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What Arthur Taylor’s journey tells us about crime and rehabilitation

By   /  February 12, 2019  /  13 Comments

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When Arthur Taylor was eleven he was sent to the Epuni Boys Home for skipping school. It was a brutal institution (and Arthur later received a government apology and compensation for being mistreated there). Like most such institutions the Epuni Home was a school for crime, so it was no surprise that Arthur committed his first crimes, for burglary and car conversion, after he escaped from the Home. He was in and out of prison from that time on and has spent two thirds of his life, around 40 years, behind bars.

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When Arthur Taylor was eleven he was sent to the Epuni Boys Home for skipping school. It was a brutal institution (and Arthur later received a government apology and compensation for being mistreated there). Like most such institutions the Epuni Home was a school for crime, so it was no surprise that Arthur committed his first crimes, for burglary and car conversion, after he escaped from the Home. He was in and out of prison from that time on and has spent two thirds of his life, around 40 years, behind bars.

The standard view of the “law and order” brigade is that repeat criminals like Arthur are hopeless cases and we are wasting our time trying to rehabilitate them. Arthur is spectacularly proving them wrong. Despite having 150 criminal convictions behind him, Arthur has turned his life around and is now a human rights champion and, in particular, a champion of prisoner rights.

Without legal training, and limited by his prison environment, Arthur has won several important court cases, against a prison smoking ban, against the police use of jailhouse snitches and against mass strip searches – and most significantly a Court decision that the ban on prisoner voting is incompatible with the New Zealand Bill of Rights. His achievements in the human rights domain bear comparison with any other, fully qualified, lawyer.

Clearly, Arthur is driven by a sense of justice, and a determination to protect both his own rights and those of his fellow prisoners.

One lesson I draw from Arthur’s journey is that we should not give up on any prisoner, and that within our prison system there are amazing talents, who should be given every encouragement to use them in a constructive way.

The other lesson is that we should do much more to guarantee the human rights of prisoners and get rid of all the demeaning petty restrictions, many of which Arthur has exposed over the past few years. We should learn from the Norwegian prison system. It operates on the basis that life inside prison should be the same as life on the outside. The one and only punishment is that you can’t leave until you are paroled.

Today Arthur won his freedom, after serving 14 years behind bars.  I wish him well and every success in his future legal battles to advance the human rights of prisoners and other New Zealanders.

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13 Comments

  1. saveNZ says:

    +1 Could not agree more. Also the other lesson, is that looking after children better is better for society than allowing kids who in other circumstances would never have spent 40 years in prison to go down that route.

    Clearly he has achieved a lot while in prison (more than most people in their lives for human rights) so begs the question what could he have achieved if he had been a free member of society for that time and his life was not derailed at 11 years old?

    I wish Arthur the best for the future.

  2. Janet Bedggood says:

    Thank you Keith, an inspiring blog.

    I went with my father to an Epuni Boys sport day. My father was deputy superintendent of Child Welfare at the time so the staff would have been on their best behaviour. I remember two incidents well. First, one of the older boys was reprimanded for smoking. My father (uncharacteristically) criticised (to me) the staff member who pulled the boy up. He must have been legally allowed to smoke. Probably the staff member heard it later in private.

    Secondly, Murray Halberg was there. He took a group of the athletic boys for a run around the track. My father often mentioned that, he was very impressed with Murray Halberg doing that with the boys.

    Despite current criticisms of Child Welfare homes, my father was always respectful of young people. I grew up learning to be respectful of people, including those who others rubbished.

    • Michelle says:

      Many of the welfare homes have a lot to answer for the abuse of children many being Maori for minor things like stealing chocolates does not warrant receiving an electric shock. Someone needs to be held accountable for this.

  3. G.A.P. says:

    Very well said keith.

  4. Tom Gardner says:

    “One lesson I draw from Arthur’s journey is that we should not give up on any prisoner, and that within our prison system there are amazing talents, who should be given every encouragement to use them in a constructive way.”

    Substantial truth in this. But don’t get dewy-eyed about the small minority of psychopaths/sociopaths who, for the protection of the rest of us, need to be in jail forever (think e.g. Blessie Gotinco’s murderer).

    And yes to this: “what could he have achieved if he had been a free member of society for that time and his life was not derailed at 11 years old?” A good and loving and understanding childhood is ideally a universal entitlement.

    Make up for lost time, Arthur.

    • Michal says:

      Yes but how many of these people are there that should be locked up for good. And should they really be locked up in a prison. Don’t they have serious mental health conditions – psychotic episodes etc.

      As in some of the Nordic countries have people when they come in having drug and alcohol counselling, learning a trade and leaving with support. Our idea is to hammer them while they are in, put them down, punish them, let them out to their own devices with a little bit of money. Job done no wonder so many go back in.

      I expect they were very pleased to let Arthur go, they don’t want him narking on them!

      Thanks Keith and good luck Arthur you have done some great stuff over the years.

  5. Mjolnir says:

    “One lesson I draw from Arthur’s journey is that we should not give up on any prisoner, and that within our prison system there are amazing talents, who should be given every encouragement to use them in a constructive way.”

    Spot on Keith.

    The law & order fetishists don’t want a bar of it because then they’d have to view prisoners as human beings. Only by de-humanising prisoners can they argue for more brutalisation in jails, not for rehabilitation, but for endless Old Testament retribution.

    They hare Arthur because he’s prived them wrong.

    • Mjolnir says:

      “They hare Arthur because he’s prived them wrong” = “They hate Arthur because he’s proved them wrong”

      Bugger my dyslexia

  6. Jody says:

    All the best Arthur

  7. Andrea says:

    Voting.

    Needs to be fixed.

    All prisoners.

    PDQ.

    Repeal/amendment of Quinn’s Bill/Act.
    Who’s sponsoring this in Parliament?

  8. Janet Bedggood says:

    My earlier post is self indulgent and i apologise for not being more to the point. Obviously the staff at Epuni Boys Home did not respect the boys in their care. I just observed them being authoritarian but Arthur must have suffered from a lot more than that.

    I think it’s been positive that TDB has published a number of blogs from Arthur about the reforms he’s been pushing for, so we know a little of the work that Keith describes.

    What Arthur has achieved is impressive and I join with others in wishing him well in the future.

  9. Janio says:

    MJOLNIR appreciate your posts, and we knew what you wrote first was intended as you corrected it.

  10. Ian Macdonald says:

    When I first read Arthur Taylor’s biography I was sure he was badly let down by the education system. He was obviously a bright lad bored by a dull school. His truancy should have been recognised as such if he had had inspired teachers around him. To shunt a bright bored kid into crime school was always going to end bad. How many other kids have had their lives ruined by such action? How often do those who have institutional authority over children react to their behavior when unengaged and bored by labeling them delinquents? Just dimwittedness and tragedy.

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