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Prisons

Junee Prison Death

LATEST NEWS
Analysis of Junee Prison Death
Coroner's Report Into Junee Prison Death

OVERVIEW
Following an inquest into the death of Keith Howlett at Junee Correctional Centre, a private prison run by GEO, Deputy State Coroner Harriet Grahame heavily criticised GEO, Correctional Services NSW and Justice Health for their poor management of prisoners’ health conditions, particularly in relation to palliative care. The Coroner’s report highlights just one of the many serious issues with private prisons and condemns the way Mr Howlett’s health conditions were managed during his time in prison.

Overall, the Coroner condemned the callous actions of Justice Health, the GEO and the Commissioner of Corrective Services for not addressing the important issue of access to adequate palliative care within prisons. Mr Howlett was suffering unnecessarily due to the shortcomings of Junee, GEO, the Commissioner for Corrective Services and Justice Health.

What is Prison About?

 

Nordic Prisons less crowded, less punitive, better staffed 

Prison itself is not a modern idea. Putting people under lock and key, throwing them into the Tower of London, the Bastille in Paris, the Peter and Paul Fortress in St Petersburg, into dungeons underneath big castles or into small lock-ups or bridewells in towns and cities is not new. Even the Bible tells the story of Joseph, who became the trusted servant of Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s chief ministers. He was thrown into prison after having been falsely accused of impropriety by his master’s wife. [1]

The use of imprisonment as the main way of punishing crime, however, is different. It is a fairly recent development. In the eighteenth century in England, hanging was the most severe penalty and it was applied widely. You could be hanged for many offences, including murder, violence, theft or property over a certain value, housebreaking, arson and removing parts of Westminster Bridge. As the century wore on, hanging became less acceptable. But even if the offenders found guilty of serious crimes were not to be executed they could not be set free. They had to be kept somewhere and punished somehow. Many were transported to the American colonies, which came to an end in 1776. In the Victorian period, England started to send convicts to the far side of the earth- Australia. This decision was condemned by a parliamentary committee set up in 1837 to look at transportation ‘as being unequal, without terrors to the criminal class, both corrupting to convicts and very expensive’. [2]

Eighteenth-century thinkers saw crime as doctors saw illness. It was contagious, so those suffering from it had to be separated one from another and it could be cured by treatment. Jeremy Bentham dreamt up his idea of a Panopticon, a circular prison where from one place, one guard could see every prisoner all the time, and an inspector would keep under surveillance both the guard and the prisoners. [3]

The main features of the nineteenth-century prisons are well known. Ingenious devices were employed so that prisoners were kept from having any contact with each other. When walking round the exercise yard, prisoners wore masks, which allowed them to look down at their feet but not sideways or upwards. When prisoners went to the chapel they sat in little boxes so that they could see the chaplain straight ahead but could not make contact with the prisoners on either side. In some prisons the activity for the prisoners was working the tread wheel, a machine that required prisoners to turn a huge cylinder with their feet. This system was not a success. Prisoners succumbed to madness. In 1850, 32 prisoners per 10,000 had to be removed from Pentonville on grounds of insanity. As a result of the high rate of madness some changes were brought in. However, prison continued to be an oppressive and cruel experience.

Penal philosophy moved on and in the early decades of the twentieth century the hopes that had earlier been pinned on religion were transferred to other forms of treatment, including psychology. The prison system moved into treatment era. Prisoners were seen somewhat as patients in need of cure. Prisons became places for a range of professionals to work at their craft. It was felt that if prisoners were classified correctly and the right medicine was applied then they would be cured of their criminal ways. [4]

These systems were going to work. Criminals were going to be cured. However,  many research studies established that treatment generally did not succeed and disillusionment with treatment set in. Sending people to prison did not cure crime. In fact, prisons seemed to make people worse.

The basis of the treatment idea was that there was something wrong with the personality of the individuals that could be altered by whatever was done to them in prison. But the new view was different. It saw prisoners in relation to their families, communities, socio-economic background and life chances.

Thus developed the view of prison that is current in most Western European countries today: prison is damaging to the individual, the family and the community; it has few positive results; its costs are high. Not only direct costs for maintaining prison buildings and its staff, there are also social security costs of a family when the breadwinner has been taken away. Further costs arise from the damage caused by imprisonment – the costs of the ex-prisoner who is homeless, who cannot find a job because of the stigma of a prison record, and the family break-up that can result.

