Saturday, January 26, 2008

Prisoner Objects

On Monday, The Dominion Post had an article about delays in court hearings. Here's the heading:

With the time from arrest to sentence[*] frequently stretching beyond two years, frustrated police say delays mean offenders disappear, witnesses' memories fade, and victims lose faith in the system.
There's something rather important missing from that list: the defendants.

Defendants are the people most likely to be effected by delays in court hearings. Some defendants lose their freedom entirely, as they're kept in jail from arrest to trial. But bail conditions can also severely restrict people's life. If you have to report to the police station several times a week, then that seriously limits what else you can do with your life (as well as making it hard to keep a job). Three of my friends aren't allowed to communicate with each other. If that doesn't seem like a big deal to you, then pick someone you love and imagine not being able to say a word to them for over a year (or write letters, or e-mails, or be in the same place).

It should be astonishing that those most likely to be effected are egregiously left out of a story like this (and the effect of delays on defendants isn't mentioned anywhere in teh article). But it's not, because the Dominion's Post crime stories are written from a certain angle, for a certain purpose.

I've always hated the Dominion Post's prison stories. They do an article every year where they check that people in prison aren't being given too nice a time on Christmas, and it's always awful.

But it wasn't until I knew people in prison, and these articles upset me, rather than just pissed me off, that I realised why the articles are so bad. Prisoners are objects, in the Dominion Post; they do not exist as people.

The prison system becomes a system for processing prisoner objects, and the experience of the prisoner object is irrelevant. So food in prison at Christmas is discussed from a nutritional point of view, rather than the point of view of someone actually eating the food. The fact that normally scheduled visits won't happen on Christmas day, because it's a public holiday, isn't mentioned at all.

The reason they do it, is because once you imagine people inside, rather than prisoner objects, the hell that is losing your freedom becomes real.

* In the world of the Dominion Post no-one is ever found not guilty, except Clint Rickards.


  1. Anonymous4:48 pm

    I know you oppose the current justice system, but if someone is a supporter of it, they still have to acknowledge that defendants are supposed to be regarded as innocent until a guilty sentence.

    Even if someone is incarcerated, they are still persons worth of basic human rights. I think positive family relationships are an important factor in any rehabilitation. All people need to be loved and cared for.

    Jail seems to just make better violent offenders with all their empathy and kindness burned out by a system of psychological, and often physical, abuse.

    Prison - hardening criminals since time immemorial.


  2. Anonymous11:25 pm

    I dunno, knowing that convicted rapists can communicate with their rapist mates to brag about the rapes they've committed doesn't bother me too much.

  3. Anonymous11:26 pm

    Damnit, that last post dhould read 'convinced rapists can't communicate... changes the whole meaning of the post!

  4. there is a mismatch between 'human rights', 'punishment' and 'rehabilitation etc'. To follow one is to some extent to ignore the other two, it is just ideology to think that any two 'ideals' like that would align nicely.