An interesting story came my way this morning by way of an internet discussion forum. It concerned the case of convicted murderer, Patrick Nicol, a young man who is serving twelve years in Shotts Prison in Lanarkshire, Scotland. Nicol’s conviction came after he was found guilty for the first-degree murder of George Reid, who was stabbed by his assailant Nicol over one hundred times.
Napier University, Craiglockart Campus, Edinburgh
The Scottish Sun newspaper reports that Nicol is now studying economics at Edinburgh’s Napier University, regularly attending lectures and participating in general student life whilst under the guard of a security firm. His fellow students are reported to have no knowledge of Nicol’s conviction. This brings up many discussion points for me. It is important however to be wary of that particular newspaper’s usual dismal style of sensationalist reporting when viewing the ins and outs of this story.
Firstly the point should be made about George Reid’s family and their feelings. It is easy to understand how they must feel about this development and aside from any other discussion care and courtesy must be given to their reaction to this information about the style of Nicol’s rehabilitation. One must attempt to empathise with any understandable bitterness and resentment they hold.
I agree with the principle of allowing Nicol to study but not the suggested method being offered. This is a classic case where online or other distance learning could be utlilised well. Such study methods are making great inroads into Higher education and and are favoured by many, including those that have to work for a living and cannot attend lectures, the latter criterion fits this person well.
There is a loss in online or distance learning of the social side of things but it should be remembered that as well as being rehabilitated Nicol is being punished for taking somebody’s life. He relinquished his liberty when he carried out that dreadful crime.
Another point is that it could be conceived of as a slap in the face to the many would-be students, particularly mature ones, who would love to have the opportunity to study for a degree but cannot due to work and time commitments. Many universities will still not accept a student who cannot fulfil regular lecture appearances.
My personal view is that allowing Nicol to attend traditional classes is not commensurate with the punishment he is serving for what was a heinous and vicious crime. Allowing Nicol to leave prison to visit the university fits well with the rehabilitation side of his sentencing but certainly does not fulfil the punishment he has brought upon himself by his wicked actions. My feeling is that both of those conditions have to be met.
I think he should feel himself very fortunate even in being allowed any study. let’s hope that he does. Incidentally I don’t feel that arming himself with a second undergraduate degree is going to equip him any more for the outside world when his time comes. I’d have thought that a post-graduate qualification would have served him better but that’s by-the-by.
In general I’d like to see the opportunities afforded by the different kinds of distance learning used more in prisons etc. It’s a civil way of approaching rehabilitation, but I can see some potential opposition to it forming.
Let Nicol’s rehabilitation happen online or by post. He should feel very fortunate just in that.