Behind Bars – The market cannot decide
A growing imprisonment rate amongst Australia’s most vulnerable people is the wrong time to privatise the system.
A month ago 1deadlynation.com reported on new figures published on the imprisonment of Aboriginal people in Australia. The figures are alarming, an already shocking problem is becoming worse by the year. Aboriginal men, women and children are all over represented in the prison population. Despite being only 2.3% of the population Aboriginal people account for 25% of the total prison population. While nearly 60% of all children inside juvenile detention facilities are Aboriginal. Incarceration rates are increasing not declining despite all the talk of a renewed focus on Indigenous affairs and recidivism is at an all time high.
Clearly the problem is not getting any better and the current system has failed the community as a whole and continues to victimise Aboriginal people. To compound the problem 50% of the prison population is believed to be suffering a mental health problem, many have been victims of physical and sexual abuse and the unemployed, disabled and homeless are all over represented in the figures. Worse yet is those on remand (Innocent until proven guilty but incarcerated awaiting trial) are too over represented by the homeless, Aboriginal and mentally ill. The AIC has found that remandees are more likely to be found guilty and more likely to receive custodial sentence.
All of the facts paint a very worrying picture, the most vulnerable people in our society are being sent to the very place we know via these facts they are least likely to get the help they need. And when they re-offend, they, their families, their communities and society will again suffer and fit the bill. Is a victim granted justice if the offender simply reoffends upon release, is their justice if the most vulnerable are those imprisoned and what does it say about a society who sends those who were once victims themselves to prison. We must find a solution!
But that solution MUST NOT come via the market, it must not come through the privitisation of our prison system and it must not be one that is treated as a political football of kick them when they are down. Private prisons do not work as shown by the private system in the United States, a nation with the worlds largest prison population and a shocking crime rate. Private prisons work like hotels, they need to be full to make money and the owners will use their lobbying power and internal structure to ensure they can hang the sign “NO VACANCIES”. There is the recent example in the USA of Judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan who took $2.6millon in bribes to send juveniles to prisons run by a private company.A child, Hillary Transue, was imprisoned for setting up a fake Myspace page to spoof her assistant principal and the Ciavarella at no time informed her of her rights, her right to an attorney or the right to appeal. She was given 3 months! Is this the sort of system we want to important for Australia?
What is created by this system is known as the “Prison industrial complex”. The running of prisons no longer becomes the public responsibility with the buck stopping at an elected Minister but a system that is purely for the profit of company share holders. More prisoners, longer sentences, less staff, worse working conditions and absolutely no effort made on education and rehabilitation. When large companies are tasked with the running of a prison system purely driven by a profit motive the society for which that prison is meant to serve simply becomes a feeder system to imprisonment. Shareholders are not accountable to the public, they do not have an interest in guilt or innocence or the fairness of a system. But simply one that serves their financial interest and while empty prisons are good news for society, in a private system they are bad for business.
And who easier for a private system to target than those already the most vulnerable. Aboriginal people, the homeless, the disabled and the mentally ill. In a system already designed to serve against them a fully privatised system would destroy communities and set us as a country back forever. Prisons, like detention centres are already being privatised in Australia. But there is little out cry and little recognition of the problem. Out of sight means out of mind to the voting public and that is why the responsibility falls to the elected officials and organisations with the power to bring change. Whether it is via the ballot box and the engagement of politicians or by awareness raising by lobbying groups such as GetUp, Amnesty and others. More must be done, because to first address the problem we must admit we have one. And we haven’t even done that!