As a social structure, communities serve to enhance responsibility by and for individuals and enable groups to live in harmony. Prisoners should not be excluded from the democratic processes inherent in society, as they too, are bound by shared experiences, mutual concerns and shared living areas. Their right to group representation is formally acknowledged in prison systems, however they are not recognised in the larger processes, such as the monitoring and policy development of the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT). Collective engagement must be extended to prisoners, especially when the policy failures of recidivism, racially differential treatment, and state abuse are obvious and publicly exposed. Acknowledgement of the prisoner community and valuing lived experience of detention is crucial to the effective implementation of OPCAT within Australia.
Acknowledging the prisoner community has profound benefits for prisoners, correctional staff, and the wider community. A community fosters social responsibility and mutual concern; peer support is the formal expression of that mutual concern and it is evident that support is most beneficial when delivered by those with lived experience of detention. Acknowledgement of the community increases the safety of prisons through shared values of respect and tolerance; greater work safety; education and development; and promoting conflict resolution through dialogue. A sense of community and social responsibility increases the engagement of prisoners in rehabilitative programs and helps reintegration, ultimately providing long-term benefits to detainees, correctional staff, and the broader society alike.
By supporting detainees to have a voice in OPCAT, an open dialogue would be created. This would ensure obligations under the OPCAT would be continually monitored by those with actual knowledge and experience of areas of concern. As a prisoner community organisation, the Australian Prisoners Union has the potential to function as the formal structure leading prisoner engagement.
Download the Prisoner Community Acknowledgement report for further information.