A prisoner is in jail serving their punishment – doing the time for their crime. Whilst in jail, they are mistreated … in a way that breaches the rights guaranteed to all New Zealanders under legislation. They then get monetary compensation (only after all other means of remedying the situation have failed). That compensation first pays any debt they owe to any person they may have harmed through their crime – assuming there is such a debt in place.
And then the Government takes back the rest of the compensation and uses it to bolster the account it uses to pay for the support of victims of all crime.
So, in essence, the Government is proposing to fund a system of helping crime victims with money that it pays to prisoners after mistreating them whilst they are in its custody. And it will take that compensation away no matter how grievous the rights breach the prisoner has suffered, and irrespective of whether the crime that put the person in prison caused any individual any loss at all.
But to go from those propositions to a solution that prisoners have no right to receive compensation for harms caused to them by the State, but instead must pay it over to help society meet its obligations to crime victims, is to in effect say that prisoners are not people. And that is wrong.
That is why I’m pleasantly surprised to see Judith Collins essentially agree with me and announce that she won’t be following through with Simon Power’s proposal, but rather moving to make permanent the existing claims system. …
Quite right. So credit where credit is due – my first words of 2013 are praise for Judith Collins.
Judith’s opponents sometimes try to paint her as one-dimensional, but if you look at her overall track record in both Police and Justice, I believe it is in fact quite sophisticated in balancing up the various rights and responsibilities of those involved in the justice system.