power, accountability and imprisonment

The more reading i do on the prison system, the more horrific it gets.

this is an article worth reading on Victoria’s prisons, from the Age today. It’s a frightening description of the abuses of power that are going on within the system. One of the more sickening paragraphs:

In February, Australia’s only independent prison watchdog criticised the lack of transparency of Victoria’s prisons. The Western Australian Inspector of Custodial Services, Professor Richard Harding, described the system of monitoring abuse and corruption in Victoria’s jails as “well short of what a democratic society is entitled to”. Against this backdrop, prisoner abuse keeps occurring. In 2005, asthmatic remand prisoner Ian Westcott died in his cell after scrawling a note that read “asthma attack. buzzed for help. No response”. The intercom in his cell was broken.

I’ve been reading The Lucifer Effect: Understanding why good people turn evil this week. It’s written by Philip Zimbardo who led the research project the Stanford Prison Experiment. He’s exploring in the book the situations and dynamics that lead to good people turning evil. I’ll blog more about it when i’ve finished, but there are two things from what I’ve read today that resonate with the article from the Age:

Most of us hide behind egocentric biases that generate the illusion that we are special. These self-serving protective shields allow us to believe that each of us is above average on any test of self-integrity. Too often we look to the stars through the thick lens of personal invulnerability when we should also look down to the slippery slope beneath our feet.

And then, talking about what it is that happens to make good people [like you and me] turn evil:

Dehumanisation is one of the two central processes in the transformation of ordinary, normal people into indifferent or even wanton perpetrators of evil. Dehumanisation is like the cortical cataract that clouds one’s thinking and fosters the perception that other people are less than human. It makes some people come to see others as enemies deserving of torment, torture and annihilation.

I’m finding the article and the book chilling. We began the communal justice project as an issue of justice for the prisoners. I’m getting more convinced though that prisons aren’t just destructive for those who are sentenced to live there, but that they are slowly and insidiously corroding our society.


  1. Sue

    Thank you so much for continuing to post about the prison system. It’s really important and I really like to read what you have to say about it.

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