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Everything Perth

Focussing mainly on issues relevant to Western Australia, Everything Perth is a blog by Jason Smith. His posts explore modern society, culture, law, politics and family through the lens of a life lived in Perth. 

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Prisons in Western Australia need fixing in order to fix the judicial system

  • This week we learned that at least 6 employees of Acacia prison have been, in recent years, sacked or fired for sexual relations with prisoners.

  • Last month there was a prison riot in Geraldton where numerous prisoners escaped, large amounts of damage was done, and female prisoners next door were given morning-after pills despite no sexual assault having occurred, allegedly.

The common law system Australia inherited from England is one of our greatest assets, along with our constitutional monarchy, democratic values, our two-house parliament… we can be proud in our heritage and its general positive effect on society and the peace it brings.

But there are flaws, as anyone inside the system will attest.

Our communities are constantly outraged at the pathetically lenient sentences handed down by magistrates and judges in Western Australia to guilty men and women who have destroyed the lives of their victims, and yet are given the message of “there’s no consequence for your actions”.

And yet we have prisons bursting at the seams. It appears these offenders end up learning the lesson that they do not need to change their ways or seek help, re-offend in a greater capacity, and a judge ends up with no alternative but to hand down a custodial sentence.

And due to our ancestors’ great wisdom, we have inherited and perpetuated a system of “rehabilitation” where we put all the criminals together in one large building for months, or years, and somehow think we can expect them to improve their behaviour once they’re released.

Did you ever go to school, dear reader?

Were there ever any disruptive children in one of your classrooms?

What did your teacher, who probably never had any legal training or experience in the prison system, who had only her common sense to rely on, do?

She seperated the trouble makers.

Always.

She would have seating plans that made sure those who were the most disruptive, or distruptable, were NOWHERE NEAR EACH OTHER!!!

Do you recall getting in trouble as a young child, perhaps told off by an adult? Remember how it felt being told off by yourself? It was hard. It sucked. You felt ashamed. But do you also recall ever getting told off by a teacher along with a bunch of your mates? It didn’t feel bad at all! You were all in it together, and whatever punishment was handed to you, you would all laugh about it together. You probably struggled to stop laughing while you were being disciplined or scolded.

Why on earth we feel there’s any logic to put prisoners in a building where they can interact with each other is beyond explanation.

Indeed, one of the reasons I’ve heard expounded by politicians and members of the judicial system, regarding why there is such an odd amount of effort to keep certain kids away from prison, despite it appearing to any outsider they deserve to go, is that once in the prison system they will be rubbing shoulders with all the wrong kinds of people and they will remain in that system, in and out of jail, for the rest of their lives.

Clearly we need to rethink the prison system.

I’ve thought about this matter for many years. And I’ve never been able to come up with a reason for prisoners to be allowed to interact with each other.

Let’s go over some basics.

  1. One is sent to prison to be away from society. Having a LACK of interaction is clearly meant to be part of the punishment.

  2. The punishment is meant to serve as a tool to meet community expectations following certain crimes.

  3. Prison is theoretically a way to rehabilitate the criminal such that they are unlikely to reoffend,

  4. Communities expect prisons and the judicial system in general to keep society at large free from people who would do it harm.

There is a thought among some that part of the punishment prison offers is the penalty of having to be around such horrible people all the time. This, to me, is an absolutely absurd argument. The man who ends up in jail for a couple of nights because he didn’t get the court summons in the mail for his unpaid speeding fine and gets raped while there, is not being punished in a way that is in any way fair or just. The man who has been running a drug dealing gang for many years gets dumped in a prison full of prospective recruits and customers. Hardly what I’d call punishment.

It has been said many times that solitary confinement is the worst sort of punishment there is, and borders on inhumane. I can’t say I agree with that completely, but I will humour the argument and present my solution as though that were possible.

Here’s what I propose needs changing in our prisons.

  1. No prisoners should at any time see each other, talk to each other, or be aware of each others existence. If they are to be cut off from society at large for a time, then they most certainly should be cut off from anyone who would condone criminal activity.

  2. Everyone should be filmed all the time. There should be absolutely no opportunity to get drugs or weapons in to prisons. I can’t even pick my nose in public without 4 cameras catching what I’m doing. How in 2018 we can’t design a security system that catches dodgy guards and family members smuggling things in to jails is a complete and utter joke.

  3. The ONLY interactions prisoners get, other than allowed visits from family/friends/lawyers that are not prisoners, is with counsellors. They get a visit each and every day. They can write letters if they like. Occupation training, council services, and whatever other services are needed for the effective rehabilitation of those in prison is ONLY delivered on a “one at a time” basis.

  4. The trained, experienced, councillors that visit the prisoner EVERY DAY will be an effective method of measuring viability for parole when that time comes around.

I realise that what would need to be built to accommodate such a change seems absurd. But do you know what’s more absurd? Putting criminals together so they can be even more effective when they’re released.

If prison was a place that wasn’t going to corrupt an 18 year old who’s life was heading the wrong way, I believe judges could far more confidently hand down swift custodial sentences (without waiting until the behaviour was ingrained) in the full knowledge that the guilty party was not going to be a threat to society, the victims of his/her crimes were going to feel justice was met, the person in custody stood a good chance of not having their life ruined and might actually function in the real world again very soon.

I propose that we start with one prison, perhaps Geraldton/Greenough, to be renovated in a manner that would accommodate such arrangements.

If common sense tells a school teacher that the “naughty kids” need to be separated, perhaps we could use some common sense in the prison system here in WA.

Being Aboriginal in Western Australia

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