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Andrew Dickens: How is a toupee more important than the right to vote?

Author
Andrew Dickens,
Section
Opinion,
Publish Date
Monday, 4 March 2019, 12:15p.m.
Phillip John Smith infamously wore a toupee while fleeing the country. (Photo / Police)
Phillip John Smith infamously wore a toupee while fleeing the country. (Photo / Police)

It was with a slack-jawed sense of disbelief that I read that a convicted paedophile and murderer had threatened to take Corrections to court in order to gain access to a toupee and scalp grooming products.

While he never actually took them to court, he did get his hair products.

Yes, Phillip John Smith is up to his old tricks around his hair. He is New Zealand's most determined toupee wearer. Why I'll never know. A toupee belongs to another age and nowadays the follically challenged among us wear their baldness like a badge of honour (so much so that some people with hair remove it).

But you'll remember that he made headlines after fleeing to Brazil while out on temporary release from prison, his escape aided by wearing a toupee.

On his return to the country and to jail, Corrections decided to revoke his approval to wear the toupee and good job too.

But Phillip Smith was having none of that. What followed was a legal battle that cost the New Zealand taxpayer $115,000. Eventually, in 2017, Smith won the right to wear the toupee in prison after a decision in the High Court.

In the latest spat Corrections denied the toupee, access to shampoo and gel and Smith's scalp to moisturiser. So back to the lawyers Smith went. On Friday Corrections caved.

All this is about respecting Phillip Smith's human rights and his feelings. Things that Philip Smith never respected as he molested a 13-year-old boy over a three-year period and later stabbed the boy's father to death.

I think the only people who think that Phillip Smith can wear a toupee in prison because it's a human right are Phillip Smith and a High Court judge. Perhaps a blanket rule for all prisoners needs to be enacted and enforced by the courts.

But while I approve of the removal of the human right to wear a toupee, I have always found myself conflicted when it comes to removing the vote from prisoners in jail.

Now the Greens have come up with a proposed law that would give the vote back to those people. It's proponent Golriz Ghahraman, says having the vote is a human right.

Now the way I see it, being able to vote while in prison is less a human right and more a societal responsibility. I struggle to see how being able to vote is a benefit to a prisoner, who's already had the most fundamental aspect of their freedom removed.

Phillip Smith's human right to shampoo has a personal benefit to a man who is a monster. Ask him if he'd rather have the shampoo or the vote and he'll go for the shampoo every time.

In fact, the way that so many people ignore their right to vote every election you would almost think the right to vote was a punishment for some.

Allowing prisoners to vote would remind them that they have a responsibility towards society. To supporting Parliament and the laws they draft, which the prisoners have broken.

It's not a stand I'll defend to the death. But I'll tell you one thing, if I was a Corrections officer at Rimutaka Prison my every waking hour would be spent plotting how to throw Philip Smith's toupee into the incinerator.

 

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