A selection of articles from Framed 32:
A paper presented at the First National Conference of Community Based Criminal Justice Activists hosted by Justice Action.
For those of you who haven't enjoyed the delights of Her Majesty's prison system, I will try to give a brief overview of life in a female prison. My intention is to highlight those aspects of prison life that are inherently destructive, to review what worked for me and to suggest some alternative approaches.
When one enters jail a process of dispossession and disempowerment occurs. You are separated from family, lovers and friends, separated from your possessions and in my case, as in many others, separated from the drugs that have allowed you to maintain some facade of normality.
I decided I'd be well advised to learn the rules, customs and language of this strange, alien land very quickly. Although I had the benefit of a good education, it was offset by my inability to either shut up or accept the status quo. As well as cruelty and violence, I also found kindness. Communication with the outside world is reduced to a minimum. I was allowed one normal phone call and one legal phone call a week. Damage done to family ties is irretrievable. This leads to frustration, anger and resentment.
Your visitors, law abiding citizens, are generally viewed with suspicion and treated with significant incivility. The Department declares a new progressive attitude is in vogue, but recently I saw two visitors humiliated and intimidated by a bunch of bully boys in blue. You have to wonder if those people will ever come again. Often, visitors wait for hours; a situation that is even worse in the men's prisons.
Prison and medical staff's indifference and carelessness is justified by referring to antiquated rules and procedures. The plan is to crush the inmates' spirit. Eventually most prisoners lose the ability to initiate action. This is at odds with the expectation that prisoners will manifest the initiative and incentive to recreate their lives after their release. You are nobody and your needs are immaterial. Many officers torment and intimidate already tormented prisoners. Not all staff fall into this category; many begin well but peer pressure, and the label 'crim lover', soon makes them toe the line.
To survive prison you must be alert, physically and mentally, 24 hours a day. Room searches are frequent and prisoners possessions are removed with alacrity. Many of the strip searches and urine tests are unnecessary; they are used to humiliate and intimidate. Reducing these to a minimum is a priority.
The prevailing polarisation, the 'them and us' syndrome, which is part of the prison world, vitiates against staff playing a positive role in the life of the inmate. They, too, are confronted by rules. Their time worn response is, "I'm only doing my job."
If you buck the system you will pay; but if you don't buck the system, it will annihilate you. The reality of oppression and repression is absolute. In the end, it becomes a condition many accept. Having Corrective Services operate as surrogate parents is pretty scary; they give new meaning to the word disfunctional. The option of doing time in segregation or in a therapeutic area is not a course to be embarked upon lightly. Psych drugs are dispensed freely. Some women die, some attempt to do so, few emerge sound in body and mind.
When desperation finally seized me, to avoid these choices I took to writing letters. Few people had any idea what was going on in Mulawa. I networked with community groups, started the underground Letters to Priscilla and became a political pain in the backside. Several officers took it upon themselves to teach me the error of my ways, but I knew I would die or go mad if I didn't speak up.
This was the beginning of my re-empowerment. I began to feel like an individual again. I came to believe that transformation of the individual and ultimately of the prison system was possible.
f prisons must exist, let them be places that contain and nourish the potential for transformation; this transformation is essential, possible and economically viable. On a moral level I believe society has no other choice.
Reduce the number of men and women imprisoned:
Establish a new community organisation to:
Where to begin? Most of the problems that arise can be condensed into three areas:
(Margaret served a four and a half year sentence for drug charges in Mulawa and Norma Parker jails.)
Delegates from a variety of organisations across Australia converged on the University of Technology, Sydney for the First National Conference of Community Based Criminal Justice Activists. The Conference was voted a resounding success.
The Conference involved 21 workshops on the breadth of criminal justice issues, including private prisons, juvenile justice, safe cells, police power and abuses, drugs in prison, post release issues and Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. It focussed on the development of national policy statements, campaign ideas and the implementation of national follow-up actions
Because of the diversity of people attending, each workshop involved the resolution of these different perspectives and ideas so that agreed policies and strategies could be adopted.
