What do a former politician, a Dean of the Law School, and the Police Commissioner have in common with Australia’s best known victim’s advocate? Well apart from forming the panel at the ASCO community forum Striking The Balance, held in October, not particularly much on the face of it.
Having attended the forum last week I was interested in the commonality of views amongst this relatively diverse panel. All agreed that the purpose of the criminal justice system was to assist in the community being a safer and better place in which to live. The question is, as always, how do you get there?
For me, the big surprise of the night was the attitude of Hetty Johnson, the well-known victims’ rights, campaigner from Queensland. Whilst maintaining the position that there were a small number of offenders whom the community must imprison for long periods of time, she was otherwise very much of the view that the “hang ’em high”, “throw away the key” school of criminal justice had little to offer.
She and other panel members agreed that the current political desire to increase the number and length of prison sentences offered very little hope for the community, if the aim is the protection of its most vulnerable, the reduction of crime and increasing safety.
The rush to harsher penalties may, of course, serve certain political purposes and provide column inches for newspapers but it does so despite the overwhelming evidence based conclusion that the course towards building more gaols is a course which inevitably result in no benefit to the community and a bankrupt (both morally and financially) state.
The question that was posed to the panel was how to change the public discourse on crime and punishment? Perhaps the answer lies in the idea of the “coalition of the unlikely”.
I suspect it’s all too easy for the media to ignore those they refer to as the “usual suspects” the human rights lawyers, et al when “tough on crime” politics is questioned.
But could the media reject the call from a victim advocate like Hetty Johnson for a more sophisticated and nuanced approach than the current Victorian Governments which appears to be centred around “lock them up for longer and more often”?
It is up to all of us who take the view that a rehabilitation centred criminal justice system offers the greatest chance of a safer and better community to come together and build “unlikely coalitions” that can advocate strongly and smartly to regain control of the law and order discourse.
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