The Penal Abolition movement rejects the use of incarceration as a form of social control and community maintenance. Penal abolitionists challenge the current use of policing, courts and prisons to control populations as a means of solving social problems. The movement fights against the overlapping interests of government and industry that support surveillance and increased state power.
Penal abolitionists highlight that imprisonment does not change the conditions that lead to criminal behaviour. Furthermore, the isolation of offenders in correctional institutions can worsen their health outcomes, sever their familial and community ties and reduce their capacity to attain further employment. In addition, prison overcrowding in Australia threatens to exacerbate prisoners’ mental illnesses, increase rates of violence, self-harm and suicide in custody and augment recidivism rates.
Penal abolitionists stress that the current system fails to reduce crime or to promote community safety. They contend that the penal system discriminates on the basis of ethnicity, indigeneity and social class, and exploits the underprivileged in the pursuit of profit and political power. While penal abolitionists acknowledge that the justice system should not be abandoned altogether, they strongly challenge the misconception that punishment is the only effective or moral response to anti-social behaviour.
In short, the penal abolition movement believes that state resources used to run jails would be better directed at addressing issues that foster criminogenic environments, including poverty, educational disadvantage and community disengagement. It proposes long term goals to stop the construction of new prisons, promote restorative justice, end solitary confinement and the death penalty and develop effective crime prevention strategies.
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