National policies and strategies re;lating to each of the workshops were passed by the Conference plenary session . These included: the abolition of prisons combined with a focus on non-custodial, non coercive community based alternatives to prison; the implementation of a national standard on prison visits; the implementation of a national standard to ensure the survival of ex-prisoners in the community through pre and post release programmes; people with mental illness must be death with by the healthcare system rather than the criminal justice system; strip searching and involuntary urine testing is sexual assault; a recognition that safe cells are unsatisfactory and that we must work to find suitable alternatives.
A complete national policy statement register will be available from Justice Action and will be published in Framed issue #33.
Conference attendees able to stay an extra day visited either Long Bay and Mulawa thanks to the assistance of the Department of Corrective Services.
The Prisoner Advisory Support Service of Western Australia has agreed to organise the next conference in Perth for November 1997.
My name is Gregory Kable. I protested long and hard to see my children until finally they made a law against me. That law was the Community Protection Act 1994. Initially the law was meant to be general according to the first Parliamentary debates and reading speech. However, the community howled with protest and during the course of the second Parliamentary debate and reading speech the Parliament designed the Act for me.
Yes! One person!.
Kable specific legislation - The enactment of a Second Class Citizen in NSW.
I was serving time, minding my own business, but complaining to a specific public servant, the then Attorney General, Minister of Justice and Minister of Corrective Services because I had not seen my children in years.
Falling through the safety net in prison, I was told I had no means and no merit. Having initially, no legal knowledge or understanding of legal proceedings, I did not have the skills to take up my own case.
It is my understanding, nonetheless, that public servants are there to serve the public.
Four years after making my numerous complaints and protests to see my children the NSW Government hit me with a stick. I was subsequently profiled in an election campaign and then nailed to the wall. I served seven more months behind bars for no crime, on the balance of probabilities that I was more likely than not to commit a serious act of violence. Without being charged or granted bail and I was given the Gulag treatment by numerous Forensic Psychiatrists.
For those of you who do not know what the Gulag treatment means. It means forced discomfort and brain washing until one submits with their alleged wrongdoing.
Flowing on from the above I spent twelve more months in self proposed exile in Queensland waiting for the High Court to rule because both the Premier and his Attorney made public comments after I secured my release, that the Judge was wrong to release me.
If I had remained in NSW and if it was thought by some police or politician that I might commit a crime I could have been locked up for a three month interim period without trial, without bail, and without any evidence.
When the High Court ruled the New South Wales Community Protection Act invalid and I was helped down off the wall that I was nailed to, no-one from the government said sorry. Left up to the Politicians who claimed that I made the mistake.
No-one with the exception of my family, Resamen housing and the totally un-funded Justice Action, offered any social support.
The populist view at that time was that it does not matter! The Act was passed specifically for Kable! It did not affect anyone else!
If you thought like that you were wrong. Precedent is a rule of law throughout Australia and the Commonwealth. Effectively they could of lifted up the skirt of the legislation at any time and added your name to it as well.
Brandies J of the Supreme Court of the United States, who strikes a particular resonance in connection with the Community Protection Act, wrote the following:-
Experience should teach us to be most on guard to protect liberty when the Governments purposes are beneficent.
Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded rulers.
There were times in gaol when I became negatively reinforced, frustrated and extinguished for trying. I took on matters out of my qualified league. From a point of disempowerment I tried where everything was multiplied by ten in terms of getting it.
Even a pencil can be multiplied by ten if it is behind ten locked gates. Or ten stubborn guards who won't understand the need. Or try ten extra hours locked in a cell when prison guards go on strike.
The frustration of trying to get a glimpse of my children made me feel like ripping off my skin.
These special Acts of Parliament are not Community Protection Devices. They are Star Chambers that's what they are.
