Politicising Grief

David Elliott’s revocation of Garforth’s classification decision could be viewed as an act of political opportunism.  After Ms Simpson sparked public outrage about Garforth’s reclassification, Elliott made a number of statements; arguing that “this [the reclassification] is not what this government was elected for” and also that “it is essential that any reclassification of prisoners reflects community expectations”.[9] 

However he is wrong as is shown by the Corrective Services NSW manual. Classification isn’t a form of punishment, but is a security rating. It is clear that he exploited the anger and grief of victims to be seen to be tough and to justify wrongful punishment rather than defend Garforth’s entitlements. The Minister abused his authority and supported the misunderstanding of the law.

Involvement of victims in the classification process runs counter to the rehabilitative purposes of sentencing. The decision of NSW Prisons Commissioner Peter Severin to meet with the families of victims of NSW ‘lifers’ will do more harm. It will refresh their pain, link them firmly to the offenders and allow them to influence decisions which should ultimately be made by the justice system generally.

Politicians see a benefit for themselves by upgrading punishment, but it really reflects their lack of care for victims. Mrs Simpson had no support until she publicly demonstrated her grief and anger on national television with a victims’ organisation beside her. It reflected how abandoned she felt and was an embarrassment to all who watched.

This was again highlighted by the struggle of Katrina Keshishian. After being the victim of a violent sexual assault, Ms Keshishian had to go public with her story to get the victims’ compensation she deserved. The government had reduced victims’ payments, but she was successful in getting her claim reassessed.[10] Government has been mean and unresponsive to victims’ personal needs but has tried to satisfy them with more pain for the offenders, as a return to the failed system of vengeance.

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