Since the Bail Amendment Act was passed in 2013, the prison population has jumped by over 1500. This has created a crisis in capacity – there are only 300 beds left in the entire prison system. The National Government and Bill a new 3,000 bed prison at Waikeria to address the problem – at a cost of $1 billion.
Familicide is the name given to a particular kind of multiple murder – where one member of a family kills virtually everyone else in the family. If the perpetrator commits suicide afterwards (which occurs in 60% of such cases), it is referred to as familicide-suicide.
In June, 1994, David Bain was accused of shooting all five members of his family – the crime of familicide. He was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison – although according to Canadian judge Ian Binnie ‘no plausible motive ever emerged’. He spent 13 years in prison before a retrial, at which he was found not guilty.
Throughout this process, David’s defence team argued that Robin Bain killed his wife and children while David was out delivering newspapers; that he typed the cryptic message found on the family computer (‘Sorry. You are the only one who deserved to stay’) and then shot himself – in a case of familicide-suicide.
Binnie said David should get compensation. The Government didn’t like that idea and shopped around for another judge – one who was willing to write a report declaring that David didn’t deserve it. They found one in Ian Callinan QC, who had a history of bending the rules in Australia.
So far, not much has been reported in the New Zealand media about Callinan’s dodgy legal ethics or the extraordinary flaws in his compensation report. But there’s a wealth of information available on the David Bain Campaign website.
But there’s another side to this story which has not seen much daylight either. A systematic review of the literature on familicide found a number of common factors in such incidents. The first is that in 95% of cases where both parents were killed, the perpetrator was the father. Only 1% of familicides are committed by an adult son. The researcher wrote:
“In cases where (one of the) sons killed both parents, the research indicates that the perpetrator is always either severely abused, suffering from severe mental disorders (usually psychotic) or psychopathic. There are no identified cases where the son exhibits none of these pathologies and does not commit suicide.”
Second, many of these fathers displayed symptoms of depression prior to the killings and a number of Robin Bain’s professional colleagues testified to this effect. Fellow teachers described Robin at the time of the killings as “deeply depressed, to the point of impairing his ability to do his job of teaching children”.
He also published graphic and inappropriate stories of violence and killings by his 9-year-old pupils in the school newsletter; one of those stories involved the murder of an entire family. The president of the Taieri Principals’ Association at the time, found this “unbelievable” and regarded the publication of these stories as “the clearest possible evidence that Robin Bain had lost touch with reality due to his mental state” (Privy Council, 2007, para 41). The publication also suggests Robin had possibly been planning to kill his family months in advance.
It appears Robin Bain never sought professional help for depression, but this is another point of commonality; fathers who commit familicide tend to view themselves as the head of the family, and “control their outer image closely, rarely confiding in people or seeking help”. The fact that family and friends said Robin appeared to be happy is consistent with other familicides; such men internalise their personal sufferings in order to maintain appearances.
Angry vs despairing perpetrators
The literature also suggests there are two types of familicide perpetrator. At one end of the continuum, there is the angry type – men who have displayed a well-established history of anger and hostile behaviour, especially towards women. For this type, the killing of one’s partner and children is an act of revenge or punishment, usually following parental separation. At the other end of the continuum, there is the despairing type of perpetrator who has no previous history of hostile behaviour and is generally well regarded in the community. This description applies to Robin Bain. For this type, familicide, followed by suicide is “an escape both for himself and his family from an intolerable future”.
In addition to feelings of depression and anger, the literature shows that familicide is generally preceded by a prolonged build-up of shame. This usually follows parental separation or a serious breakdown in the relationship; loss of employment or significant financial losses may also be involved. These lead to a psychological loss of control and/or a perceived loss of social status. Robin Bain also fits this profile. He and Margaret had been estranged for several years and by all accounts, he was unfulfilled in his job. He had applied for a number of other teaching positions, but was unsuccessful.
But for Robin Bain, there may have been an even greater source of shame. He was a Christian, a Freemason and a respected member of the community. At the second trial, witnesses said he had been committing incest with his youngest daughter, Laniet, ever since the family came back from Papua New Guinea. If indeed he had been molesting her, this would have created intense feelings of guilt and internal conflict. It seems that “despair is the end-state for these perpetrators”.
The triggering event
The research also found that in most cases of familicide there is usually some kind of triggering event, one which leads to a sense of “ignominy, terminal public shame, mortification and self-disgust”. Testimony at the second trial suggests Laniet was about to reveal to the rest of the family what her father had been doing to her. It seems the potential loss of face Robin Bain was facing was so great, he not only killed everyone else in the family (except David), he also shot himself. This is another point of commonality. In over 60% of familicide cases, the offender subsequently commits suicide.
