Is it possible for criminals, like Eurydice Dixon’s murderer, to be rehabilitated? And should we allow them to? (Image Source: Huffington Post)
By Meika Bottrill | @meikabottrill
On June 13, 2018, in an act that enraged the public and media, Australian comedian and actress Eurydice Dixon was found murdered in Melbourne’s Princes Park.
On November 8 last year, her perpetrator pleaded guilty to Dixon’s rape and murder.
Less than one year later on the 2nd of September, Dixon’s perpetrator was sentenced to life in prison, with a minimum term of 35 years.
Dixon’s family sat through court, where they discovered the perpetrator’s sexual sadism addiction, and listened to him admit that the murder was not premeditated, but the sexual fantasy he had envisioned was.
Dixon happened to find herself caught in the gaze of a man who suffered from sexual addiction.
Dixon matched the perpetrator’s fantasy, and almost immediately he lost control of his senses.
As a woman, that statement simply frightens me.
The idea that by pure chance you could find yourself being targeted by a man who had previously envisioned raping and abusing women.
And I am not the only one.
Lisa Wilkinson made an emotional plea on The Project last year.
“Instead of telling our girls they should not walk through parks, maybe we should tell our boys not to rape them,” she said.
“There is no doubt that the men we are dealing with are clearly damaged; normal human beings do not behave like that.”
Dixon’s convicted murderer may have suffered from autism and a sexual sadism addiction, but that doesn’t make his crimes any easier to digest.
What is noteworthy, however, are Dixon’s fathers’ comments towards his daughter’s murderer.
Anger can often distract the victim’s families from being able to provide forgiveness to perpetrators, but Jeremy Dixon, Eurydice’s father, contrasts this belief.
He simply wished that the offender “gets better” while in prison.
“I extend my sympathy, my sincere sympathy for those who love him,” he said.
“It is a terrible tragedy all round.”
This brings up a difficult topic to the forefront of conversation.
Does criminal rehabilitation work, and does it trump the concept of justice?
Professor Rick Sarre is the Dean of Law and Professor of Law and Criminal Justice at the University of South Australia.
He said the sole purpose of the justice system is to ensure they do not reoffend.
“The ability of the justice system is to assist people not to return to the justice system,” he said.
“So, if a person has been caught in the justice system, [the question is] to what extent can their revisit to the justice system either be completely avoided or delayed?
“I want to make that point straight away: if [the perpetrator] used to reoffend every six months and is now reoffending every six years—you’ve actually got a good outcome.”
While the main goal of the criminal justice system is to rehabilitate perpetrators, there are some indicators to show that certain criminals will not benefit from any form of rehabilitation.
The difficulty then comes from identifying who benefits from rehabilitation and who does not.
“It depends on a whole range of things—it depends on the age of a person associated, their race, ethnicity, gender, the crime they’ve committed, the relationship they have with their family and their peers,” Professor Sarre said.
“There will be some people for whom no amount of work would suffice to bring them back to completeness in society.
“If you have a very broken life on a whole range of fronts, the justice system is not going to change that brokenness.
“Every time a person comes before a court at a pre-sentencing hearing, submissions are made in relation to the prospects of that particular person not repeating offending behaviour.”
In order to keep people out of the justice system, Professor Sarre argues that we must follow three theories: diversion, restorative justice, and therapeutic communities.
The Australian Justice System states that diversion programs “involve a magistrates court adjourning a criminal case, while a defendant participates in rehabilitation programs, generally in the areas of alcohol and illicit drug abuse”.
“To ensure people are not drawn into the system more than is absolutely necessary, we have all sorts of diversions…to ensure as far as possible a person is not painted by the justice system,” Professor Sarre said.
The second theory refers to restorative justice initiatives.
“Restorative justice initiatives are trying to restore a person back to their wholeness despite offending and despite the justice system,” Professor Sarre said.
“Of course, that does depend on whether or not the person actually has something to be restored to prior to their offending.”
Finally, we reach therapeutic communities: the concept of ensuring the justice system doesn’t further harm the convicted.
“All we can do in those circumstances is to work diversion, restorative justice and therapeutic communities to make sure as far as possible that a person can be less likely to fall under the gaze of the justice system in future,” Professor Sarre said.
In theory, these initiatives work, but a problem that often occurs is that victims become concerned the court is favouring rehabilitation over justice.
However, Professor Sarre states that often victims simply want to be recognised.
“Victims are not particularly vindictive…they want to be compensated, they want to know who this particular person was and why they chose them to be their victims,” he said.
“Knowledge and compensation is far more likely to be at the forefront of the victim’s mind than vengeance.
“The justice system has been struggling to determine how best to compensate victims and at the same time, compensate offenders [by] taking into account their needs.
“There are ways in which the courts have been applying restorative principles and therapeutic principles that has been very good…but of course, in relation to aspects of corrections, there is always room for improvement.”