Mr Findlay (not his real name) was referred for an alcohol and drug assessment by the Parole Board in March 2009. At the time of the assessment, he was 39 years old and had been in prison for a total of 20 years. He was serving a life sentence for stabbing a young man to death in a street fight just a few weeks after his 16th birthday. At the time of the assessment, he had been released on parole twice and recalled twice, and was seeking to be released on parole for the third time.
History of offending
Mr Findlay started drinking at the age of 13, and occasionally smoked cannabis. Prior to the murder, he already had eight convictions in the Youth Court – for shoplifting, burglary and theft from cars. He was already getting into in trouble and a week before his 16th birthday he was convicted of aggravated assault. Six weeks later he got into the fight in which the other young man died.
Once Mr Findlay was sent to prison, he smoked cannabis virtually every day. He spent ten years in prison before being released on parole. Once he got out, he carried on smoking cannabis but also started binge drinking. In the next five years, he incurred a further 12 convictions mostly for fairly minor offending (careless driving and fighting in a public place) before being recalled to prison again. He served another two years before being released a second time.
When Mr Findlay got out this time, he started using (and dealing) methamphetamine. He incurred another three convictions – for disorderly behaviour, dangerous driving and possession of methamphetamine – and was recalled to prison again. He is still in prison six years later.
Mr Findlay said his father was involved with the Mongrel Mob. His mother did not want him raised in a gang environment, and gave him to his grandmother to look after. He said his childhood was fairly normal up to the age of six – when his grandmother died.
After her death, Mr Findlay went to live with his mother for the first time. By this stage, she had a new partner and four more children. He said his mother and stepfather both drank heavily and his stepfather abused and tortured him. He described an incident in which his stepfather forced him to hold a clothes peg between his teeth and then poured water down his throat – somewhat akin to water boarding. He said his stepfather sometimes made him lie in the bath full of cold water for hours on end and forced his mother to make sure he stayed there.
Mr Findlay described another incident in which his stepfather threatened to kill him by shoving an electric jug cord down his throat while it was plugged into the wall. During this period of his life, he was beaten and bruised and often went to school with no breakfast. He began stealing food off other children. Not surprisingly, his teachers became concerned about his welfare and took him to a doctor. He was diagnosed with malnutrition and a hernia and admitted to hospital.
Mr Findlay’s stepfather forced his mother to say she was responsible for Mr Findlay’s scars and bruises, and the police subsequently charged her with assault. He was removed from his mother’s care and placed in a foster home.
Over the next few years, Mr Findlay lived in more than a dozen different foster homes and was sexually abused. He shifted from one school to another. At the age of 13, he was sent back to his mother – who by this stage was no longer living with her abusive partner. However, Mr Findlay said that because his mother never protected him from the abuse, he hated living with her and ran away. He was sent to two different boys’ homes and at age 14, was placed in yet another foster situation. He says he was still in foster care when he was sent to prison at the age of 16.
As a result of being tortured and abused as a child, Mr Findlay appears to have developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A month before the murder (after being charged with aggravated assault), he was interviewed by a probation officer and a psychiatrist. Neither of them made any mention of the abuse or the torture and the psychiatrist failed to make a diagnosis. An opportunity to intervene was lost and a month later, Mr Findlay killed someone.
Once in prison, three different psychological reports on Mr Findlay all described the way he was treated as ‘exposure to pathogenic care’ – meaning he was treated so badly, it was likely to lead to physical harm or ‘disease’. But once again, there was no mention of sexual abuse, no diagnosis and Mr Findlay never received any therapy.
Despite spending 20 years in prison, and seeing more than a dozen psychologists over this time, Mr Findlay was never diagnosed with PTSD and never required to attend drug treatment – either in prison or on the two occasions he was released on parole. However the three most recent psychological reports had all advised the Corrections Department and the Parole Board that he needed drug treatment. The Department ignored the recommendations until 2009 – when the Board finally ordered an alcohol and drug assessment to be done.
I interviewed Mr Findlay and concluded that he appeared to have PTSD at the time of the murder and that his subsequent offending history had been driven by his mental health problems and his addictions – none of which had been treated despite spending 20 years in prison.
I recommended that Mr Findlay should attend the Drug Treatment Unit in prison. Mr Findlay has now completed that programme and said he gained a lot from it. He appears to have developed increased insight into himself and into the factors which led to his offending. He appeared before the Parole Board again in 2011, and once again, is working towards release. Eventually, he hopes to be sent to a supervised half-way house in the community.
Footnote on costs
Before attending the Drug Treatment Unit, Mr Findlay had been in prison for nearly 20 years – at a cost of about $90,000 a year. In other words, nearly $2 million was spent keeping him in prison before he was required to attend a rehabilitation programme targeted at his primary offending issue (alcohol and drug dependence). During those 20 years, he was released twice with his addictions untreated and relapsed immediately.