I WENT back to court on Tuesday, and, before I get a load of hilarious emailed comments, I was not the one on charges.
Sitting in the court that was my regular haunt as prosecutor and defence counsel 13 years ago, I was surprised and yet somewhat comforted by all the familiar faces on both sides of the bar.
Some of the lawyers, some of the attendants and support staff, journalists etc were there in days gone by.
Many of the faces of those in the public gallery awaiting call-up were also familiar, but thankfully many were supporting others rather than still on charges after such a long period.
Sadly, they were supporting their children who were appearing before the court. The mantra about the apple not falling far from the tree came to mind. We are not doing the basics if these generational cycles of offending keep on coming full circle, grandparent to parent to child ad infinitum.
It is at least a decade since Corrections decided it needed to be working with families while someone was in jail in order to prevent recidivism and to put a stop to the footstep following generations.
The problem we have, if only working with the individual offender, is that we never get to know the background to that person and their offending.
Nobody accurately tells the story of the experiences that led to the offending beyond the immediate scenario for which they currently appear before the court. This has just got to be nuts.
Why, if we are interested in preventing the reruns of crime being replayed over and over again, wouldn't the court want to know about the background of the person appearing before it?
Thankfully there has been a recent "discovery" of the provision of the Sentencing Act 2002 allowing for the presentation of a Cultural Report, which is a concise flash phrase for "where the heck did this offending come from?"
For most cases the only history provided is a list of previous convictions or whatever a rushed-off-their-feet, duty solicitor can glean from the client, or if the judge seeks a pre-sentence report from community corrections, which is frequently a rewrite of the last report. There is no incentive to take a fresh look.
"If a job is worth doing, it is worth doing properly". No self-respecting do-it-yourselfer would slap on a coat of paint without sanding back a few layers to assess the state of what lies underneath. Why wouldn't we do the same with the far more important project of young people or older people appearing before the court?
There are so many assumptions around defendants and I am not immune.
I went along to court after a phone call from a concerned grandmother whose grandson had caught a 14-year-old breaking into a car parked on the street.
He stopped and chased the drunken young guy and apprehended him. The car window had been smashed and the young fulla produced a lighter and cigarettes he had stolen from the car.
The grandson and his mate gave the boy the choice of providing name and address so they could take him home or they would take him to the police station. No personal details were forthcoming, so he was driven about a kilometre to the local cop shop.
Who knows what story the 14-year-old told the police, but the two adults who thought they were doing a civic duty are now on charges of kidnapping. This will be an interesting one to watch.
When the grandson didn't appear on time and the court issued a warrant for his arrest, I left a grumpy message on his phone only to feel a bit silly later on when he showed up at the time his documentation showed.
My first thought was that he'd been tardy rather than the court had made a mistake.
It is easy to make assumptions about people appearing before the court and what led to their offending, the lifestyle they have led and to apportion blame accordingly.
It is tempting to deal with the one named person as if they bear sole responsibility for their upbringing, values, tendencies and proclivities, yet there is zero academic support for this.
After 200 years of penal institutions, you'd like to think we would start getting it right. If the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, we'd better start seeing the wood from those trees or we will be just creating another generation of offenders and another generation of victims.
Chester Borrows served as Whanganui MP for 12 years and as a minister in the National Government.