems somehow from the twinned religious ideas of vicarious redemption through the blood sacrifice of the messiah and the notion of judgement in an afterlife. The inference being that the responsibility to the immortal soul of an offender, in peril unless he repents, somehow outweighs the imperative to protect an innocent victim who while physically or psychologically harmed is spiritually thumbs up okay. This elevation of spiritual welfare over any other kind seems to me to have informed the churches’ get out of gaol clause for pedophile priests so I imagine it would work as well for rapists…. I just find it really hard to believe anyone really follows that kind of logic.

    At the very least I detect a double standard here, nor is there anything I know of in dogma making repentance and paying your debt to society mutually exclusive. I don’t think many religious people really believe in the doctrines I referenced to such an extreme degree. Indeed most I know are more cultural Christians than gnostic believers. Yet even an atheist fallen from Catholicism I struggle to reconcile the degree to which the religious orders seem to revile secular authority, and I distrust them accordingly.


    On the matter of rehabilitation versus retribution. Justify retribution if you will and you’ll have my answer. Otherwise think upon inserting the idea of restitution into the mix, because it seems to belong somewhere. That is if you offer the case of a remorseful burglar who takes it upon himself to make good then I think you frame a very different scenario for rehabilitation that you do for a psychopathic serial killer.

    Beyond that I’ve argued against State sanctioned murder in the case of drug runners in Indonesia, and in favour of Stephen Pinkers’ notion that the arc of history bends away from violence. So I’d say that if people who do violence are merely subjected to the violence of the state then violence begets more violence and make them extremely poor prospects for avoiding recidivism. So while I agree that the criminal forfeits her place in society I think we need to think upon the efficacy of incarceration short of cases where the sentence becomes permanent.

    Nor is there anything positive to be said for commodified justice for profit, some of which in the US in particular verges upon the reintroduction of slavery. The measure of success of any criminal justice system is how few inmates it requires there to be, and the failure of society how many there are.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. paul walter April 5, 2015 at 1:36 pm #

    I think the gaol sentence for Lazarus conforms with the concept of restitution.

    Laazarus is detained, regardless of personal inconvenience, that he may best share with the young woman her slow recovery- of spirit- in a sense wherby sympathy for her is acquired for the effort she must make to recover from the youthful lack of judgement she showed in trusting him as well as teaching him the meaning of the incovenience he has caused her.

    It is a correction.

    The knowledge that he too is doing penance, regardless of personal cost, may be of comfort to her, might although there is no certainty, be the factor that enables her to overcome her disillusion, as well as helping him understand the nature of the harm he has done her. In a sense therefore detention is actually an opportunity provided him by his fellows, for contemplation (of what has has ocured and it’s meaning), that he not again fall short in performing his natural obligations to a fellow human.

    She must be allowed to recover her ability to trust. Without this, she is at a disdvantage for at least some time in her life, surely?

    No. It is only fair that this detention of her soul is payed for out of his time.


  4. Michaela Tschudi April 5, 2015 at 1:44 pm #

    Canadian psychologist Robert Hare, who developed a psychometric tool to help “diagnose” psychopathy, estimates that about 17 percent of people incarcerated would be considered psychopaths, and that this group accounts for 50 percent of all the serious crimes committed, including half of all serial and repeat rapists.

    Of course this says nothing about the people using this tool, and their particular bias.

    As to measures of success for correctional settings, there’s a useful article (one in a series) in the Washington Post (27 February 2014, Sasha Volokh) in which the author examines a range of goals for prisons, and quotes Charles Logan’s “quality of confinement” for prisons. Logan maintains that actual rehabilitation is out of the direct control of prisons.

    Liked by 1 person

    • paul walter April 5, 2015 at 3:24 pm #

      So, his redemption is in a real sense, in his own hands?

      Just back on a thought re the thread subject title “Retribution ve Rehabilitation”.

      These are very over-determined words in use so often as to suggest multiples of variations as to their exact meanings. One person’s rehab could be another’s retribution, eg?

      Secondly the terms are presented in this case as opposites.
      Does this have to be neccesarily the case here or with other cases?


    • doug quixote April 5, 2015 at 10:25 pm #

      That seems about right. Psychopaths are also high flyers; but one epigram I like is “The difference between the multi-millionaire businessman and the person in gaol is that the one in gaol got caught.”

      Liked by 1 person

      • Michaela Tschudi April 5, 2015 at 10:30 pm #

        Ah very good!


  5. doug quixote April 5, 2015 at 3:29 pm #

    Keeping all the psychopaths in prison appeals to me; it might even be best to euthanase the worst of them. They won’t change, they cannot learn empathy or remorse. They will kill and kill again, or sexually molest and sexually molest again as long as they draw breath.


    • doug quixote April 5, 2015 at 3:41 pm #

      By contrast, relatively normal human beings who do things under a sort of temporary insanity – eg a one punch killer, a spouse who has been driven beyond the limits, a junkie desperate for a fix – probably should not be imprisoned at all, but treated psychologically or rehabilitatively, and to do extended community services once deemed safe to release. It may take years, but surely it is better than locking them up with psychopaths and repeat offenders in a sort of finishing school for crims.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jennifer Wilson April 5, 2015 at 4:16 pm #

        The bloody bourgeoisie determine the law and for them even embarrassment is a crime worthy of imprisonment


      • Michaela Tschudi April 5, 2015 at 4:47 pm #

        PW, as a society we need to have a much broader discussion about such matters as sentencing laws, alternatives to prison, what prisons are intended to do, training for prison staff and so on.