In summary, David Bain did not have an identified motive, did not have a mental health disorder and did not commit suicide. Robin Bain did, or had, all three. In every single aspect of this case, it is Robin Bain rather than David Bain, who fits the profile of the typical perpetrator of familicide, followed by suicide.
Last week, I attended a lecture at Victoria University by Dr Liam Martin (right) titled ‘Rough Passages – Prisoner Re-entry and the Role of Probation’. We were told about the substantial difficulties that ex-prisoners face when they attempt to ‘resettle’ in the community: the most basic problem is finding somewhere to live. Imagine trying to arrange accommodation in a flat or a boarding house while you’re still in prison. That’s practically impossible. Corrections could help – and has hired ‘reintegration officers’ for this purpose. The lecturer told us about one particular prisoner whose reintegration officer didn’t even get around to talking to him until the day before he was due to be released. By then it was too late to arrange anything.
In Canada, 60% of prisoners are released into half-way houses funded by the Canadian Corrections Department. But not in New Zealand. Because Corrections can’t be bothered organising accommodation for those coming out of prison, they give each prisoner a cheque for $350 to help cover rent and food in the first week out. For some strange reason, this cheque is referred to as Steps to Freedom. It’s not enough for a bond on a flat, and certainly won’t last until they get on the benefit, so it’s often used as a first step to getting drunk or stoned.
The second basic need for most ex-prisoners is finding a job. Try that with a criminal record; it’s almost impossible. Even if an employer is willing to overlook the guy’s criminal history, if the offender has to report to Probation three or four times a week (during work hours), that’s certainly not going to help his chances of getting a job. The lecturer told us that…
“for ex-prisoners, re-entry into the community is a transition from a secure bed and three meals a day – into poverty”.
Under such circumstances, robbing a dairy or a supermarket for some food may look like a viable option. The ex-prisoner will probably end up back in prison with three square meals a day – problem solved. In other words, Corrections sets them up to fail.
‘What Works’ doesn’t work
The Department claims on its website that its unhelpful approach is based on the “What Works paradigm”. The lecturer told us that the underlying assumption of this model is that those who end up in the justice system are all potentially dangerous and the probation officer’s role is solely to reduce their risk of re-offending.
Officers are taught to use a standardised risk assessment questionnaire to measure this risk. If the offender gets above a certain cut-off score on this assessment, then the officer is required to take certain actions such as reporting the risky prisoner to his manager and increasing the number of times he has to check in with probation.
Under the What Works paradigm, those on probation are also required to attend rehabilitation programmes – because Corrections believes these programmes work. Mostly they don’t – but attendance is compulsory and enforcement action is taken against offenders who don’t comply.
In other words, the intention of the What Works paradigm is to enable the Probation Service to impose control and compliance on ex-prisoners and other offenders in the community. This approach does not encourage the probation officer to show any personal interest in the offender or inquire about their needs or their problems; and it doesn’t encourage the development of collaboration or joint problem solving between the offender and the officer.
In her book, From Outlaw to Citizen: Making the Transition from Prison in New Zealand, VUW researcher Anne Opie, says offenders report that this dynamic does not engender trust or respect for probation officers. Offenders are reluctant to tell their Probation Officer the truth about their personal circumstances or any problems they may be experiencing, as this can lead to additional reporting requirements and further sanctions.
According to Opie, offenders believe this is little more than a box ticking exercise. It enables the Corrections Department to say they followed the rules and did everything according to the book. This is exactly what Corrections said after Tony Robertson raped and killed Blessie Gotingco while being supervised by Probation. They may have followed the rules. The problem is, they’re following the wrong rules. As Dr Elizabeth Stanley from VUW puts it:
“Corrections is led by attention to limited, increasingly meaningless, sets of data that focus on process and quantity rather than outcomes or the quality of (the prisoners’) experiences… The ticking of boxes trumps any strong probation service interest in work, education, finance or the re-building of relationships … (and officers are) driven by the need to ensure that their organisation could not be blamed when things go wrong.”
There’s another set of rules that criminologists say is more helpful – rules based on a paradigm called ‘desistance’ (meaning ‘to stop or discontinue’). Instead of focussing on controlling ex-prisoners, the desistance model is more about encouraging them to do better. Offenders are seen as human beings with strengths and potential that needs to be developed. This approach allows probation officers to befriend offenders, show a personal interest in their particular circumstances, and define tasks the offender needs to carry out in a collaborative process – rather than one dictated by an arbitrary, alienating set of rules.
In summary there are two broad approaches to the management of offenders on supervision in the community – the ‘What Works’ mantra and the more humane desistance approach. ‘What Works’ was used in the management of murderers like Graeme Burton, William Bell and Tony Robertson; it clearly doesn’t work. Its time Corrections found a new paradigm, preferably one that doesn’t just rely on ticking boxes.