Back in February we shook our heads at the prospect of a Super Prison for Children.
‘Branded a ‘secure college’, the government is planning to build one of the largest children’s prisons in Europe. At a cost of £85 million, they plan to coop up 320 troubled young people on a single site. Children’s prisons are violent and dangerous environments which fail to turn lives around and threaten public safety.
Our attention was drawn to U R Boss, a project led by young people for young people within the criminal justice system, which was part of the Howard League for Penal Reform. The lottery funding for the project has now ended and it is unclear what might happen next.
Nevertheless our thinking on these issues hasn’t really been developed. Thus it was both sobering and stunning to meet the activists of Sisters Inside at the Youth Association Network Queensland conference in Brisbane back in August. This remarkable, indeed unique organisation, “both strategically advocates for the collective interests of women in the criminal justice system, and provides services to address their more immediate needs.” Its dynamic CEO, Debbie Kilroy, is the first person convicted of serious criminal offences admitted to practice law in Australia.
Read the Values and Visions of Sisters Inside to understand better its passionate commitment. Indeed the web site itself is a testament to the seriousness of the group’s analysis, activity and research.
Prisons are an irrational social response. Prisons do not achieve their intended outcomes – they neither “correct” nor “deter” law breaking. In our society, prisons only function to punish and socially ostracise law breakers. This generates alienation and further criminal behaviour. It also explains the disproportionate numbers of people from socially marginalised groups, particularly Aboriginal people, in the prison population.
Symbolic of Sisters Inside’s radical character is its organisation of a series of international conferences, ‘Is Prison Obsolete?’, the latest of which is to be held in Brisbane from October 8 – 10.
Forget reform. It is time to talk about abolishing prisons in society. So what’s the alternative? This puzzling question often interrupts further discussion of the prospects for abolition. Why is it so difficult to imagine alternatives to the current system of imprisonment? What about building the kind of society that doesn’t need prisons with the redistribution of power and income, and a decent sense of community that can support every member.
Amongst the formidable list of contributors is the author and activist, Angela Davis, who in the 1970’s was imprisoned for 18 months and put on trial as one of the FBI’s ‘Ten Most Wanted List’. Her 1981 book, ‘Women, Race and Class’ influenced at least some youth workers of the time.
“[Prison] relieves us of the responsibility of seriously engaging with the problems of our society, especially those produced by racism and, increasingly, global capitalism.”
― Angela Y. Davis, Are Prisons Obsolete?
Given the increasing number of youth workers to be found in Youth Justice or in what are now dubbed Restorative Solutions teams it would be good to hear their views on the purpose and direction of their practice in an increasingly authoritarian climate.