What to do about the one percenters?

A heart-breaking interview raises hard questions about what to do with the worst of the worst criminals

Tony Robertson is a one percenter. Not the rich kind, but the destructive and callous kind. "Evil"? Maybe. But surely one of this country's highest risk offenders. And we don't seem to have the system to handle these people.

If you haven't seen Lisa Owen's heart-wrenching interview with Blessie Gotingco's husband Antonio, then you're missing one of the most powerful statements I've seen for a long time on what it means to be a victim of crime. It sketches the grief of a husband very much in love with his wife, the considered anger of a dignified man, someone who speaks English as a second language but who can say so articulately that authorities "have blood on their hands" and "issued a death warrant for my wife" because they put "a snake in a hen house".

He raises uncomfortable questions but, most of all, seems to make it impossible to be able to stand by the conclusion of the government-ordered report into Blessie's death that judged "Robertson and only Robertson" was responsible.

Logic demands that there are few, if any, times when there is only one cause for any outcome in life, let alone any crime. From poverty to victory, war to peace, I can hardly think of a single event that doesn't stem from many causes. It's a foolish finding, especially so when you're talking about the death of a woman by a monitored high risk offender.

Gotingco's now taking Corrections to court for the wrongful death of Blessie, the insurance consultant and mother of three raped and killed in 2014 after she was run down by Tony Robertson, as she walked home form the bus stop.

Now I'm a big believer in forgiveness and redemption. I tend to think released offenders have paid their debt to society and deserve the chance to prove they can again be good citizens. But for a grace of God...

However it seems hard to avoid the conclusion that there are some people so damaged and dangerous that they will always present a risk to public safety. Those one percent who could re-offend at any time.

I'm reluctant to lock people up because we think they'll probably offend, as some suggest. So how do we deal with them? Those determined by the experts to be at a high risk of reoffending? 

Victims advocate Ruth Money had some suggestions though, on The Nation, that seem to make some sense.

  • Stricter enforcement of breaches. Robertson was convicted twice for breaching his supervision orders and warned once more, but got treated lightly (time served - five weeks - and a community service). The suggestion is to come down harder early.
  • Live GPS monitoring. Since Robertson Corrections have switched providers and now 170 high risk offenders are subject to an alert going off at the 3M control centre if they go outside their boundaries. Corrections is immediately contacted. But that's not quite live monitoring. For example, Robertson was driving up and down (presumably victim hunting) within his allowed zone, but no-one knew.
  • So, person-to-person monitoring. Someone watching these people 24/7.
These are expensive and intrusive solutions. But for the few, perhaps it's time to take these kind of measures, with the opportunity for them to earn their way out of it over time.
Then there's the question of letting the community know when a high risk offender is in their midst. That's an even harder one for me. What risk public panic and fear? Vigilantism? Condemning a now free person to ongoing stigma? What can people constructively do with that knowledge?
Yet in this case such knowledge could certainly have saved Blessie's life. Maybe, as Corrections Minister Judith Collins he was determined and would have killed someone else. But Blessie chose to take over time, work late, get the bus and walk home alone... all choices she may not have made had she known a high risk offender was one of her neighbours. 

These are brutal, tough choices, but then this was a must brutal murder. I'd be interested in your thoughts as to just how far we can or should go.