Ah silence… It’s been lovely spending time with you…

The absence of posting has been partly due to a fabulous out-of-range holiday that took me to Cape York, and to a few new elements to my work where I really need to listen, rather than be thinking what to say.

Having said that – and putting in a disclaimer that what follows is my opinion only – this is one of those things that is begging to be asked: what the hell is our government thinking, when it comes to their policies on prison sentences?

It’s widely reported at the moment that prisons are overcrowded. Trundle beds are being brought into already overcrowded units, and prisoners will be sleeping in public areas in prisons. Those who do so will have no space to which they ‘escape’; no space where they don’t have to be wary, no space where they can be on their own. As the government policy to abolish suspended sentences begins to take effect, the overcrowding will increase. Public outcry over the management of parole means that more people will be refused parole, and that too will increase numbers. Diversion programs are being de-funded, meaning more people will be sentenced to incarceration. Budgets for programs in prison are being reduced.

The irony, of course, is that government rhetoric of ‘getting tough on crime’ works against itself. Overcrowding prisons doesn’t lead to less people committing crime. Good rehabilitation programs, and effective scaffolding through parole and post-release programs leads to that. Diversion programs have more effect on recidivism. If they do any research into this area, the politicians who are preaching the rhetoric have to know that ‘getting tough on crime’ doesn’t work.

But politicians play to the media, and the media parrots rhetoric as though it truth, and the community buys easy answers because the complex ones are just too hard [and I’m part of that community]. The unholy trinity of public opinion, media and government policy is weaving itself into a rope that’s becoming a noose around the people in our community who are in most need of restoration. I feel like all we are doing at the moment is putting a finger’s worth of space between the rope and those who need new air to breathe.

Yesterday I was part of a meeting with some of the people who have most senior responsibility for enacting government policy around the prison system. We talked about overcrowding, and someone suggested that getting the story into the media would help. The most senior person there said, rightly, ‘The public know, but they don’t care’. I hope we prove them wrong.

We are shaping, now, the community we will become in 20 years. For the first time I can remember, I am scared of who we will be.