Trust us, we know best. This is not nineteen forties Russia. No person shall be regarded or treated as an insane person simply for the expression of opinions no matter how absurd these opinions may appear.
No person shall be imprisoned and treated as an insane person. This my friends was a blatant attack on Civil Liberties. There was no expiry date on the legislation. We have to balance the rights of individuals, with the rights of their freedom, with the rights of society. Keeping people in gaol because of something they might do, thoughts they might have.
The distribution of wealth, class, and media; and even more sinister the macro level in Australia of legalistic bureaucracy, with its manifold arms, in the form of commissions, ombudsmen, tribunals and the like who can insist on secret arrangements enacted within their particular legislation to view matters in camera. In short we don't know what goes on most of the time. We don't hear of the worst cases of abuse. Even when you are right, there is no utility or funding to do anything about your concerns.
How do I argue with a QC who heads a department full of resources? Especial distress occurs when you know of your rights but cannot implement the same because you suffer hardship and there is no Legal Aid dollar. For instance, all I wanted to do was to see my children. All I got was a decision by the Government to place my children into protective custody and change their names.
Now! if that doesn't send shock waves throughout the community it is because of the balance of power and the fact that it has only effected a minority. We don't need to fight them, but we need to tell them how it is for us. If I can point you to the pain of alienation where the whole community is looking upon you as an enemy to it's peace. It is no small trial.
In 1838, Birney wrote the following:-
I have not one helper- not one from whom I can draw sympathy on this topic!
Again he faced censure and threats of violence from mobs while he believed, that if ever there was a time, it is now come.
I am aware that many object to the severity of my language , but is there no cause for severity ?
I will be harsh, as harsh as the truth, and as uncompromising as justice. On this subject I do not wish to speak or write with moderation.
No!... Tell a man who's house is on fire to give a moderate alarm. Tell a mother to gradually extricate her babe from the fire into which he has fallen, but urge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present.
I am earnest. I will not equivocate. I will not retreat a single inch and I will be heard.
Those are special words for me. Let us all work together with love and in peace for the common good of all the people.
Gregory Wayne Kable
The Law according to Gregory Wayne Kable is an edited version of the opening speech he gave at the First National Conference of Community Based Criminal Justice Activists. The Conference was hosted by Justice Action.
1996 has been a highly successful year for Justice Action. It has also been a year that has indicated the strength and the power of the bureaucracies, institutions and injustices that surround us. Below are the highlights of our year.
Reports of sub-standard medical care in prison rarely surprise us anymore. But sometimes there is the odd example that will rile the most hardened observer.
The previous issue of Framed (Spring 96, Issue no 31, p11) reported on the case of Richard Lynott and the failure of Corrective Services to prevent the spread of Hepatitis C and HIV/AIDS in the prison population. The Department has justified the lack of condoms and needle exchange programs within prisons on the basis that their introduction will affect security and good order in prisons. We had a lot of trouble swallowing that one. But wait, it gets better.
Soon after her admission into Mulawa, an inmate is given a blood test. Let's call her Sally. Sally is not counselled prior to or after receiving the test. Two nurses tell her the results are positive. A woman later visits Sally, gives her a pamphlet and speaks to her for five minutes. Sally has no understanding of the disease. All the screws know about it. Other inmates find out. They tell Sally to stay in her cell and not touch the food. They won't dish it up to her so she misses out. The screws don't allow Sally to stay at the Therapeutic Unit at MPU because that would be "abusing the system" She suffers bouts of depression, insomnia and feels exhausted during the day. She cannot afford to buy vitamins at buy-up and is offered no nutritional supplements. In August Sally is told she has a low T cell count and informed of drugs available for treatment.
About that time Sally makes an application to attend the 16 week course for positive inmates at the Lifestyles Unit at Long Bay. Her application is rejected. Sally is told the story of a female inmate who went to lifestyles and had sex with a male inmate in Crisis Support. Sally is told the Unit is not taking girls.
