Friday, June 13, 2008

A good step in a long road -

From the Herald -

This was one of the early, and nastiest, examples of the inadequacy of the parole laws in this country. It combines with another, far less publicised societal weakness of our "treatment" of mental health patients and mental health issues.

A recent tv programme (reviewed here) gives a pretty clear picture of the problems involved for the Parole Board.
Nigel Latta uttered one the most chilling sentences anyone has heard on television for a long time.

The forensic psychologist was fronting the first in his profiles of murderers, Beyond the Darklands, at 9.30pm on TV One last night.

He looked at William Bell, who in 2001 walked into the Mt Wellington-Panmure RSA with a shotgun in a guitar case. He shot and killed one man, and used the butt of the shotgun to kill two more people and seriously injure another.

Latta made the frightening admission that psychologists are good at identifying psychopathic behaviour, "but [we] don't know enough yet about how to treat them".

It happens more often than perhaps some realise. Some cases - like the schizophrenic lad who killed his family and friends - are just plain sad. Others, like this and Graeme Burton, are symptomatic of a society where the rights of an individual appear to surpass the rights of society at large.

Now that last part I write with trembling hand, for I fully realise the implications of what it says. What powers that might be abused by partisan government if the detention of people on cause of "being a danger to the good order and well-being of society" were to be allowed. Two that come to mind are Bill Sutch who was held on and charged with (totally fabricated?) espionage charges in the 1970's and Ahmed Zaoui with his more recent immigration / terrorism challenges.

The Parole Board though is charged with just such a decision. In large part they get it right. There are times - like Bell and Burton - where they get it horribly, tragically, wrong.

Just how far their "duty of care" might extend will hopefully be answered in the coming Court proceedings. I among many will watch with interest. I among many will pay for the outcome as taxpayer.

There is no similar "central authority" that determines the continuing detention or conditional release of mental health patients. Nor do I think that there should be. For probably 99% of the people with mental disabilities, their danger to society is minimal. There are the few (other than the sociopaths like Burton and Bell) who might stand as a danger to others. They are few and far between; and we really know very little about the triggers and mechanisms that might make them dangerous.

On balance, I think that I will continue to take my chances rather than place at risk the rights and freedoms of others. There are more murderers on the road than in an asylum.

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