60 year old Aboriginal man, Robert Charles Vincent Veen has served more than 42 years in prison after having received life sentences on two occasions. He was convicted for two separate counts of manslaughter, between 1975 to 1983 and again, between 1983 to 2015.
Robert Veen’s case highlights what the lack of rehabilitative support in prison can cause. For his second life sentence he was held for twelve years past his release date finally being released this year after 34 years. He got the benefit of the Violent Offender Treatment Program but had been given conditional release as day leave and weekend leave for the previous several years. He learnt new skills to deal with his anger and frustrations.
Born in 1955, Bobby was a member of the stolen generation with a deprived childhood. A white family in Albury adopted him when he was two but was ultimately removed from their custody when he became too difficult to manage. He attended primary school in Albury and then attended Wodonga Technical College until he was fifteen, reaching second year standard. The principal gave evidence that he had a good outgoing personality and was outstanding at the sports of swimming, football and cross-country running. However, according to court evidence, a male teacher at his school introduced him to homosexual activity and the trial judge also recognised indications that Veen’s once strong personality had gradually deteriorated as he began to feel the impact of the difficulties of a black person in a white society.
In the course of his dysfunctional upbringing, he became a homosexual prostitute. In 1975, after drinking and arguing with a client, Trevor Michael Ward who refused to pay, the alternation ended with Ward being stabbed to death by the then 20 years old Veen in the victim’s flat.
The jury found him guilty of manslaughter instead of murder based on the defence of diminished responsibility as Veen had a brain injury and had uncontrollable impulses, especially when drunk. Justice Rath, the trial judge, sentenced Veen to life imprisonment on the basis that if released whilst suffering from what he accepted to be brain damage, Veen was ‘likely sooner or later to kill or seriously injure one or more other human beings’.
The judge admitted that life imprisonment was otherwise inappropriate but was imposed to protect the community from Veen’s uncontrollable urges when affected by alcohol. This decision was overturned by the High Court in 1979 and Veen was given 12 years.
During his first sentence, Bobby did not receive any support in jail. He was denied access to rehabilitation and education programs that could allow him to reform and reintegrate back into society upon his release. This was especially problematic concerning his alcoholic addiction that had a destructive influences on his behaviours and cognitive decision-making. As he was a good worker in the prison who was “very quiet, never a problem”, he was released on parole in the January of 1983.
Unfortunately his detachment from society and inability to reintegrate resulted in him turning back to alcohol and prostitution, leading to his assault on Paul Edmund Hoson in October 1983, nine months after his release.
Once again, the jury found him guilty of manslaughter instead of murder based on the defence of diminished responsibility due to his alcohol-induced brain damages. Justice Hunt sentenced Veen to life imprisonment and his appeal to both the Court of Criminal Appeal and the High Court in 1988 failed, partially due to the case’s the striking similarity between his previous assault on Ward in 1975, confirming the sentence of life imprisonment.
His reoffending shows the inadequacy of the criminal justice system in successfully rehabilitating and reintegrating of past offenders back into the wider community.
In 2006 he had a year long program that allowed him out to a AOD (alcohol and other drugs) program once a month from Long Bay prison. From 2007 to 2015 he received day and weekend leave going out with supporters from his family and community. He did the VOTP (violent offenders treatment program) from Parklea Prison in 2010 and 2011, and saw a counsellor once a month in the community for four years. He still sees the same counsellor.
Bobby Veen finished his term in June 2015 after completing those rehabilitation programs and since his release has resettled successfully with the support of psychologists as well as friends mentoring him.
He currently has a voluntary carer supporting him. He has developed as an artist. He has cancer of the stomach diagnosed in January 2015 and has been treated by radiation and chemotherapy.