A complaint outlining the above has been lodged with the Anti Discrimination Board on the basis the inmate has been the subject of sex discrimination in relation to the receipt of a government health service. A possible result of this action is the award of compensation to the inmate as a result of her pain and suffering.
The Department has since done a lot of back pedaling. Reasons given for her rejection have ranged from safety concerns to the fact it is not good for a woman to be in all-male company. The reason the department seems to have settled on is the fact the Unit shares a yard with Crisis Support inmates.
But no one's buying that. The Lifestyles Unit has been shared with Crisis Support Unit inmates for three years. As Stephen Grieve at CRC Justice Support stated in a letter to the Minister for Corrective Services, Bob Debus, it is patently obvious that people trying to prolong their lives living with a terminal illness should not be sharing a very small yard with people who are there because they constantly self harm. It is no reason to exclude women from the program. As Mr Grieve said, "three years is enough time for the Department to have been able to recognise and rectify the problem".
Their failure to do so means many male inmates have participated in the program more than once, while very few women have had the chance to participate at all.
A recent bandaid approach came in the form of a nutritionist to provide advice to positive women at Mulawa. There is still nothing in the form of regular counselling or an ongoing program.
On the 15 November Commissioner Keliher replied to Justice Action's concerns by stating that the HIV and Health Promotion Unit are developing a special outreach program for female prisoners who are HIV and/or Hep C positive. Justice Action has asked the Department to outline how the program will operate, when it will commence and what interim arrangements have been made.
It is not enough for the Department to say we'll get around to fixing it. We have heard it all before. The fact is, there are usually between three and six inmates at Mulawa who are HIV positive and they should be given immediate access to those programs available to male inmates. For those that have already suffered as a result of the discriminatory conduct, the Department should be held accountable.
The Royal Commission interim report states that endemic corruption within the NSW Police Service exists. The recent Ombudsman's annual report found about one in thirteen police officers guilty of serious misconduct, with in excess of 100 facing criminal charges, over 250 being formally disciplined and more than 700 being managerially counselled. A sane response to these revelations would be to ensure that every measure taken is to improve the accountability of police officers and remove every opportunity for abuses of power to occur.
However, the grotesque nature of the bidding war on who can look tougher on crime that occurred before the last election persists. Both the Government and the Opposition have forwarded proposals which would increase the powers of the police.
The Opposition Police Minister, Andrew Tink, proposes police be given the power to detain and interrogate suspects for up to twelve hours without laying a charge. Condemnation from groups including the NSW Law Society, the NSW Bar Association, Justice Action and the Aboriginal Deaths in Custody Watch Committee was immediate. To argue for such powers at this time, displays a serious lack of faith in the Royal Commission. Parliamentarians should await the final report of Justice Wood before seeking to increase the powers of police, when "in the course of its (the Royal Commission) inquiries to date, unearthed significant corruption of the kind which could answer the test adopted of 'entrenched or systemic corruption.' " These laws are rooted in powers which exist in Northern Ireland because it is a state of emergency. The proposal also threatens basic rights to silence and the rights of persons to legal representation.
It does not appear that Tink will receive the necessary support in the Labor controlled Lower House or from the cross benches in the Upper House. However, NSW Labor intends introducing its own legislation. In a letter to Justice Action, Attorney General Shaw argues legislation would “give certainty to the person in custody, and also to the police”, given the lack of success of the common law in protecting accused persons. Shaw pledges that basic rights to silence and legal representation would not be eroded. Noble aspirations. What Shaw can be guaranteed of is that any proposal will be closely scrutinised.
From suspects to children, comes Police Minister Paul Whelan's contribution to defying the calls for increased accountability and preventing situations in which power can be abused. Proposed anti-gang/move-along laws would give the police the power to disperse and move along 'gangs' where gangs are described as more than two persons and police only have to form a reasonable suspicion before hassling or arresting persons. The proposed laws would also create a new offence of failure to disperse.
