Charles Richardson writes:


Sydney’s Daily Telegraph this morning is lauding the success of one of its more outrageous beat-ups: yesterday’s front page story, “Milat prison perks”.

For anyone who missed it, the story claimed that convicted serial
killer Ivan Milat had been given “luxury items” for his cell in
Goulburn’s Supermax prison as a reward for good behaviour. The
“luxuries”, ludicrously enough, consisted of a TV and a sandwich
toaster. But, berated by the Telegraph, “victims'” groups and
the state opposition (who said jails were becoming “holiday units”),
the government quickly caved in: TV and sandwich toaster were removed yesterday. Said Premier Morris Iemma, “We have sought a suspension then a review” of Milat’s privileges.

The problems with this way of making public policy should be obvious to
anyone who’s spent more than a moment thinking about crime or politics.
But since that category doesn’t seem to include the Tele‘s editors, let’s spell them out:

  • Government-by-tabloid is a bad idea. Control of crime demands
    intelligent reflection on the facts, not knee-jerk reaction. If you
    want to know why the NSW public sector seems so dysfunctional, one
    explanation is the politicians’ habit of giving in to the talkback
    hosts and tabloid editors with their message of hate and ignorance.
  • Allocation of “perks” to prisoners has got nothing to do with
    punishment for the original crime, it’s about controlling behaviour in
    prison. For someone like Milat who’s there for life, they’re even more
    important, because you can’t use the promise of early release as an
    inducement. The cost of a few TV sets is utterly trivial compared to a
    full-scale prison riot.
  • When Iemma says
    “we owe it to the victims to review this”, you can tell the “victims’
    rights” movement has gotten way out of hand. Criminal justice isn’t
    about the victims’ interests, it’s about society’s interests: if you
    want personal retribution, file a civil suit. The victims’ and their
    relatives have got no more right to concern themselves with Milat’s
    treatment than any other citizens or taxpayers.

At least there are some voices of sanity out there.
Today’s Tele quotes “victims rights campaigner” Ken Marslew: “We’re
losing the plot here … if we treat people like animals, they’re
going to act like animals.”

Peter Fray

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