Rehabilitating prisoners versus arbitrary detention


There is growing pressure to erode our right not to be punished or detained for crimes we haven’t yet committed.

People like Garth McVicar (of the misnamed Sensible Sentencing Trust) want offenders like serial stalker Glenn Green kept out of society even when they’ve finished their prison sentence.

McVicar and his hard-line mates think more punishment is the answer. Without any special knowledge of Green’s case,

McVicar said

: “I don’t sit in the camp that he can be rehabilitated at all.” McVicar’s view was

challenged by Green’s lawyer Adam Couchman

, who believed that “if he [Green] is given the support that he needs and the assistance, I think he could go well.”

Our justice system should be based on helping offenders to take the right path after release from prison. High recidivism rates point to a failure of prison rehabilitation work (and the subsequent support for reintegration into society). We should always be providing a helping hand to those in danger of reoffending.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (which visited last month)

was troubled by New Zealand laws restricting the rights of prisoners

after they have served out their sentences. It had “particular concerns over the wider availability of preventative detention since the enactment of the Sentencing Act 2002, extended supervision orders under the Parole Act 2002”. The Working Group also “noted” the Law Society and Human Rights Commissions’ views that the

Public Safety (Public Protection Orders) Bill

(currently before Parliament) “is not in compliance with international law.” This Bill allow the High Court to use Public Protection Orders to further detain prisoners after the completion of their sentences if there is deemed to be a high risk they might commit further serious sexual or violent crimes.

The Working Group cautioned that “If a prisoner has fully served the sentence imposed at the time of conviction, equivalent detention cannot be imposed under the label of civil preventative detention. “ The only additional detention the UN Working Group contemplated was to a non-punitive regime, similar to a half-way house “aimed at the detainee’s rehabilitation and reintegration into society.”

Only the Green Party appears to be opposed to this Bill,

pointing out that

“the legislation is likely to be found inconsistent with the NZ Bill of Rights Act, in particularly section 22 and section 26, in respect of arbitrary detention and double jeopardy.”

Yes, there is a risk to society when prisoners are released who may reoffend. But the risk to our civil liberties is greater if we start punishing people for offences they have not yet committed. A better solution is to provide more resources for rehabilitation, to reduce the dangers posed by repeat offenders. We are still falling down badly at this.