Apparently, a convicted murderer who escaped from prison in 1996, has been living about half an hour up the road from my place. It seems he has been hiding out with a commune whose members all take a new name in keeping with their religious beliefs, and has been working in a State aged care facility in the town nearby. Now, I don’t, for one minute, want to condone the murder of a fellow human being, no matter how despicable that person may have been. However, let’s look at this situation. A man was shot to death under circumstances of unruly passion. The perpetrator was sent to prison for 21 years for the shooting. The perpetrator escaped from prison and found his way to North Queensland and managed to get a new identity, and a job in a State facility. The perpetrator managed to perform his job satisfactorily, pay taxes, pay his way through life, and live as a normal albeit perhaps somewhat constrained citizen. He built friendships, ordinary members of the community, people who are now continuing to stand by him. He has not, at any time been any more a threat to the community or the clients of the State facility he worked, than any other citizen.
Now, it could be argued that Mr Hunter (yes that is his name), was in a virtual prison by virtue of his wanting to keep in cognito, and that this created a constraint on his behaviour. I would not want to discount that argument. In fact it is an argument that points to the value of the community to the rehabilitation of many perpetrators of crimes. It clearly raises the question whether Mr Hunter’s outlook on life and safety in the community was enhanced by his escape, while his extended prison sentence may have made him a less competent or safer member of the community. Which do we want? I think there are more than a few Herberton residents who are rethinking the value of prisons. Maybe they are, wrongfully, finding a way to excuse Mr Hunter, from his act, because they know, deeply in their hearts, that Mr Hunter being in prison is not just for Mr Hunter, his victim(s) or the community.
To look at true justice around this crime, we must look at the victims, their families, the full loss, the damage to Mr Hunter, himself. In prison he cannot make good the damage to his victim(s). His living victims cannot be challenged to look at their own forgiveness. In prison, a competent, safe person, cannot commit their value to the community, and the community not only looses that value but pays for the privilege of the loss. Mr Hunter has a powerful recompense to make. It would be a wonderful day in Australia to see many criminals being able to make that recompense.
Some might point to the very dangerous criminals in prison. I doubt that more than 1o% prisoners, if out of prison tomorrow without any rehabilitation, are more dangerous than the average person in the street. For sure there are many prisoners who, due to drug addictions etc, will reverer immediately to criminal behaviour as part of their illness, and this may lead them to violence. It will probably lead to violence against them. In fact, the most dangerous people to society, physically and socially, are people who are not in prison, and will, in all likelihood, never be in prison. They are criminal organisers. The quintessential leeches on human society. The maimers and killers of the weak.
We need a new conversation around criminality, in our society. The old conversation based directly on the 10 commandments, is not protecting us. It is not making our society a grander place. It is allowing dangerous criminals escape justice by third party distances. While it locks up hundreds of inadequate people for little reason than they are inadequate. Let us start undoing our prisons. Let us start looking for a new way of managing crime. Let us begin to look clearly at justice.