        Liked by 1 person

    • hudsongodfrey April 5, 2015 at 5:11 pm #

      I was interested in Michaela’s mention of Robert Hare and looked him up. As one of the preeminent experts on the subject what he has to say is that psychopaths, are not psychotic or in most cases suffering from episodic mental illness in any real sense of the word. He distinguishes sociopaths as more characteristically criminal, whereas as James Fallon will attest not all people on the psychopathic spectrum are inherently given to bad or even antisocial behavior. Nor is it the case that most are intellectually impaired. They understand concepts of right and wrong well enough even if their emotional responses to the suffering of others differ greatly from what we’d consider normal.

      There’s also a lot of talk about the propensity to psychopathy as a factor in the success of corporate bosses and sportsmen. I think we’d have moral dilemma on our hands if we developed diagnostic tools capable empirically diagnosing psychopathy and used those to justify euthanizing quite so many otherwise innocent people.

      It would be much harder to resist the urge to test inmates for sociopathic tendencies as means to assess their eligibility for parole. There may on the other hand be every reason to think that as we come to understand the condition better the knowledge gained should lead to therapies that give rehabilitation a completely different slant. In that case you’d have to forestall calls for preventative euthanasia.

      Liked by 1 person

      • doug quixote April 5, 2015 at 5:34 pm #

        Definitely, HG. What I would like to see happen and what is possible or likely are rather different things. As for psychopathy, there is indeed a range of behaviours, from the simple caddishness and “Bugger you Jack, I’m all right” attitudes of Tony Abbott and his cronies to the sportsmen who will do whatever it takes right along to the Breiviks and Bryants of this world.

        We’d be better off without them, but that is wishful thinking.


        • hudsongodfrey April 5, 2015 at 7:08 pm #

          Not in Tony Abbott’s case obviously, but I suppose the possibility exists, free will being such a persistent illusion, that a good number of psychopaths like Fallon make choices that lead them to be passable members of the community.


      • Michaela Tschudi April 5, 2015 at 6:11 pm #

        HG, so glad you mentioned Fallon, a really interesting man. I agree with you on the issue of diagnostic tools. My point above is that these instruments say as much about a society that produces them, as they do about their subjects.

        Liked by 1 person

        • hudsongodfrey April 5, 2015 at 6:54 pm #

          How we use them, Yes.

          Liked by 1 person

        • paul walter April 5, 2015 at 8:20 pm #

          One supposes so.

          We are only a million or two years out of the trees and about 5,000 years into urban living. Much has changed and yet not much at all, as to some things.

          The human condition remains defined in limit but we know culture is the medium in which we exist and its conventions are well enough known in a case like Lazarus’ sodomising of the young girl.

          Lazarus is a young oaf at best, with much to learn by the look; at worst, by the behaviour, a bit “borderline” and I feel better for the girl, if he is out of circulation for a bit. You also have to think of the victim (yes, victim!!) and public safety.

          Two or three years served may allow him time to cool off and start over, if he is a psychopath, is it such a bad thing he is out of the way for now, given the stats you and others have quoted?

          I get the feeling there is an undertone objecting to the jail sentencing here, but I dont think it is as haphazard as to criteria as some may think.


          • paul walter April 5, 2015 at 8:21 pm #

            Sorry, esp referring to Michaela’s last comment.


  6. Mayan April 5, 2015 at 9:27 pm #

    A few thoughts:

    1) It is interesting to see how much of the baying for blood comes from people who have not been harmed by the criminal in question. Obviously, the victim of the act may desire retribution, and ideally restoration to their pre-victim state as best as possible. However, there are many who become very worked up over crimes they hear/read about in the news. In the case of certain crimes, it makes me wonder whether some people doth protest too much – transference, perhaps.

    2) Prison has a place in removing from society those who are a threat. That said, the process of releasing people back into society at the end of their sentence is problematic. After any period of incarceration, a person’s skills will have degraded, which adds to the difficulty in gaining employment, and they are without a healthy social network. Add into this the increasing use of laws that can strip a person of all assets, without so much as a conviction of the specific alleged wrongdoing, and there is a real problem. However, we seem to do a less than stellar effort at reintegrating people back into society.

    3) As for psychopaths, most people in this category are not deranged criminals, but rather some of society’s high achievers, even if their underlying personality traits may leave some question marks about how they achieved success. Calls to lock up all psychopaths are problematic. How do we identify them? Surely not mass psychometric testing. These calls can easily lead to the systematic psychiatric detention of undesirables, Soviet Union-style.

    4) Related to that, there is some hysteria about sex offenders and the popular perception that they cannot be changed. However, there are reasons to believe that this behaviour can be changed, and we should support research into those therapies. All imprisonment and summary writing off of a person has the consequence of also depriving society of the good things they could do, if rid of their propensity to commit bad acts.

    There is also the common cry to have a sex offenders registry, open to the public. Inevitably, this will catch people guilty of such crimes as public urination, or people who as teens breached statutory rape provisions. This can lead to the situation, such as in the USA, in which those people drop off the grid, defeating the stated purpose of those laws.


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