When young people are sent to prison - and invariably they are young - for a crime as serious as murder, few of us give much thought to what they will do with all that time inside. However long their sentence, it seems no more than they deserve, and often less, when the sickening details of what they have done are foremost in our minds.

So it would have been in September, 2002, when a 17-year-old was led from court with a life sentence for murder after shooting two police officers in an incident on a rural property near Palmerston North.

A 17-year minimum before he could be considered for parole would have seemed the least Daniel Luff deserved and who cared what he would do before he would be released as a man in his mid to late-30s?

Well, the widow of the policeman he killed cares. Melanie Taylor, widow of Detective Constable Duncan Taylor, says in our story today she feels no resentment. Luff was a "troubled boy" at the time, she says. "He probably didn't have time to think things through thoroughly. A lot of that is about teenaged rational behaviour and lack of thinking."


Her own son, just 11 months old when he lost his father, is now 14.

Luff, meanwhile, now 30, has been doing extra mural university studies. This year he expects to complete a BA in psychology with honours. He has won an "outstanding achievers' award" from Massey University and has co-written a research paper with Professor Greg Newbold, who also made good use of a term of imprisonment to start an academic career.

Most of us struggle with the idea of rehabilitation. No matter how hard a youthful offender works to change his life while in prison, it does not diminish what he did. But the truth is people can change.

The great majority of crime in this country is committed by young people, mostly men, in their teens and 20s. The rate of offending falls sharply after the age of 30.

A landmark study of this subject, the Roper Report, told us that young offenders tend to be repeat offenders until around the age of 30 when they stop. In common language they simply "grow up".

Daniel Luff hopes to have a PhD when he emerges from prison. Let's wish him well.