The West: “Prison ain’t so bad”
The cover of last Saturday’s West was dominated by a huge pic of Ben Cousins’ guns and faux hawk a Casuarina prisoner:
The actual story got a two page spread over pages 8 and 9:
Everything about this sent bullshit alarms ringing. Just read that last paragraph, and ask yourself what kind of a sick freak finishes a tour of a nightmare factory like Casuarina by shrugging and saying “it doesn’t seem too bad”.
So I asked a friend in the Department of Corrective Services (who I’ll call S) to have a look at it. Here’s what she had to say:
Dick: So what do you think?
S: It’s a stupid article – and by stupid I mean it panders to its readers’ intelligence…
It’s good that it mentions overcrowding, but if I was writing about overcrowding there is no way I would describe it in the sugary context the journalist does. I imagine this article was designed to make Christian Porter and our department look like everything is sunshine and roses.
Dick: “Criminal melting pot” fail. What obvious stuff is she missing re overcrowding?
S: Overcrowding is a huge problem. Huge. We are breaching all sorts of UN conventions – mainly the humane treatment of prisoners. If I had written the article I would have hammered home the serious breaches of international law being committed by the WA govt, and used more poignant and descriptive language to describe the overcrowding. The public need to hear about it. DCS is grappling with budget issues regarding prisons, and if another prison isn’t built soon, WA is going to be in a lot of trouble. Already the police are preparing briefing submissions to their Commissioner (and ultimately their Minister) to amend legislation under their jurisdiction to issue fines for criminal behaviour rather than charging, issuing summons to court with the possible outcome being a jail sentence. Our prisons cannot handle more people going to jail.
If she was a proper investigative journalist, this is an issue she should have included in the article – the fact that laws are being changed to stop people ending up in jail.
Dick: Another point I think is the way the public is ALWAYS calling for mandatory detention and longer jail terms (usually with the full support of the West) without regard to this issue. And here they don’t even address it in a three page article.
S: Jail doesn’t work to deter or rehabilitate offenders – all it does is remove them from the community, ie: removing the threat that person poses for a certain time period. When they are released, the stats show they will reoffend and will return to prison within two years with the offending behaviour significantly worse.
The key is prevention. Preventing people from ending up in jail is the best way to counteract offending behaviour. But prevention is a whole of government approach, and trying to get government agencies to work together when we are all fighting each other in the treasury for funds is just too hard. Similarly, the WA public don’t want to hear about prevention – prevention is too expensive. You’re right in your comments – the public want people to go to jail for long periods of time. They want the government to be “tough on crime” – hence the name of the article referencing the word “Tough” – touching base with familiar discourse which is soothing to the average WA mum/dad.
Sometimes it makes me want to move to Canada.
Dick: Anything else this piece is missing? What about the fact that this chick looks like a preppy Western suburbs careerist. Surely she would have been leered at?
S: Yeah you get leered at a little bit but I found overall the prisoners are quite well-behaved. Juveniles in detention are far far worse. I was spat at by a juvenile at Banksia. At the adult prisons, the prisoners will say hello if you speak to them and are polite. I have never had any problems except the usual gawking which is to be expected. The prison officers are excellent. That is another point I would have made in the article – the prison guards are amazing people. They are fascinating to talk with, have insights into the criminal mind and the justice system that lawyers could only dream of having.
Juvenile justice is the main problem facing WA at the moment – the system is stuffed.
If you want to read a damning article on juvenile justice have a browse of this when you’ve got a minute. The Executive Summary is probably all you need to read. It’s pretty damning…
Dick: So, overall…
S: Writing about the attractive prisoners with their well chiselled physiques does nothing to inform the public of the issues surrounding Casuarina or Hakea (our remand prison) – the article is a joke, a puff piece to read while people eat their toast and sip their instant coffee before taking the kids to tee ball. The luke warm soothing of the anxieties of the WA public that yes, people like David Birnie, William Patrick Mitchell and other heinous offenders, are locked up in a very serious place and all is well in the world is nauseating and should be put in its proper place: the lining of the kitty litter tray, or as kindling on a fire.
Not to mention the other extremely serious issue of drug use and trafficking in prisons!!! Don’t get me started!
Thanks for nothing, Gabrielle Knowles and the West.
Someone should get shivved for this.