Justice Department in Western Australia Ran Amuk


In a place known as the ‘Lucky Country”, where yawning blue skies stretch over golden beaches hugging turquoise seas, where life is casual, and some shoppers go to the store barefoot, mayhem stalks.  It erupts when two offenders escaped from a minimum security prison; when a female education officer was viciously raped and entrapped, at knife point, by an inmate of a regional prison, when a convicted criminal released from prison by the parole board committed further offenses including the murder of a young female, when a dozen plus prisoners walked out of the Supreme Court, stole vehicles from terrified citizens and sped off at high speeds, and alarmed staff complained, the Department of Justice in Western Australia was called to account.  Honestly, you can't make this stuff up.  It all happened.

The state government recruited Justice Mahoney from the east coast of Australia to review what the western side was doing with offenders.  $2.5 million later it was discovered that many of the frightened community and endangered staff complaints made against the department were valid.  The result? Mahoney’s 148 recommendations were resoundingly ignored by the former Premier (Governor) Alan Carpenter.

In the then words of Colin Barnett who is now the Premier of Western Australia “everyone in Western Australia was absolutely furious at the way in which the government was administering justice.” During an explosive Parliamentarian discussion about this inquiry Mr R. F. Johnson said “Justice in Western Australia has been in crisis for the past two years.”  Horrified politicians refused to be held accountable for the departments they oversaw.  If you have not seen a British or an Australian parliamentarian session your education in things governmental is incomplete.  Rancor is the tone of the day. Despite their elegant accents civility is seldom present.

The Con, written by Gael McCarte (former psychologist with the offending department) fictionalizes the work of a psychologist within the department at the time.  The author personifies the issues in the difficult to put down, impossible to predict, novel.  The reader has a unique glimpse into the mind of the offender and the fermenting politics of the department.  She gives the reader a ringside seat into family life in Western Australia lived in real and fictionalized communities.  The intriguing practices of the parents of the elite high schools are open to view as are the life styles of those within Perth’s mega wealthy ‘golden triangle’.  The reader is invited to local annual events like “The Show”, the famed Aussie beaches and to meet ‘George” the pelican of the Peel area.

Anna the psychologist in The Con proposes a solution to the offender assessment quandary, … the vast majority of crimes are committed by the vast minority of offenders. Most crimes are…crimes of passion, crimes of opportunity, crimes of stupidity, crimes of need, crimes of retribution, even mental illness, not real criminality. But those who are career criminals…are the offenders of havoc. They run amuck, fast. The Department does its best to keep them in its sights. To do this the Department becomes its own con man, telling itself it is succeeding when it isn’t, telling itself it isn’t hurting its employees when it is. It tells itself it wants to keep doing what it is doing because it is working, when it isn’t…Why not test the offenders to weed out, as it were, the truly psychopathic criminals, and treat the different categories of offenders differently?”

Will her suggestion be taken seriously or will the politics of the department neutralize any positive impact this suggestion could effect?  Will the department’s lack of effective offender assessment and treatment bite it?  In these times of tight budgetary constraints can other Justice Departments benefit from this report? 

In the State of Georgia, Governor Deal allows prisoners to do landscaping along highways, and recently he allowed them to cut nature trails around Lake Lanier.  He is not without his detractors.  As the cost of labor is prohibitive is his use of prisoner labor prudent or exploitive?  Justice Departments around the world are grappling with these questions.  Some allow community based offenders to ‘work off’ their fines by doing community work like landscaping; others defray the cost of housing prisoners by using home detention.  Hall County rents out its unused prison space to other counties.  A judge in New York designs a program involving effective offender specific interventions to redirect rather than to punish  There is promising neurological research that indicates a link between violence, aggression, a lack of control and frontal lobe brain injury.  Should that be a factor in our treatment of offenders? Is Anna even right to suggest that these innovative approaches could create a ‘win win’ situation and lessen the strain on the Justice Department?

Truth is stranger than fiction.  Perhaps fiction can lead with truth.


A professional in Western Australia reviewed The Con and commented: 

“… you have a very different style to the type of books that I normally read (biographies and "pick me up - put me down" mysteries), I thoroughly enjoyed it. A lot of books are padded out with a lot of superfluous crap but yours was very succinct and economical and I loved your similes and metaphors. e.g. 'decorated with the flair of a Melbourne Cup Hat Maker'.

I enjoyed the fact that it was located in Western Australia and could therefore identify with the places mentioned and also the local idiom…Anna’s 'Report to the Director'...sums up the iniquitous state of our penal system in WA. It is a complete shambles that sets free those who simply should not be let loose on the public...Must admit, the ending surprised me. Just goes to prove that the leopards spots are hard to change and all is not necessarily as it may seem to think of a couple of old adages.”

The Con

by Gael McCarte

Published by GlobalEdAdvancePress,



ISBN: 978-1-935434-53-5





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