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Updated 17 August 2015

Oscar’s three sources of danger

CyberShrink discusses Oscar's release into house arrest and how he needs to behave in order not to be sent back to prison.

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The timing of Oscar’s release was hardly sensitive – just days after Reeva’s birthday, and what a fine way to celebrate Women’s Month! As he starts a period of house arrest, Oscar faces three main sources of danger: from those who dislike him, from those who like him, and from himself.

Read: An open letter to Oscar

Strangely enough, the exact conditions of his release have not been disclosed. There’s really no excuse for such secrecy, which will feed suspicions that he will once again be treated with excessive leniency. There should always be complete disclosure, unless a powerful case for not doing so can be demonstrated to a judge. Any significant breach of these conditions should send him back to prison, with a greatly reduced chance of early release.

His enemies:

Those who still feel bitter about his lenient treatment may want to find ways to provoke him to break these conditions. He needs to scrupulously avoid situations in which he might be goaded into a fight, for instance.

His friends:

His fans also present a risk. Not the ordinary people who like him and appreciate his achievements as a runner, while recognising his failures as a man, but rabid and besotted followers like the “Pistorians”. Luckily there aren’t too many of them – mostly women with a rich fantasy life, devoted to a man, largely of their own invention. They have demonstrated horrible viciousness towards anyone questioning their motives or being unkind to “their boy”. 

Fortunately for him, most of these misguided souls live overseas, and are therefore unable to do any real harm. (Even Oscar’s own family had the good sense to criticise these harpies, especially when they berated Reeva’s mother for not being sufficiently forgiving of her daughter’s killer.)

Read: How a murderer's mind works

There are some Pistorian fan websites, with people showing infinite sympathy and understanding for Oscar, and little for anyone else. Most active is a Wordpress blog, sick with praise, trying to turn him into a modern saint and featuring statements like: “Reeva’s suffering is over, but not yours”, and “I will concentrate on you and keep on reminding you that you are loved … over and over again …  as long as I can”. 

Though Oscar himself has repeatedly admitted that he did actually kill Reeva, some of these infatuated and deluded people insist he is entirely innocent, or see it as no more than a tragic “mistake”. 

Oscar himself:

The third risk, and maybe the greatest, will come from Oscar himself. We have seen his bad temper, petulance and sense of entitlement, when, for instance, he threw a tantrum after a similarly disabled athlete beat him in an international race. We saw his risk-taking behaviour during his trial when he went to a night-club and become involved in an angry argument. He may need more than a few lectures on anger management.

Read: Anger management for guys

He’ll need to keep in mind that house arrest is supposed to be almost the equivalent of being in prison, though the food and company will be much better. There are rumours that he refuses to eat prison food for fear of being poisoned. There’s something rather grandiose in the notion that major crime figures had taken out a contract for him to be killed in jail. There have been no reports of the slightest attempt to bother him in prison, and it’s unlikely that prison officers have managed to shield him so perfectly from the “bad guys”.

“Correctional supervision” usually entails that one isn’t allowed to leave home, except for work and church. It also involves community service, regularly reporting to a police station, and a parole officer who will ensure that he abides by these conditions. Though he could be imprisoned again if he breaks any of these terms, the system is so forgiving that this only happens after three warnings.

It seems odd to me that the authorities are interpreting the law (Section 276 (1)(i) of the Criminal Procedure Act) to switch Oscar to correctional supervision after only one-sixth of his sentence has been served, not as a special dispensation, but as standard procedure.   

Dubious claims for probation

Official statistics are simply not credible. We’ve been told that of 71,623 people on probation and parole, 98 % of parolees, and 95.92 % of probationers were fully compliant with their conditions. These are indeed remarkable results! Yet, such exemplary behaviour seems unlikely when no other government programme attains anywhere near these levels of perfection.

According to Correctional Services, no court in South Africa may impose a sentence of correctional supervision without a pre-sentence report by either a correctional official or a probation officer. This is not a sensible policy as claims of good behaviour are difficult to prove.

Read: Prison education stops re-offending

It’s hard to forget the bizarre and naïve evidence of probation officer and social worker, Ms Annette Vergeer, during Oscar’s trial. Such devotion to her own subjective beliefs, flying in the face of facts and logic, makes it hard to believe in the claims of the system she represents. 

There was a recent kerfuffle in the British paper, the Daily Mail, claiming that Oscar would be required to wear an electronic tag, but that as these are routinely placed around the ankle (they’re too easy to remove if placed anywhere else),  and he has no ankles, they speculated that this might prevent his release. This was not taken up by the local press.  

Usually, a person under house arrest is expected to get a job and start work. This will be interesting as he would want something that makes him look good. He must to do some form of community service for two days a month, which is so little it’s actually laughable. He apparently wants to work with children, perhaps disabled kids. Would parents want him to work with their children in any capacity? Would he be a good example for any child?

Life in a luxurious mansion

Kelly Phelps, a senior lecturer in criminal justice at the University of Cape Town, has been quoted as insisting that this is not a "get-out-of-jail-free" card, saying: "Punishment is not terminated but instead meted out in the community rather than in prison.” How much of a punishment it can be to live in a luxurious mansion is not quite clear. There’s a strong echo here of Monty Python’s Spanish Inquisition sketch, where people are threatened with “the comfy chair”.

Read: 80% of kids still spanked

I seem to remember that Oscar’s lawyers suggested that instead of prison he did community service like 16 hours of domestic cleaning a month. Would you hire him?

Within a very short period of time officials relaxed the conditions of his detention, upgrading him from Category B to a Category A, allowing him greater privileges like longer visits and more phone calls. He already had the uncommon privilege of access to a running machine and exercise bike. A spokesman said his conduct in prison has been “acceptable”, clarifying that this means he obeyed the rules and did not “create problems inside our facilities”.  

Usurping the role of victim

Oscar might be allowed to begin athletic training again, as the system is peculiarly sympathetic to sports.  In the Guardian newspaper (9 June, 2015) Joan Smith claims his early release "speaks volumes" about attitudes towards violence perpetrated by males in South Africa: "In a country where gender inequality is entrenched, this is how easy it is for a well-known man to usurp the role of victim," she writes. “Pistorius sobbed and vomited his way through his trial as though he, rather than the woman he killed, deserved public sympathy ... this is how easy it is for a well-known man to usurp the role of victim.”

I wonder whether Oscar yet realises how much his histrionics turned many otherwise sympathetic people against him. Maybe this swayed the judge, who seemed quietly sympathetic and indulgent of his performances. But he would be very wise to avoid any such melodramatic displays from now on. Quiet dignity is what he needs to portray.

Questions remain and many things are unclear. Has he been banned from ever owning or handling a firearm? If not, why not? And if so, why has this not been clearly announced?

Read: Cost of a bullet in SA

Oscar may soon be declared rehabilitated – by the pathetically lenient standards of probation officers.  But he will not be rehabilitated in the eyes of most South Africans, or the rest of the world. Maybe the Pistorians will knit him scarves and send him Christmas cards. But he must realise he will never again have the national and worldwide respect he once enjoyed.

Read more:

What it's like in a South African prison

Oscar – the long-awaited verdict

What the world thinks of Oscar's sentence

Image: Oscar from Shutterstock

Professor MA Simpson is Health24's CyberShrink. A South African psychiatrist, he qualified in medicine and in psychiatry in Britain. He has been a senior academic, researcher, and Professor in several countries. Read more of his columns.

 
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