Home detention seems to be a polarizing topic thrashed out wildly amongst the public. Recently we saw this hotly debated in the case of Nathan Kraatskow, 15, who died when Rouxle Le Roux (19) crashed into him, in May, 2018.
Le Roux was sentenced to 11 months’ home detention and 250 hours of community work for dangerous driving causing death. This caused outcry amongst the public, especially after Le Roux posted inappropriate material referencing the young boy’s death on her social media, leading to Kraatskow’s parents partitioning the court for a harsher sentence.
The application was declined but it got my attention that’s for sure…
You see, as of today, I am 3 days off finishing my own 8-month home detention sentence and the thing that really grabbed me, was the amount of time that the courts handed down in the above case. I gotta say, it speaks volumes about our justice system.
I was convicted of fraud… something I am not proud of, long story short, let a man take advantage and use me for his gain at a very susceptible time of my life, I signed the paper work, I was at fault, I did my time! However, I am very thankful for this experience, it’s been truly eye opening. So, I am going to run you through it and the things I observed as I did.
First, I guess, is the charge. In my case, Fraud. I was looking at 10 years jail for money I didn’t collect, for signing paper work to allow my abusive carer to claim for work he didn’t do. In 2014 I sustained severe nerve damage to both my hips in a sport accident that left me in a wheel chair for 2 years and on ridiculous levels of Oxycodone (a powerful morphine-based drug prescribed to me by my doctors). Clouded by the drug, and the man that abused me daily, I did things I needed to, to stay alive, that I shouldn’t have done.
Cut to 4 years later, sober and having rebuilt, to an extent, my life and body, ACC came looking for someone to prosecute for the over payment of allowances and that was me. It was terrifying!!
Waiting to find out your fate on charges like that, all sorts of things go through your mind. Namely for me, was leaving my children. Something I couldn’t even fathom. I have suffered from clinical depression for most of my life (up until that massive changing moment 2 years ago but that’s another story), the battle that happened in my own mind over those 6 months was intense. You feel sick, every day.. You feel like scum every moment… reality slips away and everything becomes surreal. Panic attacks became a daily occurrence. They feel like you can’t catch your breath, your vision becomes like a strobe light and you just have to get away, your flight instinct kicks into high gear.
To make things a just that little bit freakin more awesome, my case was made very public (well ACC’s side of it anyway) and the daily hate mail I received was horrific!!! Worse yet was the abuse that my 16 year old daughter received via her social media. It took everything I had to hold it together. To ignore the threats and nastiness and just focus on breathing, holding my children close and continuing to work hard at rebuilding my life, trust me, this was not an easy feat.
Over this time (4 court dates in total) I watched others take the stand and I started to notice a horrifying trend. People that got duty lawyers… got NO hope!!!
I watched one man get 6 months home detention for a driving offence while another, having kidnapped a child and been found with unlicensed fire arms got off scot free! How do you ask? Man on the driving charges had a duty lawyer, the other guy, one of the most prestigious lawyers money can buy. And I watched this happen over and over and over. I challenge anyone to go and spend a day in court and see it themselves. Being a student at the ripe age of 35…. I am sure you know which lawyer I could afford!
Despite 33 letters of support from my community (my lawyer chortling he’d never seen so many), a promising career ahead of me, having changed my life completely around and not to mention HAVING RECEIVED NONE OF THE MONEY (my story is not a singular one, I’ve heard it over and over now from so many New Zealanders)… my lawyer advised me plead guilty and hope to not get jail time, my best chance (his exact words).
Standing in the dock, your heart stops, you dare not breathe, they talk so fast in another language that you barely understand what the hell is going on… the judge, didn’t look at me once and before handing down my punishment boomed “we need to make an example of Ms Hoy to the rest of the public so as to deter anyone else from following in her example, perhaps 15 months jail is appropriate…” 33 letters, glowing school marks (I am in my 3rd year of a Bachelors Degree), two years of work in the community and dragging my arse up and I wasn’t being judged on the merits on my case but on the deterrent I could be to others! While I understand this approach somewhat, I was just absolutely gob smacked that this was what was happening to me.
The 15 months jail was lessened (thanks to the judge’s random choice) to 8 months home detention, 100 hours community service and a $10,000 bill to repay. A flippant token from the judge with stern warning. 8 months….. 3 months less that Ms. Le Roux. 3 months less than someone that had taken a life without remorse.
And sadly this was another sickening pattern that our courts prove over and over. Money is worth more than life. More than violent crimes, more than rapes and pedophilia. The people getting the big time are not necessarily the worst of the worst but rather the people that have impacted the coffers and the government’s fiscal reports.
After sentencing, I reported home immediately to be fitted with my anklet and given instruction. The anklets are 13 cm in length when the battery pack is attached, not light and with a sever injury, it has not been a fun 8 months! Sleeping is pretty out. The phycological effects of that thing on your ankle are massive.
They’re large to make a statement. There’s no hiding them what so ever but that’s the point. To make sure you feel like the scum you are when you get the briefest of moments in public. The glaring stares and people ushering their children away. One lady got right up in my face and just said “disgusting” before stomping away.
Lucky for me, and I do mean very VERY lucky for me, the courts still allowed me to attend school. A degree I am now in my last year of, with no idea if anyone will hire me afterwards but I plow on. This honestly was my saving grace. Home detention is isolating and isolation is not good for any humans mind.
