Waranga Uniting Churches

Crime and punishment

By on August 10, 2018

The capacity of young men for violent outbursts has again featured prominently recently in both the national and local media.

On the national level, West Coast Eagles star Andrew Gaff’s king hit on Andrew Brayshaw (Fremantle Docker) on the football field has been talked about and assessed on every angle, from sports panel shows to social media and beyond.

Also at the Victorian and local level, the presence of Dylan Closter playing senior football for the Rushworth Football and Netball Club has been subject of comment from political leaders and many on radio and daily media. Dylan Closter was sentenced to nine years, three months’ gaol with a non-parole period of six years after a one-punch attack that killed David Cassai, 22, on New Year’s Eve in 2012.

As the AFL’s lawyer Jeff Gleeson QC said of Andrew Gaff’s punch, “The strike was unrestrained in nature, ferocious in impact and grave in its consequences. It was a full-blooded punch.”

Both young men made a one-punch attach on another young man. One got eight weeks suspension from playing football, the other got nine years and three months gaol. Consequence is important, the tragic consequence for David Cassai and his family should never be glossed over. The sad truth is that nothing will bring David Cassai back. His family are entitled to their anger and grief and we should do everything to support them. But just because someone is gaoled doesn’t mean that the crime is solved or the wrong righted. Some wounds do not heal.

Andrew Gaff leaves the tribunal after his suspension

Andrew Gaff leaves the tribunal after his suspension

Whether he plays football for Rushworth or not, soon Dylan Closter will be released. Whether he will be a better person depends upon what he has learnt from his punishment. It is important to note that we do not put people in gaol to be punished, being put in gaol is the punishment. As someone who was a chaplain for a few years at Dhurringile Prison I know that the denial of freedom, the very restricted contact with family and friends, the stigma of living with what you have done, years of one’s life in gaol is real punishment.

The differences in coverage between Andrew Gaff and Dylan Closter is that in addition to going after Gaff for justice, there has been a layer of attention given to Gaff’s own well-being. In this week’s discourse, there has been very little attention to that of Dylan Closter. There’s been lots of talk about Gaff’s character, his humanity, the ability for a good person to do bad things and the possibility for redemption. Closter on the other hand is cast simply as a villain – who needs to be put away, or worse.

So does Dylan Closter deserve a second chance? Christians believe that all people are redeemable, and justice means treating them as such. I didn’t know much about the people impacted by incarceration before my time as a chaplain. Although I believed that every man and woman is created in God’s image and that no one is beyond His reach, it wasn’t until I had this experience that I began to see how true that really was.

Opportunities for things like work and skills training programs, anger management classes, substance abuse treatment, parenting classes and gradually being reintegrated back into the community through programs like playing football in the community are things that can genuinely change someone’s life for the good. It appears the public does not have an appetite for that: bread and water are too good for prisoners, many contend.

Correctional services often get little credit for their efforts. They are widely criticised when things go wrong. However, their efforts to rehabilitate offenders are not only sensible, but also cost-efficient and practical. Clubs like Rushworth, Murchison-Toolamba and Merrigum who accept these young men into their teams deserve our admiration and thanks. They contribute to making our community safer and these young men better people. Prisoners will be released, but we have not worked out how to feel comfortable with them living among us.

Jesus told a very disturbing parable in which he not only urged Christians to visit those in prison, but declared that in doing so we were visiting him. “I was in prison and you came to visit me …Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25: 36- 40)

This is the gospel, and it’s good news.

Brian Spencer, Minister