Comparing Zoos and Prisons: Worse Than Animals

Media Release Monday November 23, 2015

A unique analysis launched today reveals that Taronga Zoo’s gorillas are legally given twenty four times more space than people held inside the private Parklea prison. They are provided natural habitats and have enforceable rights. Additionally NSW Premier Mike Baird has pledged $57 million to improve the facilities of Taronga Zoo as part of the government’s ‘Restart NSW’ infrastructure project. A key part is to upgrade the gorilla enclosure.  

Download analysis here. 

The recent Inspector of Custodial Services ‘Full House’ Report declared ‘the state treats inmates in a way that denies them a modicum of dignity and humanity.’ At a later forum prison authorities questioned the need for each prisoner having 5.5 square metres space in a cell held for 18.5 hours a day, stating that there is ‘no science behind the existing public health regulation’ and received exemption from the Health Minister. There is no mechanism for enforcement or punishment for breaches.

That publicly exposed lack of enforceable standards in prisons was the stimulation for this unique analysis, not previously undertaken anywhere, comparing conditions for people locked in prisons with animals in zoos.

The difference in treatment is because animals in zoos are deliberately exposed to the public eye, whereas people in prison are isolated away from the public eye where their humanity is denied, and they are vilified as criminals. Their conditions in cages and cells are not visible, their anguish as people is not seen, and therefore the administration is not accountable.

This report recommends accountability through media access to the prison system. It observes that degrading treatment rather than assistance causes crime. It proposes that overcrowding due to the 12.5% yearly increase of the prison population should cease by adopting alternative sentencing measures. 

We call upon NSW Premier Mike Baird to reallocate the Taronga Zoo funding to the NSW prison system. Long promised computers in cells with online counselling to lessen crime should be prioritised before gorillas’ luxuries. Political grandstanding with tough on crime policies like chemical castration and lifers’ rights are now seen as public jokes.

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