The Federal Privacy Commissioner, Kevin O'Connor, pondered if it would include people playing doubles tennis. Premier Carr accepted the proposals might affect the privacy of young people, but believes that older person's right to feel safe in their streets justifies the violation of basic rights.
Why Premier Carr does not feel the need to demonstrate leadership and educate people about how crime is falling according to the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC), denying the need for additional police powers, is anyone's guess. Some might suspect it is from a desire to win votes at all costs, even if it is by buying into the misplaced fears of the community.
This becomes scarier when one considers the recent release of Aboriginal youth lock up rates for New South Wales: 746 for every 100 000 up from 722 in 1994/95, compared to 36 for every 100 000 for non-Aboriginal youth, down from 39 in 1994/95.
The head of the Department of Juvenile Justice, Ken Buttrum described the AIC figures as a 'massive scandal' and called for the police to use more cautions for Aboriginal youth. The truth is police officers prefer detention and arrest, which unmasks another of the problems with the proposed anti-gang/ move along laws: the impact of the laws will be disproportionately felt on Aboriginal, migrant and working class youth: groups that Labor traditionally has relied upon for support.
Assessing why police officers are wrongfully arresting and detaining citizens would be a more worthwhile exercise. The NSW Criminal Court statistics of 1994 and 1995 for the lower courts only, reveals that 33 410 NSW citizens were wrongfully arrested and detained.
However, if you're convicted, don't expect compensation. Attorney General Shaw vowed seven months ago that prisoners would be banned from claiming compensation. There was the outrageous display of Premier Carr hurling a letter from lawyers, Brezniak-Smith, into a Parliament House bin for the television cameras, which claimed compensation for the wrongful detention of their client, Greg Kable, following the High Court's finding that the Community Protection Act was invalid.
It has only been through cross bench pressure that prisoners will be allowed to claim compensation when the prisoner has been victimised. However, Attorney General Shaw is quick to stress to The Daily Telegraph , “In cases where a prisoner granted compensation was actually convicted of a violent crime involving a victim, the prisoner would probably not see any money. This is because the money would be used to pay the debt the prisoner owed, the debt being the money awarded in victims compensation to the prisoner's victim.”
When private companies make money operating prisons, both the community and prisoners suffer.
In previous centuries, private contractors were used in prisons and for the transportation of prisoners; the practice was stopped because they exploited prisoners for profit. Now they are back with a vengeance. "We'll hopefully make a buck at it. I'm not going to kid you and say we are in this for humanitarian reasons”, honestly declared one private prison contractor.
Prisons, which should protect the community and rehabilitate the offender, necessarily subsume these goals to the imperative of profit when they are privatised. This conflict between punishment for profit and the society's needs was reflected in the conclusion drawn at a 1994 OECD meeting in Paris “... the benefits come from private involvement in construction, but not management ... the conflict between the profit motives of the company and the social objectives of government are virtually impossible to reconcile in a contract”. As the head of Corrections Corporation of America (CCAm) said "You just sell it like you were selling cars or real estate or hamburgers”. The People's Justice Alliance (PJA) does not agree. People are not the same as hamburgers!
Victoria's first private prison - the Metropolitan Women's Correctional Centre - opened at Deer Park in August. The PJA and the Women and Imprisonment Group (WIG) protested at the official opening, distributing leaflets and throwing blood money at the politicians. We returned up two days later for the public 'open day', to find that the company had paid for police to protect the prison. Police horses, motorbikes, cars, four wheel drives, arrest trucks, police with guns and sledgehammers and the Force Response Unit were there. Despite this being an 'open day', PJA and the WIG members were refused entry on the basis of photographs taken at the protest a few days earlier. We had no right to demand entry as this was a private prison on private land, we could be evicted from the private prison car park at any time. This is just one of the ways in which private companies silence criticism and dissent.
