Editorial: Penal system should not be blind to compassion

The proper response when someone is terminally ill is to offer support and comfort.

They, and their family, should not have to suffer beyond what they already are enduring. In the case of Vicki Letele, who was convicted of mortgage fraud but who has been diagnosed with terminal cancer, the penal authorities failed to take a compassionate view until public and political pressure forced them to backtrack.

She has gone home, to be with her family for her final months, rather than them having to visit her in prison with all the hurdles that involves.

That is the humane arrangement which the Department of Corrections should have recommended in the first instance, and when they did not, it should not have been beyond the sensibilities of the Parole Board to recognise the special circumstances and clear the way for Letele's release.

Though she had only served eight months of a possible 38 month sentence, the nature of Letele's illness was such that prison managers should have known to do the decent thing.

Letele went to trial in 2015 and in March this year was found guilty by a jury of 10 charges of mortgage fraud that netted her over $500,000.

The sentencing judge described the evidence against the 35 year old as overwhelming. Though the mother of two had no previous convictions, the judge said it was important to denounce the conduct of white collar criminals.

Her victims, the court heard, were poor South Aucklanders who could not otherwise afford homes. Two families have since lost their homes through mortgagee sales, and will have trouble getting loan finance again.

There has been criticism that Letele is a victim of institutional racism, with the suggestion corrections staff were blind to her suffering because of the colour of her skin. A more accurate charge in this case would be heartless.

- NZ Herald

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