Corrections Department’s treatment of Stewart Murray Wilson

Graeme Burton spent 14 years in prison  – doing next to nothing – before he was released and killed Karl Kuchenbecker. Murray Wilson, aka the ‘Beast of Blenheim’ –  committed his crimes well over 18 years ago. He’s been sitting in prison ever since – also doing nothing – and the whole country (well, Wanganui anyway) is up in arms. Why? The ‘doing nothing’ in prison seems to be the problem.

For many years Wilson was held in Rolleston Prison, a low-security prison with a sex offenders unit that delivers group-based treatment to child sex offenders – just what Wilson needed.  But  Corrections refused to put him into this programme because he would not acknowledge  his guilt. That’s very strange considering the entry criteria for this programme state that “denial or other cognitive distortions related to offending behaviour” are an indication of suitability for the programme.

Wilson clearly lacks insight, but it seems Corrections wouldn’t even let him see a psychologist. Speaking via video link to the High Court at Wellington in June 2012, Wilson complained, not for the first time, that he had even been denied counselling with a psychologist for the same reason – he would not admit he was guilty. He said he has had only four hours counselling in the 18 years he has been in prison.

Dealing with denial

Being ‘in denial’ is not uncommon and is often an issue when dealing with drug addicts and alcoholics.  ‘Ambivalence’ is similar – a state of mind where the drinker or drug user is aware they have a problem but is not yet willing to address it.  Alcohol and drug counsellors work with ambivalence and denial on a daily basis by using ‘motivational interviewing’ – individual counselling designed to enhance insight and motivation. It requires a non-confrontational approach to the client and the ability to ‘roll with resistance.’ Once rapport has been established using these techniques, then more in-depth treatment can begin.

Unfortunately, it seems Corrections psychologists were not able to establish rapport with Wilson. He refused to even meet with the psychologist who wrote the final damning risk assessment on him and so she prepared her report from information on his file.  Apart from the dubious ethics involved in writing a report without talking to the subject of that report, why would Wilson not want to meet with her? Probably because Corrections psychologists are generally employed to write risk assessment reports rather than provide therapy – and she had already written a number of negative reports about him.   That’s probably where the ‘four hours counselling’ went that Wilson was referring to. Clearly there was not a lot of trust between Wilson and this particular psychologist.

Wilson’s background

This is not surprising. Wilson comes from a background that makes it very hard for him to trust anyone. His parents were both alcoholics and it appears he was sexually abused as a child himself.   As a teenager he was hospitalised for a long period in psychiatric institutions, and had little in the way of education. Given his personal limitations, that puts the onus on Corrections psychologists to make more of an effort. But they didn’t. They appear to have met with him only four times in 18 years and declared him unco-operative. They wouldn’t allow him to attend any counselling or attend treatment in the sex offenders unit unless he admitted his guilt.

The most pathetic part of  this farce is that Corrections claims it cannot compel offenders to attend rehabilitation programmes. That makes no sense at all. The police have the power to arrest criminals; the court has the power to send them to prison; but Corrections claims that once in prison they can’t compel anyone do a programme. That’s bullshit.  He’s in prison for God’s sake – attendance should be compulsory – especially when international research indicates that compulsory treatment is just as effective as voluntary treatment. The same research also shows that long term programmes work better than short-term programmes – because they give an offender time to become engaged in the process.  That’s why the sex offenders’ programme is the longest the Department provides  – it takes nine months and reduces the risk of re-offending by more than 50 per cent.

Setting offenders up to fail

Unfortunately, Corrections never gave Wilson a chance. They seemed to think he had  to have the necessary insight and motivation right from the start.  That’s just totally unrealistic.  The majority of offenders are also alcoholics or drug addicts who are often unmotivated, in denial or ambivalent at the start of a rehabilitation programme – but become engaged once it gets going.

The reality is that Corrections was responsible for rehabilitating Wilson but made almost no effort to do so.  All they did with him in prison is isolate and contain him – for 18 years. Now he’s being released to Wanganui under the most stringent conditions ever imposed on anyone ever released in New Zealand. That’s  more containment. The people of Wanganui have made it very clear they don’t want him. That’s more isolation.

Someone who knows something about rehabilitation is Victoria University Professor, Tony Ward, a clinical psychologist with expertise in sexual offenders.  He described the fervour at Wanganui’s public meetings as a type of “moral panic” and said that given Mr Wilson’s age, he was unlikely to reoffend.  “The reoffending rate for very high risk people over 60 is about six per cent.” Professor Ward said the best way to rehabilitate sex offenders was to keep them in the midst of other people – where they could be watched – and give them support.”

This is all so familiar. Graeme Burton committed two murders under the influence of alcohol and drugs. Corrections had him in their custody for 14 years and never put him into a programme to address the core issue – his drug addiction.  They also ignored the recommendations of six expert reports pointing out that drug use was a risk factor for Burton and did not bother to provide the Board with an alcohol and drug assessment on him despite a statutory obligation to keep the Board informed about all aspects of his offending.

The Department had Wilson in custody for even longer – 18 years, and they’ve done exactly the same thing – nothing.  One can only conclude that Corrections is deliberately setting up Murray Wilson to fail – just like they did with Graeme Burton.

4 thoughts on “Corrections Department’s treatment of Stewart Murray Wilson

  1. Send him to stay with Judith Collins or Ann Tolley as they are the ones who thing locking people up and throwing away the key is the answer.

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  2. Finally I hear a voice of reason. This whole attitude really disturbs me but I haven’t got as far as being able to put words to that. Just a very sick feeling in my stomach. Something is very wrong here.

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  3. I know this is the elephant in the room, but I wonder about whether some form of castration might be an option for recidivist sex offenders?

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  4. Sounds like another typical failing of “Corrections” and their continual inability to make any attempt whatsoever to do their job effectively. Using the excuse that Murray Wilson isn’t remorseful and therefore doesn’t qualify for counselling defies logic. To spend 18 years in prison in isolation with only 4 hours of negative counselling also defies logic and is totally absurd.
    The Wanganui population’s reaction is typical of many New Zealander’s that seem to have medieval tendencies resembling a witch hunt, lynch mob attitude when dealing with crime and punishment. I would say “moral panic” is putting it mildly. No doubt this man will now be labelled the beast of Wanganui and Blenheim.
    The best way to rehabilitate any person that has done any criminal wrong is to help them recover, allow them to understand their mistakes, make them feel like a human being that has made mistakes that need to be addressed and acknowledged. Not ostracise them further with prison isolation, treat them like a leper and shun them both inside prison and outside in the community.
    Nobody finds sexual abuse tasteful, but the fact is it happens much of which is hidden.
    This man has spent 18 years locked up, prior to that his life seems to have been equally depraved. Prison has done nothing to educate, rehabilitate, assist his failings or address his mental problems. If this man does re offend it will be largely due to “Correction” and their incompetence. The New Zealand government needs to change the policies with regard to counselling, the Judicial system also needs to change with regards to counselling and the government needs to spend more on training experienced counsellors that address the needs of those in prison or preferably within the community to avoid sending them to prison.

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