People who commit crime don’t often do it because they are inherently bad people. Infact most of them have found themselves there after trauma leads to bad decision making. This is nowhere more apparent than in our prisons. With a staggering 80% of prisoners suffering from mental health issues, it leaves you wondering if this is the right tact for dealing with offenders.
Trauma that leads to this kind of behavior has been proven to be combatted by a few key strategy – support, community, therapy, re-engagement as well as a few other things. The polar opposite of what we do with law breakers now.
Norway is home to the lowest prison rates at 75 per 100,000 people compared with 214 per 100,000 in New Zealand. Their re-offending rates are at a staggeringly low at 20% (compared to our 70%) and this is because they concentrate on the rehabilitation of the human rather than punishment. “If you treat someone like an animal, that’s all they will ever be” Are Hoidel, Norway’s Halden Prison’s director told me via phone call. “Every inmates in Norwegian prisons are going back to the society. Do you want people who are angry — or people who are rehabilitated?” It calls into question whether we need to relook at our system.
Being on home detention, you are allocated a Probations officer and I’d like to state for the record right now, that these are some of the hardest working and caring individuals out there. Once again, I lucked out by being issued a PO that not only wanted to work with me, but because she saw how hard I worked, went into bat for me on many occasions. But they have huge case loads. Ridiculously so. One of my case managers has 160+ people on his books that he must see weekly. And to make things even more confusing you very quickly ascertain that the departments don’t speak to one another. Not through human error but due to the policies in place. It’s hard for them, with so many people to monitor, the time restraints and services you can provide are limited. They have to pick and choose the cases worth investing in.
The biggest issue NZ faces with crime is the generational statistics. Over the course of my last 8 months speaking honestly with my probation officer, I came to understand that I am NOT the norm. I am driven and determined. I never wanted to return to the place that I’ve come from but most people with criminal convictions don’t see things the way that I do. And to be honest,….. I have my days when I slip into like thinking.
Most offenders don’t see the point of improvement. Once you have that title hanging over your head, it’s a very hard place to come back from. Your job options are immediately limited and the ones that do hire ex crims pay barely more than a benefit for long hard work. Not exactly inspiring motivators to encourage reform. Not only that, but most of these people are battling life times of trauma and a large majority, generations of learnt criminality. When your raised in and around it… it’s even harder to pull yourself out and honestly what incentives are we giving people to stay out of trouble? What help are we offering?
When you’re sitting in your house day in and day out, restricted with just your head for company, it’s pretty hard to look past the bleakness of it all and drag yourself out of the mud.
“To be honest, you find a lot of the guys, when faced with the option, will take jail over home d” a prison rehabilitation officer (who wish to remain anonymous) told me “the stints are shorter and there’s less chance of screwing up. Home detention is hard… you have to be able to dot all your I’s and cross all your t’s every minute of the day, the fear of living with that is too much for a lot of people. That and the crippling feeling of loss that comes with a conviction and home detention. You lose a lot. Most, their jobs, partners, family, friends, it adds to the self-hatred. At least in prison, you aren’t being judged constantly.”
I’d totally agree with this mentality. Maybe not with the jail bit but I understand it. People stop talking to you, friends promise to visit but never do, family disappears, people look at you like you are the lowest form of human out there! You count every second of the day, you become terrified of being in public, terrified of being alone, terrified of every knock on the door or bump you hear, desperately afraid that you may have breached your terms without realizing it. An accidental knock to the base unit can be enough!! Think I’m exaggerating….? Trust me, I have watched people being carted off for the smallest of reasons, good people! I have had the gaurds turn up here for a couple of accidental bumps and I am ashamed to say… that had I not look the way I do or have different skin color, the out come may have been very very different.
Home Detention is a horrific punishment. Inconsistencies with sentences handed down by judges, people having the book thrown at them because they can’t afford the right kind of lawyers, crimes pertaining to money penalized more than the loss of human life, under staffed, under budget, under resource and ill equip to end cycles of re-offending because the systems are antiquated and stretched to breaking point. The governments solution to this- build more prisons!
I have been able to accomplish amazing things over the last 8 months, speaking on domestic abuse and drug addiction, my work was featured in a high-profile online platform, nailed my grades, picked up some writing gigs, painted some murals, gave back to the community… I tell you this not to boast but because I hope there are people out there reading this that are in the same position I am. Sitting looking at that bracelet attached to their ankles feeling hopeless about their lives. And while the system may not encourage change or help you, you must find your own drive. Help yourself! It is doable. You have the power to change and define your own life.
We must end the insanity of plowing on with this backwards way of dealing with crime. It doesn’t work… never has. We must start treating the human issues that cause offending rather than the offending. We must ask out Judges to look at each case person by person, to treat them as people and not budget numbers and statistics. We must call for there to be a fairness across the system, to move away from the rich man justice. We must encourage change not bash people about the head with our judgement sticks. You have no idea how someone got to where there are, so take a moment.
Home detention was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. But its how we handle adversity that defines us and the steps we make towards change for the betterment of all.
Vee Hoy: Working as a creative director, documentary maker, writer and artist, V lends her voice to everything from politics, lifestyle, culture, world affairs. She has lead a, at times interesting life, giving her a unique and fresh perspective. She also is is a public figure speaking out on subjects such as domestic violence, gender equality, addiction, mental health and is a strong advocate for cannabis reform.