In Crime Pays, [5] prisons are described as the ‘ultimate symbol of state and corporate control over individuals’ through the threats of power and violence. It criticised the state’s incarceration of individuals to deal with significant social issues, including systemic poverty and lack of education, which perpetuates crime. Rather than dealing with the lack of public infrastructure in certain communities and establishing effective rehabilitation programs, the government has employed prisons as a fear and control mechanism. Furthermore, it is believed contemporary prisons reinforce racial hierarchies and class systems, as prisoners are stigmatised as lifetime members of the ‘criminal class’. Accordingly, indigenous and migrant groups who are overrepresented in prisons, become often segregated and unable to reintegrate with society upon release. In this sense, the prison system has failed to rehabilitate prisoners and further marginalised those involved. Read full article here.

As prisons simultaneously punish and rehabilitate, careful reconsiderations of their purpose must be made. Recently, prisons have been associated with the abuse of human rights by their failure to provide adequate care and support [6]. Even though education and welfare programs are extremely beneficial in supporting the rehabilitation of prisoners, the loss of dignity and autonomy could neutralise all these efforts. The use of power and force fails to nurture a willingness to change within the affected individual, thus perpetuating struggle and resistance instead of positive change. [7]

There are four justifications used to support maintaining the current prison system in contemporary society:
Rehabilitation: proposes that offenders who enter the prison system will be released into society as productive and law-abiding citizens
Retribution: acts as a moral balance by punishing the offender for their crime(s) against society in exchange for the deprivation of freedom
Deterrence: provides motivation for the offender and others to keep within the boundaries of the law or face similar punishment
Incapacitation: protects the wider community from serious offenders by segregating them and disabling them from committing further crimes

Ideally, prisons would implement safeguards to protect both the incarcerated individual and society, the most famous being the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. [8] Firstly, it states prisons should be rehabilitative, providing incentives for the prisoner to change. Secondly, imprisonment is punishment in itself, not a place for punishment to be imposed. And finally, prisons should exist in a framework of justice and fairness by protecting human rights. However, contemporary prisons are incongruous with all three UN standards of imprisonment - read more about failure of imprisonment here.



[1] Vivien Stern, A Sin Against the Future: Imprisonment in the World.
[2] Vivien Stern, Deprived of their Liberty: A Report for Caribbean Rights
[3] Vivien Stern, A Sin Against the Future: Imprisonment in the World. 
[4] Vivien Stern, A Sin Against the Future: Imprisonment in the World.
[5] Renee Lees, Crime Pays: http://www.justiceaction.org.au/campaigns/media-releases/196-crime-pays-why-capitalism-needs-gaols-and-why-the-two-must-fall-together
[6] Vivien Stern, A Sin Against the Future: Imprisonment in the World.
[7] David Brown & Meredith Wilkie, Prisoners as Citizens: Human Rights in Australian Prisons.
[8] Vivien Stern, A Sin Against the Future: Imprisonment in the World.

Who is in Prison?

 

Youth

The subject of youth crime has been one of much public debate over the last few years.  Statistics demonstrate that many youths who resort to crime face serious social and economical marginalisation.  Justice Action believes that major changes have to be made to the current youth justice system in order to combat these ongoing concerns.
Read more…


Women

Women have traditionally been sent to prison for different reasons to men; and once in prison, they endure different conditions of incarceration. Not only are more women going to prison in today’s society, but at expanding rates, for longer periods, and for even more minor crimes. But entering the prison system as a mother is especially damaging for both the woman and her children.

Most women who are put in prison pose no real threat to society at all.  Statistics show:
- 70% of women prisoners have mental health problems.
- 37% have attempted suicide.
- 20% have been in the care system as children (compared to 2% of the general population).
- At least 50% report being victims of childhood abuse or domestic violence.

Prison is often a very expensive way of making bad situations worse.
- Nearly 40% of women prisoners lose their homes as a result of imprisonment.
- 65% re-offend on release.
- The most common offences for which women are sent to prison are theft and handling stolen goods.
Read more…


Source: Women in Prison, http://www.womeninprison.org.uk/

 

Indigenous People

There is a disproportionate number of Indigenous Australians being incarcerated. Alongside the escalating number of Aboriginal prisoners has been a major growth in ill health, with a high percentage of Aboriginal people entering the judicial system with chronic illnesses, substance abuse problems, learning and cognitive disabilities and mental illness.
Read more… 

Legal Access

Legal Needs of Prisoners Forum NSW

The New South Wales Legal Assistance Forum held a roundtable and workshops at the Law Society following a Law and Justice Foundation report. Justice Action was present and presented a statement. JA was critical of the lack of progress over the decades of its involvement, despite numerous discussions, reports and considerable resources in the area. JA criticised the legal profession for taking a supine approach to Corrective Services despite its responsibility to its clients in the prisons.
Read more… 

Prisoners Legal Service Review

Justice Action was asked to respond to the Federal Government's Prisoners Legal Service Review. The following is the JA Submission. Read more…

Alternatives to Prison

 

 

