Parole board failures a matter of life and death
When murderer John Coombes was convicted for a second murder, what did the Adult Parole Board do? Let him out of prison in 2007 to murder his friend, foster mother Raechel Betts, and throw her body parts into the sea.
When violent offender William Watkins was convicted of raping a neighbour in 2000, what did the board do? Let him out of prison to rape and murder Laura and Colleen Irwin, two sisters living next door.
When drug trafficker David Clifford was convicted for physical assault and harassment offences, what did the board do? Let him out in 2008 to bash and murder hairdresser Elsa Corp.
When Steven Hunter was convicted of assault, false imprisonment and drug trafficking, what did the board do? Gave him parole in 2009, meaning he was free to murder Sarah Cafferkey three years later (just after parole ended) and dump her body in a wheelie bin.
When Francis McCullagh was convicted for burning, kicking and bashing the mother of his three children with blocks of wood in 1997, what did the board do? It let him out of prison to bash his girlfriend Melanie Harnden to death.
When Jason Dinsley committed a drug-fuelled rape at knife point, the board overlooked his 100 prior convictions and released him. He then battered Sharon Siermans to death in April with a cricket bat while her son hid in a bedroom.
And when convicted rapist Adrian Bayley was given his leave pass, he raped and murdered Jill Meagher last September.
This prompted the commissioning of the just-delivered report of former High Court judge Ian Callinan on the board’s catastrophic failures.
All these women might still be alive but for the board’s decisions.
In 1991, Bayley was given a five-year sentence for raping three women. He served only three years. In 2002, he was convicted of 16 counts of rape against five prostituted women, and received just under half the maximum sentence. In the year before he killed Meagher, the board was warned five times about his behaviour.
”There was no single documentation containing a straightforward complete chronology of his criminal history or analytical material relating to it on the files,” Justice Callinan said.
While violent sexual offenders and serious sexual offenders including paedophiles ”constituted an obvious and greater threat to society than most other offenders”, victims’ rights came second to the rights of offenders. Victims were often not even given notice of the release of sex offenders.
”I have no doubt that many of the victims of serious violent and sexual crimes do not believe that their concerns are fully taken into account by the ‘authorities’,” Justice Callinan wrote.
Victorian Premier Denis Napthine has said that a number of the 23 recommendations, including tougher criteria for release, will be adopted ”swiftly”. Why not all of them? Why not immediately? Delay could be lethal. (There have been 401 arrests for breaches of parole just this year).
Of course Victoria isn’t the only state where the criminal justice system fails women. Terrence Leary allegedly assaulted a woman in June after being out on parole for the 1990 murder of a 17-year-old girl.
In 2001, Sean Lee King, 27, beat his girlfriend Jazmin-Jean Ajbschitz, 18, to death in a ferocious, drug-fuelled murder. He was on parole for drugs and firearms offences and was facing separate assault charges.
The NSW State Parole Authority has been criticised for deciding to release murderers, sex offenders and other serious criminals based on deliberations lasting often only five minutes.
Former authority member Noel Beddoe told NSW Attorney-General Greg Smith that the ”safety of the community wasn’t always uppermost” in the parole process and that it was increasingly difficult to give complex cases the attention they deserved. Smith had asked Corrective Services NSW for a review of the handling of serious sex offenders on parole.
State governments should also take another look at sentencing. Alison Grundy, a NSW clinical psychologist in the field of sexual assault for more than 20 years, recalls a case in which a man convicted of sexually assaulting her client received a suspended sentence. But for stealing a caravan he was sent to prison for three years.
”I thought at the time – yep that about sums it up – women’s safety is not an issue and women’s lives are pretty cheap,” Grundy says. ”The right to freedom for men is infinitely more important under the law than the safety and lives of women.”
A Change.org petition calling on federal and state attorneys-general to enact stronger rape sentencing has more than 27,000 signatures.
Sentencing and release issues have become too much about the rights of offenders. More attention needs to be given to the rights of women, to value our rights to live a decent life. Or simply to be allowed to live.