Archive for February, 2010

‘Jail fails to change ways of arsonists, say experts’ (Sydney Morning Herald, 7 February 2010)

February 7, 2010 Leave a comment

It has been awhile since I last blog.  Good to be back 🙂

The following article highlights one of the challenges facing the Australian criminal justice system in dealing with arsonists.  It also highlights one of the law reform mechanisms that is not often commented upon.

Jail fails to change ways of arsonists, say experts‘ (Sydney Morning Herald, 7 February 2010)

CRIMINOLOGISTS and psychologists say the Australian legal system is lagging behind the world in dealing with bushfire arsonists. The issue will be canvassed at a National Judicial College forum on sentencing in Canberra today.

Damon Muller, a post-doctoral fellow at the Australian Research Council’s Centre for Excellence in Policing and Security, said there was a community expectation that arsonists should be severely punished.

But Dr Muller said a child who lit a fire might not have intended the damage or understood the implications of what he was doing.

First point that can be drawn from this extract thus far is the critical role universities can play in our law reform process.  It is not just the NSW Law Reform Commission! In Australia, universities often create specialised research institutes that focus on particular area of studies.  In this case, the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence in Policing and Security is closely associated with Griffith University, Charles Sturt University, ANU and the University of Queensland.

What the academics found at ARC Centre of Excellence in Policing and Security with regards to how our criminal justice system deal with arsonists is troubling.

If kids are lighting fires to meet some psychological need, then throwing them into jail is unlikely to change that,” he said. ‘‘One of the things we don’t have is a treatment program for arsonists who have been sentenced.’

The problem with habitual arsonists, according to Dr Muller, is that sentencing them to jail is not going to change their behaviours.  Once release back into society, they would potentially cause harm to the community again.  What Dr Muller believes is required to fix this problem is rehabilitation program for arson offenders in prisons.  However, this is currently not available in Australia.

This opinion is further reinforced by Rebekah Doley, a psychologist from Bond University specialising in the study of arson offenders.

The work I have done with serial arsonists [shows] that a core group don’t burn out and they are least likely to stop. Most arsonists don’t demonstrate remorse and they say they were in control at the time they lit the fire. Bushfire arsonists generally fit this profile.”’

At the end of the day, prison cannot simply punish offenders.  If we are to release offenders from prisons after their sentences, measures must be taken to rehabilitate them and reintegrate them back into society.

Categories: Criminal Justice Tags: ,