Restorative Justice

Restorative Justice is a community-focused approach addressing the issue of offending, and suggests an alternative to prosecution and sentencing, hence being a substitute to the court system: “Restorative Justice is expected to heal the community bonds and to have a humanising effect on the system of punitive justice”. It enables stakeholders (offender(s), victim(s), community and others) to cooperate and come to a mutual agreement on sentences, and upon appropriate outcomes at different stages of the criminal process. Thus, its effectiveness depends predominantly upon the sincerity of the victim and the offender in the restoration of harm. There are many different treatments and programs for Restorative Justice, such as family treatment, circle sentencing, forum sentencing, mediation, reparation, and victim-offender conferences. The purpose of these programs is to create a direct interaction with offenders, communities and victims; dialogues have been created to achieve understanding and undertake responsibility.

Read more

Resources and Publications

Miscarriages of Justice

There is currently no regulated way by which persons in NSW - wrongly convicted but then exonerated - can obtain compensation.
Read more...


Beyond Bars - Policing

Does more police necessarily mean lower crime rates?
Read more… 


Privatisation of New Zealand Prisons

The NZ National Coalition Government has proposed privatisation of NZ prisons following the defeat of Labour in 2008. NZ community organisations and prisoners asked for assistance for a consultation with NZ prisoners and brought a Justice Action Coordinator from Australia to help. JA wrote to the Minister for a consultation. She refused but the consultation occurred on May 4 2009. Prisoners, prison officers, the union and administrators were all involved.
Read more…


Nowra's Burden

The local community was promised jobs and economic stimulation to the tune of $10 million a year in return for bearing the stigma of being a prison town. So although Nowra can expect all the stigma and consequences that come with playing host to the states newest correctional mistake it is unlikely to see the $10 million flow on stimulus the local community was promised when accepting the proposal.

Read more…

Privatisation of NSW Prisons

The NSW Governments attempt to privatise Cessnock, Parklea prisons and court transport offers a window on the disaster that prison privatisation has proven around the world. The Legislative Council has been holding an Inquiry and received 453 submissions all except eleven opposing it.
Read more...

Expungement

- As cited on "Your Lawyer: A User's Guide" (Lexis-Nexis)

Q: What is expungement?
A: Expungement is often equated to the sealing or destroying of legal records. Each state offers its own definition of expungement, based on different rules and laws. Generally, expungement can be viewed as the process to "remove from general review" the records pertaining to a case. But the records may not completely "disappear" and may still be available to law enforcement. 

QLD Review of Sexual Offences

Queensland review of legislation based on the case of Dennis Ferguson. Queensland Public Protection Model For the Management of High Risk Sexual and Violent Offenders. Queensland review and JA submission.

Read more…


Transgender Inmates

Transgender inmates pose a unique problem within the correctional system. They are at a far greater risk of assault, particularly sexual assault. Transgender women are at particular risk if they are placed within a male correctional facility. Transgender inmates classified by the Department of Corrective Services include persons who have been identified as being non-biological male or female gender, with or without having undergone gender-related surgery or hormone therapy appropriate to their choice.

Read more…

Redeveloping the Penal Colony
Crime prevention through social support.

Read more…


Home Detention
Why Justice Action opposes home detention.

Read more…

Prisonless Society

International Foundation for a Prisonless Socety (IFPS).
Read more...

Privacy

Privacy is the interest that individuals have in sustaining a 'personal space', free from interference by other people and organisations.  Privacy can be broken down into many areas, such as privacy of the person; privacy of personal behaviour; privacy of personal communication; or privacy of personal data. Privacy laws, while significant in that they protect the private affairs of individuals, should not be misused to deny discussion of matters of public concern.

Read more…

Sexual violence and Transgendered Inmates

Part of the susceptibility of transgender prisoners to sexual assault in the prison setting is the excessively masculine nature of the prison environment.
Read more… 

Prisons as Part of the Community
This is a key to JA's work. It was presented to the NSW Legislative Council 2009 as part of the campaign against the corporate privatisation of prisons. It is an analysis of the conflicting policies of social exclusion and community building, giving examples of how they conflict in practice and offering some direction for change. 
Read more...


New Quasi Prison System - COSPS
There has been a dangerous development of a quasi-prison system being created around the resettlement of ex prisoners. Instead of people ending their sentence and returning to the community with support from non-government organisations and mainstream services, Corrective Services has begun taking federal homelessness money and extending the prison system by stealth. They are calling them COSPs but in reality they are controlled by the prisons department, where curfews and in some cases even permission to meet family members has to be granted two weeks in advance.
Read more…

Subcategories

  • Failure of Imprisonment
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  • Prison Issues
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  • Privatisation
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  • Alternatives to Imprisonment
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