From Russia With Hate: Correspondence with a Mass-murderer


Oh dear. Someone on the internet – allegedly from Russia – decided to write to the Christchurch shooter, as he sits awaiting trial. He wrote back, sending a letter that was apparently six pages long, and dated 4th July.

There has been understandable outrage at this. To which there needs to be a clarification: prisoners in New Zealand are able to send and receive letters from prison. In fact, I have written to a prisoner myself (you have to get their permission first, and it is all done via old-school physical letters. No E-mail). So, as much as we may dislike the Christchurch shooter, he is quite within his rights.

The problem here isn’t that he was writing, it was what he was writing. All incoming and outgoing mail from prisoners is read (or supposed to be read) – and withheld if necessary (there are guidelines for this). Allegedly, there’s some nasty stuff in the Russian letter that meant the thing should never have been sent – basically, someone on the prison staff ticked off the letter as fit to send, when it clearly wasn’t. Probably because they didn’t actually read the six pages in its entirety, or just didn’t pay close attention.

I’m not one of those theorising that there is some far-right sympathiser working at Corrections, who let this thing out. It was clearly a screw-up. Nor should we be clamping down on a prisoner’s right to send mail – we’re not monsters. We should, however, take a long, hard look at the withholding guidelines, and make sure that the people who monitor this stuff actually do their jobs properly.

Edit: A law professor weighs in.

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