Tuesday, November 16, 2010

More questions than answers.

There have been an abundance of tragic stories in the news recently, bringing home what can go horribly wrong in an instant.  In a moment of neglect, recklessness or irresponsibility.  Lives lost and lives destroyed.  My heart has ached both for the families of the deceased and for the defendant in some of these cases.  It's hard for me to imagine which would be worse - the idea of losing a loved one in such a way or the idea of causing someone's death through circumstances under my control.  I hope to never experience the latter and to never experience the former ever again.

When it is obvious that the guilty are truly remorseful and devastated, it can be hard to see the point of sending them to jail when it seems clear that this will never happen again & that they will be forever punished and haunted by their actions.  I have never studied law and so am not remotely knowledgeable about the definition(s?) of manslaughter, what sentences are usually imposed, and how much remorse is taken into consideration by the judge.  (Please feel free to enlighten me, and of course to express your opinion even if you didn't go to law school.)  If someone pleads guilty & expresses remorse, should it even be up to the family to decide whether the defendant goes to jail?  How close would the family members have to be to be allowed to make that kind of decision? Would they have to prove that or indeed if they are emotionally or psychologically stable enough to make that kind of judgement?  What if the deceased had no family?  What if they were pregnant?  This is all highly emotional and variable & it seems to me that the law must be logical and apply the facts of the matter to each case?

Is jail even the right place for these people?  I am not arguing that their lives should be allowed to resume as normal & as soon as possible.  A life was lost.  And some wounds will never heal.  But what is the logic in sending them to be confined with people who meant to commit their crimes & who are not sorry?  Would home detention and/or community service not be more beneficial?

Actually, what is the point of jail in general?  Punishment?  Rehabilitation?  Constraint?  Deterrence?  Vengeance?  Criminal instruction?  Because by and large, unless the last two are the correct answers, it seems that jails do not work.  Not to mention that we just can't build them fast enough.  Jail certainly punishes but often dehumanises in a way that certainly seems counterproductive if parole is likely to be granted.  Jail can't promise to make anyone sorry - except maybe that they were caught.  It seems to be incredibly hard to ever become an upstanding and productive citizen upon release.  And perhaps in cases that are successful, it is despite the prison system and despite the society the reformed is released into?


  1. Prison, for me, serves three purposes, which I'll enumerate from most important to least: first, as a form of justice, so that wrong deeds are punished; second, as a way to keep the bad seeds of society from wreaking havoc on civil-minded people; and last, and least important, as a form of rehabilitation for the convicted. The system isn't perfect, but I think justice trumps the convicted's right to be productive after release anytime. That's just my opinion though.


  2. And your opinion is welcome! Yay, someone I don't know commenting on my blog! I guess, I don't have as much faith in the system. Plus I don't think it's a one-size-fits-all solution.

  3. I agree with you here. I see no sense in jailing someone who has a negligible risk of ever reoffending. This serves only to punish the tax payers of NZ. Instead, fine them a hefty sum (and put this into victim support & crime prevention programs) and then put them to community service for an adequate length of time. Perhaps a home detention curfew scenario as well, but they should still be allowed to work and pay their taxes back into the economy.

  4. I hadn't even considered the financial aspects. You make excellent points about how the offender ends up costing the community a lot of money when in fact they should be making reparations.