Since August the catalogue of disputes and complaints has been overwhelming. On the second day inside, women signed a petition demanding that Saturday visits with their children be reinstated. At Fairlea, it had been the practice for 16 years that mothers could spend six hours on a Saturday with their children. We understand that the operating contract specifies only the legally required one hour visit, anything more is at the discretion of the prison operator (CCA), who also has the power to use denial's visits as a punishment.
The whole prison is camera monitored and visitors are required to book in for visits, presumably so that prison visitors can be more heavily scrutinised. Maximum security, protection and management prisoners have visits on weekday evenings only, and visits are restricted to 1-2 hours, which was never the case at Fairlea. There are only 15 total staff - including eight prison officers - during the day, and only five prison officers on evening shifts.
The prison site at Deer Park is very windy, cold and wet. But there is not enough clothing for the women, it is the wrong size and it is not water or wind proof. There is not enough nightgowns, windcheaters have shrunk in the dryers and they have been denied scarves and gloves.
Women are in ten-bed units and we believe that when they moved in they had only bread to eat for four nights. Electronic security and fire alarms are triggering regularly, which means that the prison goes into automatic lock down, and visitors and officers are unable to enter or leave the prison until the alarms are fixed. If there is a fire, women will not be able to get out as the electronic doors shut down. There has been an increase in internal violence and three officers have already resigned, as well as the program manager. We understand that there have been at least nine attempted suicides since the prison opened.
Medical services are in a state of total confusion and even the CCA manager thinks that the centre is understaffed. Because only one woman is allowed into the medical centre at a time, women wait outside in the freezing cold for up to four hours to receive medication and/or treatment. Some women have had their psychiatric medications stopped without warning, whilst the majority of the women are being highly medicated. We understand that the women are being prescribed three times the number of drugs which were allocated in Fairlea, and it was well documented that over-medication occurred there! There have also been reports that when medication is crushed in a pestle, the pestles are not being cleaned after each woman has received her medication, but are reused, resulting in women receiving traces of other women's medications. This is highly dangerous and can result in allergic reactions and possible overdoses.
Women on methadone are not re constructively participate in daily activities, visits and court appearances.
Women with children are being inappropriately housed in restrictive living conditions and there are no toys, books or activities for the children.
Privatisation allows government to distance itself from the operation of, and the problems inherent in prisons; prisons are an inherently destructive, brutal and stupid idea. Very soon 1200 men will be placed in private prisons yet there has been little or no community outrage. Churchill once said the 'the measure of a civilised community is its treatment of prisoners'. By this standard this government and community can only be considered savage, cruel and inhumane.
Catherine Gow Catherine Gow is the Co-ordinator of the People's Justice Alliance Contact : P.O.Box 1567, Collingwood. Victoria. 3066.
The abolition of the penal system is fundamental to building an honest caring society. Just like capital punishment, torture and slavery before, it brutalizes us individually and collectively.
The penal system is entrenched in corruption and is intentionally used as a mechanism to promote the State control of individuals. The corruption is enabled by the community-at-large which delegates its responsibilities and allows the State to operate unchecked and independent. The principles of abolition begin with the whole community involved in a positive process of reconciliation and a commitment to eliminate the underlying causes of why people are imprisoned in the first instance.
The penal system's agenda is one of self-interest; one that is not committed to a reduction of crime or what the State defines as criminal behaviour. The penal system has failed in its stated aims: to protect the community from harm, deter offenders from re-offending and rehabilitate them.
Prison fails to provide a protective function. The bulk of those persons who commit crimes are not even brought before the criminal justice system. The majority of those who are imprisoned are ultimately sent there for short custodial sentences, in a 'revolving door' between institutions and the community. Protection is a misguided concept, used to make the community-at-large feel safe.
Instead, prison creates crime. Michel Foucault put that, "delinquency is for the most part produced in and by an incarceration." Prison forms a culture of individuals who are alienated, stigmatised brutalised and more likely to re-offend.
