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Let punishment fit the crime for real lessons in consequences

By Greg Cornwell - 10 January 2017 11

'Owl' by Bruce Armstrong defaced. Photo: Charlotte Harper

Our regular Tuesday columnist, former Canberra Liberals MLA Greg Cornwell, is back. In his first column for 2017, Greg argues our justice system should tailor punishments to fit the crime, so that, for example, graffiti vandals would be required to clean up the offending paintwork under supervision, thus gaining a better understanding of the impact of their crime.

In late December 2016 two unrelated crimes occurred in Canberra: someone graffiti-ed the plastic on the Deakin-Yarralumla bridge over Yarra Glen, which took two men a day to clean off, and someone else ignited a van carrying several gas cannisters outside the headquarters of the Australian Christian Lobby, again in Deakin.

Simultaneously an article appeared urging the world to either get in and do a thorough job in the Middle East or get out altogether.

Why doesn’t our ACT justice system do the same?

Our police force do their best but as soon as the miscreant is before the courts’ bleeding hearts, many on the bench itself appear to plead not for justice but for compassion.

Often it seems serious crimes are dealt with by the gentle rebukes of community service orders. Because we do not always learn the full story, it is difficult to judge the effectiveness and the justification for this sentence. Or even if it is carried through. Memo to Assembly MLAs: question the annual number of defaulters and their punishment.

Obviously, as is the case in the Middle East, we cannot get out altogether … but what about doing the job thoroughly and also some new sentences?

Our graffiti vandals could be made to clean up the mess under supervision – it would not be more expensive than currently employing someone else. Those with property damage convictions could make restitution by repairing or by wage garnisheeing and companies that rob customers apart from a fine should display a prominent sign outside premises admitting the fact. Developers erecting shoddy constructions or fiddling the building plan should have to demolish the structure and start again.

The application of such sentences in place of a simple finance cost might bring home to people more graphically the consequences of their actions.

Similarly and in defiance of privacy laws, the naming of people upon conviction is a useful social stigma which should be followed and no discrimination made for those who commit crimes involving death. Underage offenders, such as in the Clea Rose case, should not be exempt.

However, the current naming of alleged rape offenders – peculiarly male ADFA cadets – should be discontinued until convicted.
Sensitivities about public naming upon innocent family members, especially children, does not appear to be shared by the wider community who are vulnerable when this information is withheld. A strange selectivity also exists so like the ADFA cadets some paedophiles (properly) are named but not domestic violence offenders nor those alleged to have committed sexual assaults within families.

Granted help exists for financial restitution but it is not always the offender who pays and various methods, bankruptcy for example, can be employed to avoid responsibility.

There are enough people breaking laws who cannot be dealt with by alternative penalties: people with mental illnesses and addicts among them, so anything that puts something positive back into the community is to be encouraged.

As some examples above show it does not always have to be a financial penalty. Perhaps in our ‘progressive’ city ACT law could adopt Gilbert and Sullivan’s Mikado’s suggestion “To let the punishment fit the crime”.

Pictured above is an October file image of the Belconnen public artwork Owl by Bruce Armstrong defaced by graffiti that has since been removed. Photo: Charlotte Harper

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11 Responses to
Let punishment fit the crime for real lessons in consequences
Chris Mordd Richards 1:01 am 17 Jan 17

dungfungus said :

chewy14 said :

Smithers said :

Judges and Magistrates don’t actually plead for compassion. They use the guidelines, and regularly request other Judicial figures for opinion and review. Consider for a moment the fact that ACT has probably the highest social standard of living of any city in Australia. And then look at Canberra’s virtually non existent crime rate, at the lowest its ever been as of 2016. Crime is not a problem for Canberra, and it never has been. Seriously it beggars belief how there are still these views on the justice system as perceived to be “Lenient” or “judicially corrupt”. Its laughable. Privacy laws and orders of suppression are not the same thing. So with that, how about we leave the legal decisions to those best equiped to deal with them. Plus it is a little bit insensitive to those few in Canberra who lost loved ones to murders which remain unsolved. Those who would give anything to ever see a court date. Think of those folks. Thanks for listening.

Canberra’s virtually non existent crime rate? hmmm, we must have different definitions of virtually non-existent. I wouldn’t exactly call the 2000+ assaults last year as evidence of such.

And I would actually contend that Canberra’s lower crime rate (comparably) is more related to the standard of living you mention rather than the effectiveness of our justice system.

And we are talking about “reported” rates of crime, not actual crimes.
I gave up reporting crimes years ago. Most people I know don’t bother anymore either.

Anecdotal evidence, the best kind of evidence!

dungfungus 9:19 am 13 Jan 17

chewy14 said :

Smithers said :

Judges and Magistrates don’t actually plead for compassion. They use the guidelines, and regularly request other Judicial figures for opinion and review. Consider for a moment the fact that ACT has probably the highest social standard of living of any city in Australia. And then look at Canberra’s virtually non existent crime rate, at the lowest its ever been as of 2016. Crime is not a problem for Canberra, and it never has been. Seriously it beggars belief how there are still these views on the justice system as perceived to be “Lenient” or “judicially corrupt”. Its laughable. Privacy laws and orders of suppression are not the same thing. So with that, how about we leave the legal decisions to those best equiped to deal with them. Plus it is a little bit insensitive to those few in Canberra who lost loved ones to murders which remain unsolved. Those who would give anything to ever see a court date. Think of those folks. Thanks for listening.

