Monday, February 02, 2009

Oriwa Kemp

Nia Glassie's life and death should not be measured by the length of the prison sentences handed out to those against her. I've made that argument in general, and I make it now, in particular.

She doesn't come back, whether the collective jail time is the minimum of 42 years, or a much larger maximum, her life doesn't get any better.

I don't believe, I don't imagine anyone can believe, that the sentances will act as a deterrant. Whatever the cause of Nia Glassie's death it certainly wasn't

In 17 and a half years (a little less for time served) Michael and Wiremu Curtis will become eligible for parole, they won't even be forty yet. They'll get out. They will probably get partners, their partners may have kids. Prison, years of being controlled and brutalised, won't have made them any less violent and so they will probably beat up their partners, and their partners' kids.*

Murdering a child is horrific, I have actually been able to read very little about the case, because when I get to "clothes dryer" my brain turns off. But prison isn't a line that ends it all. It is part of a system that perpetuates it all.

None of that was what I meant to say, when I decided to write about the sentencing. What I wanted to write about was the sentences given to Oriwa Kemp.

Oriwa Kemp was 17 when she was in a relationship with Michael Curtis, and he was beating her up.

I started this series at least partly in response to feminists who get outraged at short jail terms. I wanted to explore what jail is and what it does, and why I think supporting it, even in that limited sense was not part of women's liberation.** I haven't really done that yet (although I hope to).

But Oriwa Kemp, who has already been in jail for over a year, and has more time to serve, who is in jail because of a relationship where she was being abused, her story should stand as a warning to any feminist who upholds the jail system.

* None of this is inevitable. I don't want to dismiss the possibility of change. But change is much more likely outside of prison as inside it.

** I also wanted to explore the wafer-thinness between my line of supporting convictions, and will hopefully still do that too.

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