Deterrence through punishment is used to justify the legal system sending people to prison for long periods. This is in response to the State and media pandering to public fears, instead of facing the underlying structural inequities and reasons why crimes are still being committed. The high rates of recidivism alone prove that deterrence through punishment is an obvious failure.
The justification of rehabilitation claims that time spent in prison can provide the perfect opportunity to rehabilitate, re-educate, and re-socialise individuals.Yet the system fails to provide an environment where any of these can be realistically achieved. People are are held longer awaiting this unachievable goal of rehabilitation. In addition, the new wave of truth in sentencing removes any incentives to promote rehabilitation through the elimination of remissions.
Protection, deterrence, and rehabilitation cannot provide us with any satisfactory answers to why prisons still exist. Prisons, in fact, only seek retribution for the community through punishment and violence. The state has sacrificed its moral stature. In addition, the offender is not involved in the solutions. This results in the victim of a crime being denied acknowledgment of their loss, an opportunity to reconcile and a chance for compensation. Further it denies the offender the chance to rebuild relationships and a place in the community. Inequality before the law is central to the criminal justice system.
As the penal system fails to fulfill its stated purpose, why are we still incarcerating individuals?
Punishment reinforces the idea that only individuals are responsible for their actions. Community problems are explained only in terms of individual behaviour which needs to be punished. Homelessness, unemployment, drunkenness, poverty, drug addiction, and alienation all have punishable expressions which ignore community responsibility. Prisons further stigmatise the individual, ensuring isolation from the community. Underlying community problems remain unchallenged.
The continued use of prisons is supported by sinister vested interests of the State and private enterprise. Prisons have an important political and economic position in our society; they carry ideas and images that maintain positions of power and dominance.
Prison acts to distract from the crimes of powerful people. They seldom go to jail even though their impact is considerably greater. It is an inherent conflict when the powerful create laws and institutions from which they are largely immune.
Prisons give the impression that all evil resides behind their walls and that outside those walls all is well. The higher the wall, the greater the security and isolation, the more powerful the imagery. This creates a fearsome prisoner class no longer defined as human and used to create fears in the community outside. Prions create a delinquent, alienated group who are embittered by their experiences and unable to return easily to their communities. These people are used by the State to keep the rest of the population subdued.
Prisons then justify a huge State control structure, keeping the entire population under surveillance and subjugation. Police have guns on their hips in public. Enormous bureaucracies of police, courts, prisons and support staff are part of this self-perpetuating structure.
It is also the hidden agenda of private enterprise to retain prisoners for profit and productive purposes. They encourage the system's need to keep prisons functioning.
The issue at the forefront of the prison debate currently is the privatisation of prisons, which will see prisons turned into profit-making ventures. As has the community before, the state now abandons any pretext of moral obligations, traded for short-term and transperant economic justification. For global corporations, such as Australasian Correctional Management, Corrections Corporation of Australia and Group 4 the retention of large numbers of individuals in prison is necessary if their economic investment is to succeed.
The privatisation of prisons relies on people continually being incarcerated, otherwise there is no reason to invest in them. This allows little room for incentives to reduce the number of people in prison. In the inevitable extreme, the intrusion of private interests forces the corporatisation of all state functions. No longer an expression of the common will, the State now abdicates any illusion of responsibility to the community and becomes an agent of control based upon the maximisation of profit.
It has been clearly established that prisons do not act as an effective measure in dealing with crime.
Any solution must involve both the victim and offender, both listening to the other's perspectives, with mediation provided by an independent person. Any agreements must involve the communities of both and give the opportunity for compensatory efforts to be provided by the offender.Restorative justice is a concept based upon such expressions.
Some abolitionists have avoided the issue of violent offenders or made them an exception. In reality there is no reason why they shouldn't equally be a community responsibility, with continual voluntary supervision within the community or a smaller supportive community (sometimes referred to as a sanctuary) and with a negotiable medical option.
