Cowan, non-parole periods and the media

Like most Queenslanders, nay Australians, I have followed with, principally, horror the trial of Daniel Morcombe’s killer. Cowan (I will not do the man any honour by stating his whole name) was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment (on the murder charge) with a non-parole period set of 20 years.

Justice Atkinson, in her sentencing remarks, has been overt about her views and recommendations as to whether Cowan ought ever be considered for parole: in short she would never recommend that he be so considered.  That is, plainly, the right view to take.

The non-parole period set by Justice Atkinson, as she is required to do by Queensland law, has provoked much debate coupled with the threat of an Attorney-Generals appeal.  The debate would appear to have been provoked by the manner in which the sentence of Cowan has been reported.  The media focus, both in print and spoken media, has been on the “shortness” off Cowan’s parole period.  In just about every report I have heard / read the statement “Cowan was sentenced to life imprisonment with parole set at 20 years”.  That is just plainly wrong.  Actually, worse, it is deceptive.

Justice Atkinson’s setting of a non-parole does merely this: it sets the period that Cowan must serve before he can make an application for parole to the parole board.  IT DOES NOT MEAN THAT HE WILL BE OUT OF JAIL IN 20 YEARS.  It means he may seek to be.  Parole boards in Queensland, and more broadly in Australia, are tasked with determining whether a prisoner is suitable for parole.  So all of this hyperbole about Cowan getting out in 20 years is nothing short of hot air.  He is NOT entitled to get out of jail in 20 years; he is merely entitled to apply to be considered for parole.

Parole boards in Queensland, and again in Australia, have a long history of not letting the committers of heinous crimes out of jail when their non-parole periods have expired.  The case of Tony Rawlins is instructive here.  On April 18, 2010 Rawlin passed away at Wolston Park Correction Centre aged 82 having served 54 years in jail for murder of a 12 year old girl.  A medical expert at the time of his trial commented that “he was entirely unconcerned with his deeds.”  His numerous applications for parole were rejected by the Queensland parole board.

Another instructive example is that Douglas Crabbe who in 1983 in the Northern Territory drove his truck into a pub and killed 5 people.  He was sentenced to life in prison with a non parole period of 30 years.  His first parole application last year was rejected and he will not be able to apply for parole for another 3 years.

The Morcombe case is horrifying and I personally believe that Cowan should be locked away and the key thrown away.  He should never see the outside of a jail again.  The fact is that he will not leave jail again.  The sentence of life imprisonment with a non parole period of 20 years means that he will not leave jail again because it is incomprehensible that a parole board would release him.

The media needs to report the facts surrounding the imposition of a non-parole period rather than seeking to incite or misinform the public which is what it is blatantly doing.

I am going to repeat this again: I am not at all suggesting that the sentence of Cowan is two low or that he ought be out of jail in 20 years.  He should never see the light of day outside of jail again.  That is precisely what this sentence means: if only the press would report it that way.

Postscript: Is it any surprise that one of the two applications for a mistrial put to Justice Atkinson arose because of irresponsible reporting by the Courier Mail? The incitement of the public seems to have blinded, as it often does with the Courier Mail, what is actually fair and proper to report and the administration of justice.  I probably should not be surprised then they refuse to report the facts about what a non-parole period means.


House of Cards, Season 2: 5 reasons you have to watch!

I am, it would be fair to say, a massive fan of the US series “House of Cards”.  I have been waiting for the second season to come out since the first season ended and we are now, in Australia, less than a week away from that happening.

As I have boring most of my friends with talk of this excellent series and figured I might as well set out my argument for you all as to why you should watch this series:

1. Kevin Spacey: Need I say more? Spacey, to me, is the standard bearer of all actors of his generation.  In the first series of HOC he brought all of his formidable skill to the table and was just outstanding as the dastardly and deceptively evil Congressman Frank Underwood.  There has been no more intense a character in a television series in my memory and the next chapter in the career of Frank Underwood as vice president will be fascinating.

2. It is just possible that it is all true: Am I alone in being utterly convinced that the shenanigans of Frank Underwood and his cohorts might be closer to the truth of what goes on in the halls of power, both in Washington and further afield, that any of us dare to believe? The machinations surrounding recent bills, including a federal shut down, through the US federal parliament have been fascinating to watch and this is a show that gives one the feeling that one is looking the prism of what is going on over there.

3. The sites and sounds of Washington: I concede that a lot of the filming of this show takes place in Maryland and surrounds but one of the first scenes in the first episode of the show: Frank Underwood sitting on a concrete slab in the middle of the Mall in Washington after being told he was not going to be Secretary of State was the starting point of a panorama of one the most beautiful districts in the world.

4. Media and politics: an examination of politics in a digital age A principal character in the drama that is HOC is the young journalist, Zoe Barnes, who strains against the shackles of her job at a traditional newspaper only to quite (after posting a tweet of a name she was called by her editor) and joined a website devoted to news of the style of the “Drudge Report”.  The instant publishing of news is put into sharp focus as Zoe posts a story from a public bus, via her iPhone direct to the website.  The swiftness of news and news reporting is in sharp focus in this series.

5. The trailer: Jump onto youtube right now and find a trailer for the second season of this series.  If you are genuinely not hooked after watching it then I will respectfully suggest you have not watched it closely enough.  Watch it again and you will be suitably hooked.  I have never seen a more enthralling trailer for an upcoming show.

So there it is: my 5 reasons for watching season 2 of House of Cards.  I am sure I could posit another five or even another ten.  It is just a great series and on 15 February I know that I will be glued to my television watching it. I hope you enjoy it as much as I know I will.