Orig­i­nal ini­tia­tive to be ap­plauded


With the na­tion’s jails bulging at the seams, the coun­try is about to have a dif­fi­cult and com­plex con­ver­sa­tion about crime and pun­ish­ment.

Much of the pub­lic de­bate about these is­sues has been framed in re­cent years by the Sen­si­ble Sen­tenc­ing Trust.

On the one hand, func­tion­ing as a trust it has di­rected funds to sup­port the vic­tims of crime, but on the other, op­er­at­ing dy­nam­i­cally as a move­ment, it has used the anger gen­er­ated in the pub­lic do­main as a re­sult of crimes of vi­o­lence to pro­pel a pro­gramme of po­lit­i­cal pres­sure to set more puni­tive mea­sures for those who of­fend.

Sym­pa­thy for the vic­tim and anger to­wards the per­pe­tra­tor are deeply hu­man re­sponses, but these vis­ceral emo­tions are a dan­ger­ous foun­da­tion on which to build a pro­gramme of ju­di­cial re­form.

Make no mis­take, An­nah Stret­ton has said some­thing pow­er­ful and im­por­tant.

I can­not agree with all she says.

Un­doubt­edly pris­ons are re­cruit­ment cen­tres for gangs, and I don’t think the views of Pro­fes­sor Lam­bie can be so read­ily laid aside.

How­ever, by wrench­ing our view of im­pris­oned women from its cur­rent ma­trix and re­fram­ing it into an­other - see­ing them as schol­ars in a uni­ver­sity for the dis­ad­van­taged - An­nah has done some­thing ut­terly orig­i­nal.

I ad­mire the fact that she has both­ered to lis­ten to these women and through that alighted on dis­rup­tion as a found­ing prin­ci­ple to be­gin a process of restora­tive change.

As I write this a story breaks: Two women, kid­napped and shoved into the boot of a small car.

A ter­ri­fy­ing ride end­ing in a plunge over a bank.

I think: ‘Those poor women.’ Then I feel anger. How dare peo­ple do this.

But if we re­frame vi­o­lence as a dis­ease - as a Glaswe­gian psy­chol­o­gist as­serts - then the ques­tion be­comes: ‘What is the medicine, the ther­apy or pro­gramme to cure it?’

In Glas­gow they found the an­swer to that when suc­cess­fully deal­ing with youth knife crime. Vi­o­lence is a dis­ease. The over-rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Maori in our pris­ons forces us to face the fact that some of the roots of dis­ad­van­tage lie in our shared and trou­bled past, for, as writer J. L. Borges com­mented in one of his fa­mous con­ver­sa­tions, we may know the past but the present is hid­den from us.

An­nah Stret­ton has had the courage to see into the present and for that she is to be ap­plauded.


Fash­ion de­signer, An­nah Stret­ton.

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