Time to face uncomfortable truths about our offenders

Jail is for them, not us, is a white middle class understanding that’s well-illustrated by the case of Rick Bryant, the ageing rocker currently appealing against his jail sentence for drug dealing.

I follow his case with interest. Nobody who was at university at the same time as Rick could forget him, in part because he was a top English literature student, in part because of his vocals in local bands, and partly because he was there in the great late 60s rush into dope, which back then was a novelty.

I’m not breaking confidence here, since Rick has admitted to a long-standing use of cannabis.

He has now been jailed twice for drug crimes, has 14 previous drug convictions, and is three months into a two-year sentence for having cannabis to sell, along with having small amounts of cannabis oil, ecstasy and cocaine at his place.

My point is not about him in particular – I’m sorry to see he’s in this position – but about the attitudes among middle-class people of that era that surface when they run into difficulties with the police.

They adopt a posture that’s part aristocratic disdain, and part disbelief: police exist to hassle other people, surely, not people who’ve read Dostoevsky and know how to hold a knife and fork. You get this, too, with fraudsters who are suddenly called to account, and with bad drivers.

Perhaps it was this instinctive understanding that made ACT leader Don Brash, keen to slash Government spending, moot legalising cannabis and making dope-dealing OK.

That might be the one politically appealing idea Brash will ever come up with that could attract old stoners, though unfortunately they’re the last people who would vote for him.

Rick wants home detention, and who can blame him? He has a music room at home, and creature comforts, and could easily pretend the whole darn court thing had never happened. Prison is not a nice place: he knew that already: its unpleasantness is meant to be its point.

But his arguments could only have been dreamed up by a white middle-class offender who’d woken from a bad dream only to discover he was living it.

No Maori, let’s say, the 12 per cent of the population who make up half this country’s prison population, would dream of appealing on the grounds – among other things – of not belonging there because you don’t get enough sunshine, and you don’t like air conditioning.

What made me think about this is Hone Harawira, who snarled about the appalling Maori rate of imprisonment on TV7 the other night. I wonder how successful Maori are at getting home detention.

Harawira is hard to take, but often right.

Read the full article



Additional reading

News category: Analysis and Comment.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,