Discovering Balance Conference

Message to “Discovering Balance” Conference, Perth October 2, 2008.

Justice Action shares the lessons it has learnt following Critical Resistance in San Francisco, ICOPA X11 in London, and the Victory at Long Bay in the prison hospital, Sydney.

Justice Action attended the prison abolition conference “Critical Resistance” CR10
in San Francisco last weekend 26-28th September, presenting a workshop and talking with key organisers.

We also were in London in July for the International Conference on Penal Abolition
ICOPA X11, and facilitated its final report.

Last week we achieved a landmark success forcing the NSW government to
transfer the prison hospital from Corrective Services to Health, following a six
month campaign involving the patients, nurses, psychiatrists, mental health and
community organisations Australia-wide. It meant gaining hospital conditions
including late lock-in for the patients.

Here we share the lessons we learnt from those experiences.

Prisoners themselves should be central to our effort. Prisoners must be
listened to and trusted as good people, but under immense stress without their
normal supports. This acknowledges their humanity and gives us grounded
strength, with their faces seen and voices heard, along with their communities
outside. We are twenty-five thousand plus, strong. This means that access and
interaction, the vote, visits and all communication should be defended. The
latest prisoners newspaper JUST US was distributed in five states and
territories, rejected in three. The NSW Supreme Court said any proposed
rejection must be justified by the administration.
Recidivism can only be reduced if prisoners are involved, agree and participate
with support from their own communities.

Tackle difficult cases head on. These capture media attention. The fear
generated justifies laws like the indefinite detention of people charged with child
sex offences, and this affects other sentencing. We should believe that the
people accused are not “others.” The recent example of Dennis Ferguson in
Queensland is useful. The government admitted that it couldn’t pacify the public
fear that was generated by his exclusion and the media exposure of his reentry.
We entered the furore offering refuge and claiming him as a member of
our community. We got a resolution supporting him from the international
conference ICOPA X11 and now he has secure housing and mentoring support
from Queensland groups and with JA in constant contact. Sixty percent of a
7,000 people poll said that his whereabouts should not be exposed in future.
Therapeutic communities with restorative justice and mentoring are effective
solutions to community problems. Our own experience of positive responses to
trust and sharing are entirely applicable in the area of crime. The Alexander
Maconochie’s Norfolk Island experience, Jimmy Boyle’s story of the Barlinnie
Unit in Scotland, and the Special Care Unit in Long Bay are documented
examples of how they work effectively.

Link with allies in mainstream services. The health and education
communities are strong and will defend their principles. Our win in the Long Bay
Prison Hospital was a win for them as well as us.

Abolition of prisons is achievable. Slavery is the prison precursor. The old
penal colony of Australia has a special role in civil reconciliation. The goodness
of our people in the dungeons, the damage done, the human rights breached,
the unreasonable fear generated by the exclusion, the outrageous cost and the
documented failure of prisons to create public safety, all ensure our eventual

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