From left: Labour's Marja Lubeck and Duncan Webb with Opposition Leader Simon Bridges, Orion and Charlene Kraatskow, and National's Erica Stanford and Mark Mitchell at Parliament. Photo: RNZ / Jonathan Mitchell

Punishing Rouxle Le Roux is about revenge, not justice

If you’re among those calling for a harsher penalty for the hit-and-run killer of Nathan Kraatskow, fine. But at least be honest about what you’re after, writes Aaron Hendry.

Two lives, not one, were destroyed that night.

Young Rouxle made a terrible mistake, with horrific consequences.

One life was ended, another was altered completely.

It is tempting to hate Rouxle Le Roux. To look at the ‘leniency’ of her sentence and see in it the justice system’s failure to be tough on crime. How can 11 months’ home detention and some community service ever make up for the life of Nathan Kraatskow?

The truth is it can’t. So we demand more.

More time, harsher penalties, more severe sentencing.

And what then? Lock her up? Throw away the key?

But how far do we go down this track? Nothing, not even a life sentence, would bring Nathan back.

If the justice system is about making people pay for what they have done, then what do we do in a case like this? Bring back the death penalty? A life for a life? Is that the answer?

Let’s say that had been the judge’s decision, what would that achieve? Would such a sentence make the Kraatskow’s grief bearable?

The sad reality is that tougher penalties achieve nothing. Nathan would still be dead, and his parents would still be without a son.

And so we have to ask ourselves what is the point of our justice system, and what are we trying to achieve through it.

Before starting my career as a youth development worker I thought I knew what was needed to fix the justice system. Tougher penalties and harsher consequences were necessary if we wanted to dissuade people from perpetuating violent and tragic crimes like this one.

As it has been said more then a few times over the last week, if our justice system isn’t prepared to deal out harsher punishments for criminal behavior, then how are we going to deter people from making such foolish and costly decisions?

Then I got involved in the lives of some of these people our society labels as criminals.

Young people, whom if you read their crimes in a headline, you might even call ‘thugs’ or even ‘monsters’. I may have done the same before I met them.

But as I’ve sat with these people, as I’ve learnt to see past what they had done and listen to the stories and experiences that have shaped them, I began to see that if our justice system wants to protect people from violent crimes, and tragic deaths like Nathan’s, then harsher penalties are not the answer.

If we want to make our society safer, then we need to start by addressing the causes that lead people to committing the crimes that they do.

The sad reality is that for most of the young people I have journeyed with over the last 10 years, when they decide to engage in risk taking activity such as drinking and driving, racing on the motorway at reckless speeds, or any other risk-taking activities you can think of, they aren’t thinking about how their actions could potentially harm themselves or others.

They are simply thinking about the pain they are experiencing, and trying to find a way – any way – to make it stop.

And you might think that is selfish, irresponsible and unforgivable, but at the end of the day, it is the way it is.

When people are experiencing severe levels of mental and emotional distress, tougher penalties won’t stop them from seeking an escape from the suffering they are experiencing. That is why so many people who have experienced trauma turn to drugs and alcohol to cope. They need something to help them deal with the suffering that they are experiencing in their lives.

And in that moment, they are just looking for a way to make the pain stop.

So when you live in a nation that does not hold much understanding for those who are suffering from the trauma of abuse, or much compassion for those struggling under the weight of a mental illness then, for many, drugs and alcohol become the way people manage the emotional and mental pain they are experiencing.

And so we come back to our question. Is the justice system’s purpose to punish people for what they have done? Or is the purpose of our justice system to keep us safe? To prevent crime from reoccurring, and to find ways to reduce the needless death of our citizens?

If we choose the former, then let’s at least be honest about what we are after.

Revenge.

Tougher penalties don’t work, locking someone up for life won’t prevent these tragedies from occurring. They may however sate your desire for revenge. If at least for a moment.

But revenge is an ugly beast. It twists and distorts those who become mastered by it.

The Le Roux case has held a mirror up to our nation. We are not the loving and compassionate people we pretend to be.

And so a choice must be made. We have to decide who we want to be as a nation.

Do we want to be a people who seek revenge on a hurting and vulnerable young woman? Or are we a people who show compassion, mercy, and seek justice? True justice.

Not prison. Because if we are honest, prison achieves nothing. Prison is about revenge, it is a sign that we either do not know how to help the people we stick there, or that we just don’t care enough to try.

No, if our justice system is really going to keep us safe, it will seek the restoration and rehabilitation of those who come through our courts. It will show compassion, taking into account the circumstances that led a person to make the decisions they made. It will be restorative, seeking to reconcile relationships, and support people to face the consequences of their actions in a way that brings healing, and provides hope for a better future.

Not just for the perpetrator, but for the victim and their whanau as well.

Severely punishing Rouxle will not bring Nathan back. It will not prevent this tragedy from happening again. It will not make a dent in our drunk driving statistics.

No, if we want to stop these sorts of things from happening, we need to rethink our revenge crazed mentality and focus on solutions that work.

Seeing people as people is a good place to start. When you judge someone without knowing them, you can turn anyone into a monster.

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Let’s be better than that Aotearoa.

Let’s live up to the rhetoric.

Let’s be a people where kindness and compassion sit at the base of our society.

Perhaps then we might see something change.


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