In November 2011, the Sunday Star Times ran article about my new book called Flying Blind. The story was about the need for a greater investment in rehabilitation programmes and said “Drug and alcohol counsellor Roger Brooking suggested setting up drug courts, increasing rehabilitation programmes, and investing in halfway houses.”
The story quoted Mr Brooking as saying: “About 90% of prisoners have drug or alcohol problems, but just 5% get the treatment they need. The justice system has become a vicious cycle and it recycles all these alcohol and drug-related offenders and keeps them locked into the justice system.”
Garth McVicar took exception to this. He issued a press release in which he says rehabilitation and therapy would be “a disastrous Corrections policy.” He went to say “The fact that two thirds of prisoners have drug and alcohol problems is not the fault of Corrections or prison.”
McVicar seems to be saying that if even if alcohol or drugs have contributed to criminal behaviour, the offender should not receive any help from the Corrections Department for this. Presumably Mr McVicar thinks that if mental health problems have contributed, offenders should not receive help for that either. If illiteracy and unemployment has been a factor, Corrections still should not help. If poor parenting and a lack of family support has been a factor, well, who cares?
Mr McVicar seems to have lost all capacity for reason – let alone humanity. He doesn’t seem to realise that 98% of prisoners will eventually be released – 80% of them within six months. Not only are 90% of them dependent on alcohol and drugs, a similar percentage also struggle with reading and writing. About 60% have mental health and personality problems. If they’re not offered help with these issues, they generally relapse to drinking and drugs as soon as they get out of prison; that leads to reoffending and then back to prison.
What Mr McVicar seems to have forgotten is that when criminals reoffend, they create more and more victims. If McVicar really cared about victims, he would join forces with Roger Brooking and advocate for more therapy and rehabilitation in prison and more support for prisoners in the community. The fact that he doesn’t highlights the flaws in his thinking, the short-sightedness of his strategy and the paucity of his compassion.
The reality is that Sensible Sentencing Trust policies do not support victims – they actually create more of them. Mr McVicar should rename his Trust – because there’s really nothing sensible about it.