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Hinch and other 'hardened criminals'


In many ways, broadcaster Derryn Hinch has been an outstanding social justice advocate over many years. But as a repeat offender with contempt for the law and no sign of remorse, he is also what is commonly referred to as a 'hardened criminal'.

This moral ambiguity is a trait Hinch shares with many, perhaps most, prisoners. They have an essential goodness that is frequently accompanied by a chronic inability to live and work within society's norms. 

The difference is that Hinch has always had a platform to speak for himself. He is well known and understood, and largely respected by many in the community. Most so-called criminals do not get the opportunity to explain themselves and rise above the stereotypes. They are regarded as low-lifes, even years after they have paid their dues and been released from prison. 

Much media and community discussion of sentencing focuses on retributive rather than restorative justice. Fear and community sentiment unduly influence decisions about the release of prisoners hoping for freedom after completing their minimum sentence. They are often kept in jail for political or other reasons that have little to do with justice and good public policy.

This is especially true in cases involving prisoners serving time for crimes that provoked widespread outrage, such as the 1991 murder of heart surgeon Victor Chang. In 2009, then NSW Corrective Services Minister John Robertson argued that Phillip Lim, one of Chang's murderers, should not be released from prison because 'Victor Chang was an incredible doctor. I think his murder shocked everybody.'

The progress of Lim's rehabilitation, it seemed, was less relevant than continuing community outrage. Such attitudes on the part of politicians surely betray a contempt towards the law, which could be seen as equal to that of Hinch and other offenders. At times, it seems, there is little difference between what politicians and shock jocks say on sentencing.

The Australian Catholic Bishops' forthcoming Social Justice Statement is titled Building Bridges, Not Walls: Prisons and the justice system. The bishops describe the 'potent' role of community fear in 'get tough on crime' policies, which usually involve building more prisons and winding back innovative strategies such as community detention. Public sentencing policy, they insist, is not about addressing community fear and outrage, but assisting offenders to become constructive citizens.

'It is time for all Australians to revisit the needs of prisoners, their loved ones and those who work with them ... It is time to knock down the walls of social exclusion that increase the prospects that a person will end up in jail. Before and after jail, we need bridges, not walls.'

Because Hinch has a voice, he has managed to avoid such social exclusion. It is time other prisoners were given a voice.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street. Follow him on Twitter.

Topic tags: Michael Mullins, Derryn Hinch, Victor Chang



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Existing comments

Thanks are due to Michael for another thoughtful contribution to debate. The forthcoming Australian Bishops' Social Justice Statement may be well researched and may contain some useful conclusions. Its credibility, however, will be severely attenuated by the Bishops' shocking abdication of moral leadership in refusing to confront Joseph Ratzginger for the manner in which he effectively sacked the Bishop of Toowoomba.

Peter Downie | 01 August 2011  

Well stated Peter Downie. Not long after the Toowoomba fiasco, some Italian Cardinal relesed a statement that was a much stronger endorsment of women's ordination than anything that Bishop Morris wrote. As far as I know Rome has been silent on this. In the light of the recent child abuse scandals and their giving only veiled support to their fellow Austalian Bishop I wonder if the Bishops' forthcoming document will have any creditibility at all.

Grebo | 01 August 2011  

The only way to stop criminality is to bring in the Social Reign of our Lord Jesus Christ and every one become a true Catholic and save their souls to Heaven. A secular society is totally incapable of this and only leads more souls to damnation.

Prech the true Catholic Faith to everyone including Josepg Ratzinger and the hierarchy and clergy and we might get there some day!

Trent | 01 August 2011  

Thanks for this article. I am a believer in restorative justice and with a history as Com.Health Nurse and counsellor in D & A issues for 18 yrs. Now a volunteer in Community Corrections and counsel in the prison. This area needs more support. I will keep it up while I can,

margaret o'reilly | 01 August 2011  

I wonder if Mr Hinch could be rehabilitated?
Would he ever read, let alone understand, the Australian Catholic Bishops' Social Justice statement?

Mr Hinch is an example of how it is possible in this age of technological media for a rabble-rouser to corner a niche market and make a very nice living for himself and boost the advertising revenue of his employers.

An advocate of restorative justice would be lucky to get five minutes air time on most radio stations these days.
But advocates of "Lock him and throw away the key", I hear them almost once a week on the wireless.

Uncle Pat | 01 August 2011  

Every now and again there are stories of relatively successful rehabilitation of hardened career criminals but they seem to be rare. Lawyers in my family are of the opinion, maybe a received, taken for granted, axiom in the profession that 'all criminals are stupid!'

As for types like Hinch, I think this rings true in a particularly sad way. Their stupidity is masked by bravado, self absorption, inflated ego and an outlandish over estimation of their own intelligence.
Their populist, tabloid psyche enjoys just enough smarts as to infiltrate and flourish in the minds of the unthinking, the witless and the biased.

It is interesting that ABCtv's Media Watch has recently been pursuing just this kind of mentality and culture at work in the tabloid media. One can only guess from the petulant, thin skinned teenage denials that programme receives in reply, that rehabilitation is a pipe dream. There's far too much money invested in the mindless and the lazy to quit easily. All that may be hoped for is a relentless 'name and shame' campaign. At least it lets them know that people are noticing what's going on and identifying it for what it is.

David Timbs | 01 August 2011  

Silencing Hinch to protect pedophiles is repugnant.

Marilyn | 01 August 2011  

You raise an interesting point re Phillip Lim.

One wonders whether if a victim had been a homeless drug addict, rather than a generous high-profile surgeon, there would still be calls for the perpetrator to remain in jail.

MBG | 01 August 2011  

Hinch was not silenced to protect anyone, he was punished because he once again placed himself above the law.

Ginger Meggs | 02 August 2011  

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