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Marc My Words: What Do Kleptomaniacs Take For Cure


Marc My Words

What do kleptomaniacs take for a cure?

By Marc Alexander

It seems like every time I open the newspaper there is a growing number of bandits trying hard to get their names into the ‘Anthology of N.Z.Thieves’ by Hans Zupp. And there is no shortage of hard luck stories (excuses) that accompany them. Predictably they have their well-meaning advocates eager to out do each other in coming up with torturous explanations of why the robbers themselves are the real victims.

Last December a woman pleaded with a District Court judge to be lenient towards her partner Craig James Sinclair, moments before he was sentenced to three years jail for his part in the $246,000 ram-raid burglary of Chubb Protective Services in Nelson. Despite previously admitting charges of burglary and unlawfully taking a motor vehicle, his partner tried to excuse his offending by suggesting he was a “good family man” who had got in with "the wrong crowd" and had started using “P”, or pure methamphetamine. Without even a glancing mention of the impact of his offending on others, she said the burglary had had a devastating effect on her family. So… now they’re the victims? How does a convicted crook qualify as a ‘good family man’ anyway?

How about this one? In the finest tradition of ‘attack being the best form of defence’, Jason Ormsby, in court on charges of burglary, (and driving while suspended), had the temerity to ask, ”Does anyone really think I want to live the type of life I am living? You would have to be insane to want to live the type of life I live”. Nice. His appeal even contains a germ of a defence: that of not being responsible by questioning his own sanity! To add credence to this bizarre nonsense, he alleged he had been “let down” by the health system. That is of course, on those rare occasions when he was at liberty: he had been locked up in prison for most of the last nine years!

The kicker was his lawyer’s description of Ormsby's situation as "a sad indictment on our health system". Ormsby was “‘forced” to burgle to subsidise a long-standing drug addiction, he said. It did not seem to occur to anyone that if an offender chooses to take drugs, it follows that he is responsible for the consequences. It is abundantly clear that most of these crims only use their heads to avoid liability for what they do. There is an attitude that the act of burglary is not the crime, but society has created the conditions that make burglary unavoidable!

Consider the case from last September when Wellington’s most prolific burglar was described as being “addicted to the crime”! Benjamin Turei Brooking was eventually sentenced by Wellington District Court judge, Bruce Davidson, on 38 charges of burglary, three of unlawfully taking motor vehicles, driving while disqualified, aggravated assault and assault on a former partner. His lawyer argued that as well as being addicted to pokie machines, drugs and alcohol, Brooking was ‘addicted’ to the burglary he committed to fuel his lifestyle. The evidence for this? Brooking had 83 previous convictions for burglary and began his latest spree just a month after his release from a prison term of five years and three months!

So…what’s the lesson here? Commit a crime and call it a condition? Are we now at the point where there will always be extenuating circumstances that just happen to be beyond everyone’s personal control?

It isn’t the thieving miscreants in prison that ought to concern us, I suppose, but the ones still at large! Well at least the Judge sent this proud specimen to jail for the 11th time since 1981. And as for lawyers…well guess it’s their job to do whatever it takes to defend their client. Occasionally that might even involve the truth!

What goes on in someone’s head when these crooks are egotistical enough to steal, casting respect for law and ownership rights of others blithely to one side? And it is egotism because thieves are as eager to protect their own property, as their victims are to protect theirs. Psychologists, criminologists, hand wringers and behavioural apologists have spent years trying to work out what makes burglars tick and how to restrain them. Fortunately research has given us an insight into these offenders: They are typically egocentric, seek immediate gratification and don't care how their behaviour affects others. We already knew that didn’t we?

Also, theft is a speedy, low effort means of achieving an end. Put simply it's easier to steal than to work for something. We hear self-serving justifications like ‘They have insurance’ ‘They can get new stuff’ ‘Nobody gets hurt…it’s just stuff.’ What burglars don't consider is that a lot of stolen things can't be replaced. According to Constable Peter Reynolds, of the Mt Wellington Burglary Squad, they do not commit burglaries because they have to put food on the table for their kids. Corrections Department senior research adviser Dr Nick Wilson has even identified a career hierarchy of thieves. At the top we have the commercial burglars (they see their activities as victimless crimes) who tend to look down on domestic burglars. On the next rung are career domestic burglars. They are disparaging of their amateur and drug-addicted counterparts who tend to be opportunistic.

We can draw some basic conclusions:

Career burglars commit dozens, even hundreds of crimes a year.

Burglaries are only part of their criminal repertoire.

Typically, these offenders enter houses during the day when nobody is home. As they become more confident, they move on to burgling at night.

Some offenders talk about the excitement they get creeping through the house while the residents don't know they are there.

Many seek environments where people are vulnerable, leading to offences such as rape and/or aggravated robbery. If disturbed they feel they have to defend themselves, or they believe they can gain more by intimidation of victims.

Often burglars have a substance-abuse problem. The link is not always direct. Rather than burgling to fund their habit; it has been found that burglars will use drugs to get ‘help’ to calm their nerves to do the crime.

Rehabilitating burglars is close to futile. Their rates of reoffending are very high. More than half of the offenders released from prison in 2002 were reconvicted within 12 months - after two years that figure climbs to more than 70 per cent.

From the point of view of the law-abiding it’s natural to want to see burglars caught and punished appropriately. And sometimes it pays to be a touch smarter before calling the police. At the beginning of last month a burglary victim was left wishing the intruders had done a more thorough job. Kenneth Grant Laurson ended up in the Christchurch District Court charged with cultivation of cannabis after burglars who raided his crop left some behind. Police attending the crime noticed cannabis leaves on his driveway. They searched the house for drugs and found 32 small cannabis plants growing in the front garden. More than 40 other cannabis plants were found. A corner of his garage was sectioned off with black polythene. It contained a bucket of dried cannabis leaf, some potting mix, electrical multi-plugs, fluorescent lighting, and an extractor fan. Ten cannabis plants measuring about 60cm high were stolen from the enclosed area of his garage. In this case the perpetrator evaporated as if in a puff of smoke leaving the ‘victim’ with 200 hours of community work.

What we need is for punishment to fit the crime and be a deterrent to others. Though we may privately hope that Judge Graeme Noble could get his wish to sentence offenders to the stocks so they could apologise to every one who walks past them, it looks somewhat unlikely. As he said in the Invercargill District Court last September, “Regrettably about 250 years ago they took that power away from the courts".

Often our sense of justice is not fully aroused from its slumber until long after our sense of injustice has been thoroughly awakened. It’s time these burglars read a different book. My suggestion - ‘Prison Security’ by Barb Dwyer.


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