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.
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:
“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
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
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?