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Build a prison and they will fill it!

By John Hargreaves - 13 April 2015 24

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A number of years ago, the US gained some infamy by having over one million people in its jails. I heard, in about 2002 or 2003 or thereabouts, that American Correction Services (ACS), built a 600-bed prison in California and then offered it to the State government for use in its prison system. The Californians were into private prisons at that stage.

Blatant case of if you build it, they will fill it.

Such was the fear in the ACT in the lead up to the emergence of a prison here. Many commented that if we had such a facility here, it would be filled quickly but denied by advisers to government (of both persuasions).

The judiciary said, oh no! We won’t take advantage of the new prison. The economic number crunchers said there will be a slow growth in offenders such that we will have spare capacity for many years. This resulted in the reduction in the number of beds at the AMC. Got that one wrong, eh?

Indeed, I thought at the time that we would have such spare capacity that we could take people from regional NSW, particularly female offenders to make up the critical mass required for successful restorative programs.

I did think that it was more important socially to accept and have responsibility for our own offenders than to send them to NSW jails. I had hoped that our more compassionate approach would pay dividends in the end. Indeed, anyone who has been into any one of the NSW prisons would not describe them as human rights compliant. We hoped that building one from scratch and not inheriting the prison culture from NSW would put us in good stead to assist in the restoration of our community, our victims, the families of perpetrators and the offenders themselves.

The thing is though, that prisons and remand institutions in particular, don’t have a major role in preventing crimes. Sure, they have a deterrent element, but mostly, crimes, particularly those of a white collar variety, domestic violence and sexual predation, and often drunken charged violence are not deterred by the prospect of imprisonment.

Also remember that remand is a precursor to a court appearance and not as a result of sentencing. These detainees are actually innocent until proven guilty at court.

So are the courts and police being overzealous or are they extremely effective in putting people behind bars at public expense?

The AMC is full, requiring the Band-Aid solution of Symonston, not because it is failing, but because the systems in place to lower the number of people being dragged before the courts are not working.

Some people call for more hard line attitudes to the granting of bail (and probably rightly, too), but they should not then blame the AMC for being overcrowded as a result.

I see the need to use the unsatisfactory Symonston solution as a failure in the prevention system more so than in the corrective services system. The corrective services system kicks in after an offence has occurred. Sure, it tries to address reoffending but remember that its initial role is after an offence has occurred.
As a reflection of community attitude, the judicial system, as opposed to the policing system, should have a role in advising the executive (read – Governments) of proactive opportunities to stop offences occurring in the first place and it is the job of the Executive to lead the community in preventive programs and initiatives to reduce the number of offences taking place.

The police are an arm of the executive, whether they like it or not and thus are part of that preventative strategy, or lack of it. But it is not the police’s fault that offences occur, rather the community’s propensity to harm itself which is at fault.

I applaud the anti-crime measures by the police and in fact, in relation to domestic violence, that also of The Canberra Times. The question remains. Why is it so that offences seem to be continuing to occur and seem to be increasing?

I don’t know the answer but I do know that the AMC is not responsible and should not be criticized because it is full. I also know that Symonston is definitely not the answer.

Maybe some of you do know the answer.

What’s Your opinion?


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24 Responses to
Build a prison and they will fill it!
John Hargreaves 10:06 am 15 Apr 15

dungfungus said :

John Hargreaves said :

dungfungus said :

I would be interested to know how many are career repeat offenders.
Apparently drug addicts are comfortable about being there because the supply of drugs is assured.

Spoken like someone who hasn’t been inside the AMC nor has personal experience with the corrective services system. I respect that there has been some incidents, nasty ones no doubt, and experience with policing, but the comments about the AMC smack of ignorance and prejudice.

Ice is indeed a major issue here, but because of the low population here, with the attendant low number of incidents, the issue has not the media attention it has in the States.

The issue is preventing crime before an offence takes place. In this sense, the police and governments, along with NGOs and businesses, have a bit of work to do.

Spoken by someone who is skilled in not answering questions, an ex-politician perhaps?
How many are career repeat offenders?
How do drugs get into the AMC?

