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When they ask "how do you sleep at night?"

When they ask

By Melinda Walker

Criminal Procedure Wellbeing 

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Melinda Walker has written this week's President's Blog. Melinda is an Accredited Criminal Law Specialist.
 

Any criminal lawyer who saw the recent episode of SBS’ Insight on the impact of working in criminal law would have been nodding their heads and holding back their own tears in empathy and understanding. It brings to the forefront not only the obvious personal impact but also reminds us of the constant barrage of contempt and disbelief by others, of “how do you do this?” and “how do you sleep at night?”.

Our capacity to talk and think about rehabilitation, about redemption, about recovery is essential and encompasses what it means to be cultured. Our determination to act will ultimately define our humanity. Our unwavering defence of the defenceless, of the vulnerable, of those in need, will enshrine our place in history and confirm for those looking back that we did care for our children, that we were ashamed and outraged by the treatment sanctioned by our institutions, that we were resolved to act when we saw injustice and that we spoke up for those, whose voices had been muted.

Our community’s expectation of safety and retribution is poorly confused with the “lock ‘em up and throw away the key” mentality. A thought process which often informs law makers when faced with a significant incident or failure of the system which exposes the lack of innovative solutions. What results is a focus on the offender who enters a system already broken, already damaged, already dehumanised and of an increase in punitive containment and punishment, of a commitment to being tough on crime; a commitment to the detriment of rehabilitation, restoration and education. What empowers this approach is the promotion of the dangerous offender with whom we can no longer expect reformation. The offender who enrages public opinion, dismantles public perceptions of safety, who instil fear and loathing. The predatory offender who is dragged into the public square to promote and justify a law reform agenda at the risk of irrevocable damage.

So much good work into therapeutic or restorative justice is being overshadowed by the justification of the need for new prisons and the tightening up of bail and sentencing laws. The community will be sadly disappointed when the newest prison fills, the programs to assist in the rehabilitation of those prisoners is left wanting and prisoners are ultimately released. We know that they will be released into a community that fails to acknowledge those less fortunate, those who have been exposed to abhorrent trauma and those who are vulnerable without support, understanding or supervision.

So the next time someone asks “how do you do it?” or “how do you sleep at night?” tell them because you actually do care, that you are also a member of a community who craves safety and certainty. Tell them that you maintain a commitment to justice and that you strive to make a difference whether that is to point a person in particular direction, to advocate for better conditions in those prisons, to rally against the death penalty or to call out the draconian approach of imprisonment of children.

Tell them that your role in the criminal justice system is but just one part of an intricate web that not only traps the undesirable but enshrines the protection of fundamental principles of justice which is enjoyed by all.

 


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