Monday, June 16, 2003

Insane Journos' Crime Beat Up

Yesterday's Melbourne Hun showed fine form yesterday, with a double forward turn in the pike position straight into the gutter. Beside a fine muck-rake on Red Symons, we were offered "Insane killers given leave", which informed us that:

CRIMINALLY insane killers are being released from custody to attend weddings, go shopping and take holidays.

Last year, 360 leave applications were granted to 39 inmates, most of them psychotic killers.

This shocking state of affairs has, of course,

"... outraged victims' groups and the State Opposition, which has called for the leave to be halted and the system overhauled."

On page 4, The Hun goes on to present a rogues gallery of inmates "at the state's highest security centre for the criminally insane, Thomas Embling Hospital in Fairfield", with short sketches of their offences naming the psychiatric disorders which got them into Thomas Embling Hospital rather than one of the state's general prisons. Finally, lest we be in any doubt on what the Hun's position is, there's the editorial "This lottery could kill" which concludes:

But the Sunday Herald Sun shares the concerns of many in the community, including advocates of victims and their families, over a scheme that has the potential to be a dangerous lottery. Some patients have disappeared for a day. Garden [a prisoner who escaped while on escorted leave], with a passport he renewed during an earlier supervised outing, one of 40 he had been granted, was on the run for four days.

[Forensic Leave] panel is gambling with the community's safety.

There are some interesting omissions in The Hun's report. Here are three I spotted:

1. None of the prisoners in their "rogues gallery" are explicitly stated to be included among the 39 included in the leave program. The Hun does report on the escape of "Convicted killer and paranoid schizophrenic Neville Garden" during an escorted visit to Southbank, and the abduction and molestation of a 5 year-old child by Darren Seiler, a patient at State Forensic Services. The Garden incident occurred in March 2001, however we should not underestimate the level of community concern it created because, as the editorial assures us, it is still "fresh in the public's memory". Most Victorians have probably been worrying about it at the back of their minds throughout the whole of the Gulf War. (The Hun is remarkably coy about the exact date of the Seiler incident).

2. The Hun makes no mention of the total number of inmates at Thomas Embling Hospital.

3. Beyond the Garden and Seiler incidents, The Hun produces no fresh cases of "things that have gone horribly wrong" in the administration of the program, or as a result of the program. Instead the focus is on the outrage of victim's advocates.

No mention either, of any of the celebrated crimes that have been committed by people fully in posession of their faculties over the past few years. But when you're a crusading journo, the last thing you need is balance. Nor does it do your case any good to remind your readers that, despite any fears you might be trying to foster, Victoria's crime rate is the lowest of any Australian state or territory.

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