Free PhD for the cop killer

Steve Elers writes:

In 2002, 17-year-old Luff shot two Feilding police officers, killing Detective Constable Duncan Taylor and injuring Detective Jeanette Park. Taylor died instantly after being shot in the head and chest at point-blank range at a Rongotea farmhouse in Manawatū. Taylor left behind a wife and an 11-month-old son, who is now a young adult. Luff also shot at Detective Tony Heathcote.

In September 2002, Luff was sentenced to a minimum non-parole period of 17 years for the murder of Taylor, 10 years for the attempted murder of Park, five years for shooting at Heathcote, seven years for kidnapping his former girlfriend’s parents, five years for aggravated burglary and two years for burglary. Those sentences are concurrent, meaning they are served simultaneously, which is why Luff came up for parole last month – 17 years after his sentencing – rather than in 2048, which is when he would be eligible for parole under a consecutive sentencing model.

So he tried to kill three cops, plus did kidnapping and burglary.

The Parole Board’s decision noted Luff is “undertaking his PhD – he has already completed significant academic qualifications” and that he has been awarded a PhD scholarship.

Although the Parole Board didn’t name the university, a quick Google search returns Luff’s public profile on the Massey University website, which says his doctoral thesis is tentatively titled Life within the society of captives: Exploring the pains of imprisonment for real.

His profile page says his research methodology is autoethnography. In layman’s terms, autoethnography “seeks to describe and systematically analyse personal experience to understand cultural experience”.

Massey’s website also includes a publicly available online database of graduates to verify qualifications. It shows Luff was awarded a bachelor of arts in defence studies and psychology in 2014 and a bachelor of arts (honours), first-class honours in psychology in 2017.

I have mixed feelings on this. It is great Luff has studied in prison and gained a degree. It bodes well for his future when he is released. It is a win-win. But …

Kudos to Luff for his outstanding academic achievements so far. After all, it must be tough studying in prison for all those years, virtually all alone along with your books and study resources.

I mean, imagine being a student and not having to work at least part-time at the minimum wage to pay your rent and food bills. And when it’s mealtime, someone else cooks it for you, in consultation with a qualified dietician, so your meal meets the Ministry of Health’s food and nutrition guidelines, as required in prison.

When I taught at an Auckland university as a PhD student, I remember having Pasifika students who travelled to campus outside of class hours to use the computers and internet to complete their assignments because they didn’t have those luxuries at home.

Students in prison are provided with extra printed resources other students don’t receive because prisoners are not allowed to access the internet.

And what about the huge debt that most students end up with? I’m not sure if Luff paid his own way through his bachelor’s and honour’s degrees, or whether his education was courtesy of the taxpayer, such as the “$8 million dollars in funding to tertiary education organisations delivering prisoner training and education” given in 2017.

Should the taxpayer be funding not just an initial degree, but two further post-graduate degrees?

In other words, between now and May 2021, a convicted cop killer may possibly be on “release to work” at a Massey University campus, which could potentially lead to a permanent position once parole is approved. I’m not sure how that fits with Massey’s policy on pre-employment checks. But don’t worry about it, dear law-abiding citizens, just foot the bill.

So long as he isn’t a member of Hobson’s Choice, he’ll be welcome!

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