Canberra’s virtually non existent crime rate? hmmm, we must have different definitions of virtually non-existent. I wouldn’t exactly call the 2000+ assaults last year as evidence of such.

And I would actually contend that Canberra’s lower crime rate (comparably) is more related to the standard of living you mention rather than the effectiveness of our justice system.

And we are talking about “reported” rates of crime, not actual crimes.
I gave up reporting crimes years ago. Most people I know don’t bother anymore either.

chewy14 6:27 pm 12 Jan 17

Smithers said :

Judges and Magistrates don’t actually plead for compassion. They use the guidelines, and regularly request other Judicial figures for opinion and review. Consider for a moment the fact that ACT has probably the highest social standard of living of any city in Australia. And then look at Canberra’s virtually non existent crime rate, at the lowest its ever been as of 2016. Crime is not a problem for Canberra, and it never has been. Seriously it beggars belief how there are still these views on the justice system as perceived to be “Lenient” or “judicially corrupt”. Its laughable. Privacy laws and orders of suppression are not the same thing. So with that, how about we leave the legal decisions to those best equiped to deal with them. Plus it is a little bit insensitive to those few in Canberra who lost loved ones to murders which remain unsolved. Those who would give anything to ever see a court date. Think of those folks. Thanks for listening.

Canberra’s virtually non existent crime rate? hmmm, we must have different definitions of virtually non-existent. I wouldn’t exactly call the 2000+ assaults last year as evidence of such.

And I would actually contend that Canberra’s lower crime rate (comparably) is more related to the standard of living you mention rather than the effectiveness of our justice system.

devils_advocate 1:05 pm 11 Jan 17

Greg, I presume that if you had suffered the misfortune to have been the victim of family violence or abuse, you would be happy with the offender being named so that, by extension, the fact of your abuse would be out there in the public for everyone to know.

dungfungus 10:36 am 11 Jan 17

bikhet said :

Benjamin Rose said :

Why can’t we just imprison those who represent a danger to society and fine everyone else?

And what do you do when they can’t or won’t pay?

They used to send them to “debtor’s prison” until some dim-wit politician decided the defaulters’ fines related to “victimless crimes” which did not justify a custodial sentence.

As Australia is now itself a debtor nation maybe a rethink of where we are going to get revenue to pay loan interest will be necessary.

In some countries, the family of the person incarcerated have to pay the costs of housing the prisoner.
Maybe that principle has a place in Australia – we already have some sort of precedent as families that are deemed to be wealthy enough have to contribute to the cost of parent/s going into an aged care facility.

bikhet 8:59 am 11 Jan 17

Benjamin Rose said :

Why can’t we just imprison those who represent a danger to society and fine everyone else?

And what do you do when they can’t or won’t pay?

bikhet 8:55 am 11 Jan 17

Smithers said :

So with that, how about we leave the legal decisions to those best equiped to deal with them.

And therein lies a problem – the disconnect between the experts and the community, which in turn leads to political events seen here and elsewhere.

Benjamin Rose 8:10 pm 10 Jan 17

Why can’t we just imprison those who represent a danger to society and fine everyone else?

I don’t think making somebody clean up or repair something is an effective penalty. Sending them the bill will because that’ll effect their lifestyle, for instance they might not be able to buy a slab for Jim Beam with Coke and a $180 carton of smokes if they’re literally paying back society for their crime. Non violent crime should be punished by non violent means.

Smithers 7:28 pm 10 Jan 17

Judges and Magistrates don’t actually plead for compassion. They use the guidelines, and regularly request other Judicial figures for opinion and review. Consider for a moment the fact that ACT has probably the highest social standard of living of any city in Australia. And then look at Canberra’s virtually non existent crime rate, at the lowest its ever been as of 2016. Crime is not a problem for Canberra, and it never has been. Seriously it beggars belief how there are still these views on the justice system as perceived to be “Lenient” or “judicially corrupt”. Its laughable. Privacy laws and orders of suppression are not the same thing. So with that, how about we leave the legal decisions to those best equiped to deal with them. Plus it is a little bit insensitive to those few in Canberra who lost loved ones to murders which remain unsolved. Those who would give anything to ever see a court date. Think of those folks. Thanks for listening.

Holden Caulfield 2:16 pm 10 Jan 17

Grail said :

But there is something you can do: if you want to stop the oil war in the Middle East, buy an electric car. Using petrol directly sponsors that war and the terrorism associated with it.

What about the oil-based plastics used in the production of your electric car? And the oil-based roads upon which you drive? You make a good point, but we are so reliant on oil that an increase in electric car sales is just the tip of the iceberg in reducing that reliance.

Grail 10:04 am 10 Jan 17

I think it is only fitting that opinion columnists who can not stick to one topic for an entire opinion should be required to cite research supporting their arguments, and demonstrate that the concepts that they discussed are linked in any way, shape or form.

Name and shame, except for this group of offenders. Let the punishment fit the crime. We should pull out of the Middle East. We can’t pull out of the Middle East.

How is the perpetual oil war in the Middle East related to graffiti in Canberra?

How does naming and shaming work to prevent recidivism?

Do sex offender lists achieve anything other than inciting “revenge” crime?

Why do people tag or deface public art in the first place?

It is one thing to add your verse to the perpetual choir of Laura Norder, another to understand why crime happens in the first place.

But there is something you can do: if you want to stop the oil war in the Middle East, buy an electric car. Using petrol directly sponsors that war and the terrorism associated with it.

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