Failure results from policies

Throughout Australia, jails are riddled with drugs. In virtually all prisons, inmates emerge after their sentence more hardened, completely un-rehabilitated. The drugs and jail infrastructures are not the problems: it’s the policies, Brian McConnell says.

failure results from policies

Sir: Your editorial “Prison falls short of lofty ideals” (Canberra Times, 5 April, p8) could well point to the failures of not only the Alexander Maconochie Centre (the ACT jail) but every prison in Australia. The failure to meet ideals in large part is because people are punished and jailed for having underlying health problems of mental illness and/or addiction to drugs.

Given that over two-thirds of the AMC inmates are there for drug-related crimes, the demand for drugs is not surprising. It is again not surprising given the high profits to be made from drugs, that some staff will be corrupted and supply drugs. The current very strict controls, including body X-ray, sniffer dogs, strip searches, urine tests and random cell searches means, short of isolating each prisoner and banning visits, it is a situation that will not change.

Some drug use requires syringes but only used, dirty and possibly infected ones are available. At least one person was released into the community with HepC acquired in the prison…an intolerable situation but the solution, a needle and syringe program, is opposed by some prison staff.

Alexander Maconochie, the great penal reformer, after whom the prison was named, was opposed and undone by the guards, supervisors and constables under his command at Norfolk Island. He was replaced and Norfolk Island reverted to its former barbaric state. Could the opposition to reform at the AMC by its guards be history repeating itself?


B McConnell, President
Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform, Canberra

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