You really should get over the ex-politician thing, you know. It is unhealthy. As a retired old fella, I am not only an ex-pollie, I am an ex serviceman and an ex-public servant (30 years). Currently, I’m working pro bono for three community based activities. Happy now? let’s move on.

Bennop 9:10 am 15 Apr 15

wildturkeycanoe said :

“Why is it so that offences seem to be continuing to occur and seem to be increasing?”
It is primarily the demise of our society through the teachings via media, television and the internet that we as individuals are vastly more important and more self-entitled than everybody else.
I blame “human rights” for one, who comes to the aid of any criminal that is incarcerated but leaves the victim helpless. Secondly, the judicial system and lawyers who take the “It was my poor childhood that caused me to do bad things” as valid excuse for doing any crimes, letting perpetrators get away with callous deeds purely on buck-passing and even getting them all the free counseling they can endure, again leaving victims out in the dark and terrified. Of course there are all the sexually perverted and murder crimes that have motivations I will never understand, but how much of that do you see on the news every night. Surely the fantasizing of such deeds has to have an impact on the minds of our children and teenagers before they reach the maturity to understand the wrongs and rights involved.
People don’t have any respect for each other any more, it’s all about looking out for one’s self. Also, as times get tougher and money harder to come by, inevitably people will resort to crime simply to survive. Even good, law abiding citizens will start to contemplate crime in order to feed their family when there is no welfare system to fall back on. Hunger, need for shelter and a warm bed, these are survival needs. If denied them, man will eventually turn to survival instincts to get them.

If your theory was correct then we would surely see a significant increase in the rate of crime over the last 20 years. This is not the case, and in fact crime in general has reduced or sgenerally remained the same.

Such sentiments come straight out of ancient Roman times “The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers”

Can’t we do better in the year 2015?

wildturkeycanoe 8:16 am 15 Apr 15

“Why is it so that offences seem to be continuing to occur and seem to be increasing?”
It is primarily the demise of our society through the teachings via media, television and the internet that we as individuals are vastly more important and more self-entitled than everybody else.
I blame “human rights” for one, who comes to the aid of any criminal that is incarcerated but leaves the victim helpless. Secondly, the judicial system and lawyers who take the “It was my poor childhood that caused me to do bad things” as valid excuse for doing any crimes, letting perpetrators get away with callous deeds purely on buck-passing and even getting them all the free counseling they can endure, again leaving victims out in the dark and terrified. Of course there are all the sexually perverted and murder crimes that have motivations I will never understand, but how much of that do you see on the news every night. Surely the fantasizing of such deeds has to have an impact on the minds of our children and teenagers before they reach the maturity to understand the wrongs and rights involved.
People don’t have any respect for each other any more, it’s all about looking out for one’s self. Also, as times get tougher and money harder to come by, inevitably people will resort to crime simply to survive. Even good, law abiding citizens will start to contemplate crime in order to feed their family when there is no welfare system to fall back on. Hunger, need for shelter and a warm bed, these are survival needs. If denied them, man will eventually turn to survival instincts to get them.

rubaiyat 10:19 pm 14 Apr 15

dungfungus said :

Girl_Friday said :

The issue is preventing crime before an offence takes place. In this sense, the police and governments, along with NGOs and businesses, have a bit of work to do.

On this point I would have to agree with you John, but to absolve the AMC of a role in reducing crime is laughable. They are called ‘Corrective Services’ not ‘Recycling Services’ for a reason.

That’s the same logic used to call the Mugga Lane garbage dump a “Resource Centre”.

Shouldn’t that be “Mugga Lane garbage dump Precinct”? 😮

dungfungus 3:31 pm 14 Apr 15

Girl_Friday said :

The issue is preventing crime before an offence takes place. In this sense, the police and governments, along with NGOs and businesses, have a bit of work to do.

On this point I would have to agree with you John, but to absolve the AMC of a role in reducing crime is laughable. They are called ‘Corrective Services’ not ‘Recycling Services’ for a reason.

That’s the same logic used to call the Mugga Lane garbage dump a “Resource Centre”.

Girl_Friday 2:35 pm 14 Apr 15

The issue is preventing crime before an offence takes place. In this sense, the police and governments, along with NGOs and businesses, have a bit of work to do.

