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Prisoners Compensation Bill Legally and Morally Flawed

Prisoners Compensation Bill Legally and Morally Flawed

“The Prisoners and Victims Claims (Continuation and Reform) Bill has no place in the legislative agenda of a government committed to the reduction of c rime, and reform of the prison system” Kim Workman, Director of Rethinking Crime and Punishment, told the Justice and Electoral Select Committee. The legislation will make permanent earlier legislation which allowed victims of crime to seek a share of compensation received by prisoners.

“The political and public environment that supported the introduction the original Prisoners and Victims Claims Act in 2005, brought with it a number of unforeseen and negative consequences. This Bill which perpetuates that negative environment is being introduced at an entirely time. The efforts of government to reduce crime and reoffending are bearing fruit. We understand what needs to happen within prisons, to maintain officer and prisoner safety, and reduce the reoffending of released prisoners.

This legislation is seriously flawed from a human rights perspective, in that it breaches the Victim Rights Act 2002, which required under Section 7 that all victims be treated with courtesy, compassion and dignity. This legislation denies victims’ rights to prisoners that have been abused and violated by members of the state. The pre-assumption that victims of State abuse are not entitled to be treated as victims, on the grounds that they happen to be prisoners, is inconsistent with the government’s own commitment to a victim-centric criminal justice system.

The original Act, and this amendment, sends out four clear messages:

Message One: Going to prison is no longer sufficient punishment. Punishment will take on new and imaginative forms. Offenders, by reason of their status, are no longer entitled to be treated with respect or decency; nor do they to have the same rights as other citizens who are victims of state brutality and violence.

Message Two: If you are a prison officer, you will be pleased to know that the state does not regard prisoners as fully human. If you ill-treat or brutalise them, the state will make it very difficult for them to complain, or to seek compensation.

Message Three: If you are a prisoner, don’t waste your time complaining against ill treatment. You are not valued, and your complaint is unlikely to be seriously considered. If you are successful, you will not actually get all the compensation to which you are entitled. If you want justice, look for other ways of getting it. Like payback.

Message Four: If you are the victim of a crime, realise that the state does not have sufficient regard for your rights and needs of victims to compensate you in your own right. However, you are free to apply for compensation which has been taken from other victims of crime i.e. blood money” to meet your needs.

Essential to the new strategy, is a public commitment to the idea that offenders and victims have basic human rights that must be protected. The idea that every time you acknowledge the human rights of offenders, and observe due process in their treatment, you take something of value away from victims, is both morally flawed and fatuous. What is instead required is a government sincerely committed to address both the rights and needs of victims, and to preserve the human rights of all those affected by the criminal justice system.


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