Offending must be dealt with in the community, with the whole community involved. The alternative need not, and should not, carry the emotional baggage that has been created by past policies, which are based on punishment and sacrifice. The intention should be clear that the wish is to heal the pain and reinforce the community as a support network. Everyone takes responsibility for the offence - including the direct offender. The abolition of the penal system starts with this fundamental principle.
Brett Collins and Rachel Curry
Justice Action and the Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) recently succeeded in their lobbying over home detention, which began with the NSW Law Reform Commission's paper on Sentencing and ended with amendments to Labor's Home Detention Bill.
Green MP Ian Cohen and his staff made a critical difference in the final stage of lobbying. CCL Committee member Liz Kirby MP also made a valuable contribution to the home detention debate, along with Labor MP Ann Symonds.
The Bill eventually passed the Upper House committee stage with several
amendments moved by Ian Cohen, all of which came from the joint assistance
of Justice Action/ CCL position.
We were not able to get support for a second stage in the sentencing process (a separate magistrate or judge to convert a jail sentence to home detention) but the additional requirement to regularly report to parliament should provide the opportunity to modify the scheme (to make it backend, or to modify the sentencing process) if significant"net widening" is detected. The scheme will only be useful if it acts as a genuine alternative to prison.
Severe and chronic problems are felt in relationships between prisoners, their partners and their kids. Problems, that are rarely alleviated by the prisons, and are often so deep they carry on after the prisoner is released.
During 1996, I have been interviewing a "new generation" of prison visitors, only to hear about the same pressures and problems that Ann Aungles, a researcher of partners and families of people in prison, found twelve years ago.
In 1984, Ann Aungles carried out research with partners and families of people in prison. Her book, "The Prison and the Home" shows the pressures that families are subjected to, and how the State's responsibility and duty of care towards prisoners is partly taken up and discharged through the material and emotional support that partners and families supply for the imprisoned person.
Number one difficulty is trying to keep relationships going without any private time together. Prison disrupts family relationships in more ways than just the physical separation. The prisoner lives in a completely different world, and the sort of coping strategies that are most useful for adjusting to jail culture - emotional withdrawal, being guarded about personal things, not getting involved - are exactly the sort of behaviour that undermines close relationships in the outside world.
There were two other problems experienced by the visitors I spoke to. One was difficulty in finding out the rules applying to visits. These differ from jail to jail and can be changed without notice. The second was visitor-staff relations. Most visitors said that while the majority of officers are business-like and courteous, they feel like they are being treated as criminals themselves when staff are abrupt or impolite.
Other major problems are the financial strain of putting money into the inmate's account so they can buy basic necessities, and the time spent in shopping for hours for clothing in the "right" shade of green to put into the prisoner's property - often only after arriving for a visit with clothing in the "wrong" green. Families spend great amounts of time and effort in travelling long distances for a brief visit, sometimes to find when they arrive that a major security operation is in progress, or the prison officers are having a union meeting and the gaol is closed for an indefinite time.
Many prisoners' partners feel isolated from workmates, neighbours and families because of the stigma associated with crime and jail, and many said that their children are affected in their schooling and peer relationships. Children also suffer on visits. Most gaols don't allow them to take in toys or books, so they get bored and difficult. Often, the only diversion parents can offer kids is junk food, full of sugar and preservatives, from the dispensing machines - and a solid hit of sugar is the last thing a cranky child needs to settle down so that Mum and Dad can share a bit of precious time together.
Relationship problems often continue after release as partners have to make major readjustments after leading separate lives during the jail term.
CRC Justice Support are now starting up support groups for partners of prisoners, based on some very successful relationship groups that Lyn Bond has been running inside jails. Lyn can be contacted on (02) 9564 2722. Children of Prisoners also run three groups - for young children, for adolescents, and for outside carers for information about Children of Prisoner's Support Groups