the impact of imprisonment on the community

This was a great article in yesterday’s Age on our community’s instinct response to imprison criminals. From the article, written by Marie Segrave and Bree Carlton:

The challenge for anyone interested in asking these questions is the accusation of ”going soft on crime”. Those who are concerned about the welfare and human rights of prisoners are represented as ”do gooders” who ignore the ”fact” that many of these individuals are beyond rehabilitation and redemption; many have committed terrible crimes and there are victims who continue to suffer as a consequence of these crimes…

Women represent a notable case in point. Nationally women comprise the fastest-growing population in the prison community and between 2008 and 2009 the rate at which Victorian women are imprisoned has increased by 25 per cent, the highest level since the 19th century. The majority of women incarcerated in Victoria have been convicted for non-violent, drug-related offences, or are imprisoned as a consequence of fine default or welfare fraud. Many have committed crimes as a direct result of poverty and trauma. Women in prison are not generally violent or destructive individuals who present a threat to the community. Many have also been the subject of victimisation and are members of the most economically and socially marginalised communities in our state.

Women who come into contact with the criminal justice system are often homeless; have experienced familial dysfunction, childhood sexual abuse and/or domestic violence; experience problems with substance addiction and abuse; suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or mental illness that is undiagnosed or untreated; have poor physical health and/or a disability; have been made wards of the state early in their lives; and are often sole parents and have experienced the removal of their own children whether by the state or as a result of violent intimate relationships…

It’s Christmas and How to make gravy, Paul Kelly’s imagining of a man’s letter from inside prison, resonates. It calls us to remember that while we celebrate the season and are distracted by short-term media cycles, there are practices of justice, sentencing and imprisonment that are becoming more firmly entrenched with each passing day, with consequences we have so far largely ignored.