On this point I would have to agree with you John, but to absolve the AMC of a role in reducing crime is laughable. They are called ‘Corrective Services’ not ‘Recycling Services’ for a reason.

dungfungus 12:21 pm 14 Apr 15

John Hargreaves said :

dungfungus said :

I would be interested to know how many are career repeat offenders.
Apparently drug addicts are comfortable about being there because the supply of drugs is assured.

Spoken like someone who hasn’t been inside the AMC nor has personal experience with the corrective services system. I respect that there has been some incidents, nasty ones no doubt, and experience with policing, but the comments about the AMC smack of ignorance and prejudice.

Ice is indeed a major issue here, but because of the low population here, with the attendant low number of incidents, the issue has not the media attention it has in the States.

The issue is preventing crime before an offence takes place. In this sense, the police and governments, along with NGOs and businesses, have a bit of work to do.

Spoken by someone who is skilled in not answering questions, an ex-politician perhaps?
How many are career repeat offenders?
How do drugs get into the AMC?

Testfest 11:09 am 14 Apr 15

dungfungus said :

I assume the stats. you are quoting are “reported” incidents?

Yes. I’m pretty confident the cops don’t keep stats on unreported incidents…

I do hope that you are the only one who has given up on reporting crimes, otherwise the police will not have an accurate picture of what types of incidents are occurring, and the frequency of them. This means they will be unable to assign resources effectively to address the situation, or ask for extra funding for targeted operations if need be.

I know it can be a pain reporting minor incidents and there are cops who will try to steer you away from doing it (as the paperwork involved is horrendous), but if you want to accurately measure the levels of crime then making an official report is the only way.

dungfungus said :

I wouldn’t put much faith in the suggestion that crime is abating in Canberra.

Why not? I have at least *some* evidence to back up that position…

rubaiyat 10:47 am 14 Apr 15

John Hargreaves said :

The issue is preventing crime before an offence takes place. In this sense, the police and governments, along with NGOs and businesses, have a bit of work to do.

And how do you propose to do that without Tom Cruise and the officers of PreCrime’s excellent but fictional involvement?

John Hargreaves 10:36 am 14 Apr 15

dungfungus said :

I would be interested to know how many are career repeat offenders.
Apparently drug addicts are comfortable about being there because the supply of drugs is assured.

Spoken like someone who hasn’t been inside the AMC nor has personal experience with the corrective services system. I respect that there has been some incidents, nasty ones no doubt, and experience with policing, but the comments about the AMC smack of ignorance and prejudice.

Ice is indeed a major issue here, but because of the low population here, with the attendant low number of incidents, the issue has not the media attention it has in the States.

The issue is preventing crime before an offence takes place. In this sense, the police and governments, along with NGOs and businesses, have a bit of work to do.

rubaiyat 8:51 am 14 Apr 15

Actually it is over 2 and a quarter million people in prison in the U.S.A. with almost 5 million on probation or parole at any one time. The vast majority of whom are black or Latino. In fact you can almost hold up a skin tone chart to determine the eligibility of an American for a prison sentence and the harshness of the prison they get sent to.

The vicious prison system in the U.S.A. was part of the Jim Crow laws which replaced slavery with a form of judicial slavery snaring mostly black Americans for minor crimes or just on a local sheriff’s say so and putting them on work gangs for the benefit of the State or local businesses. These days the system got a revamp, with huge amounts of government money sucked up by private companies building and running the prisons. Companies which now operate in Australia.

That aside, society does need to take some people and lock them up where they can do less harm. Hopes of reform are mostly just that. Everyone will have met people who are, more or less, totally self-centred and see the world as a dog eat dog regime, with them as top dog. We concentrate on detaining the most violent or blatant of these but are not so good at doing something about the more subtle white collar criminals who seem to have the sympathy of both politicians and the judiciary who sometimes benefit from them.

We learn about the “Well Known Sydney Businessmen” and politicians like “Sir” Robin Askin after their deaths when the laws cease to protect them. Nobody got sentenced over the Wollongong developer/planner corruption scandals and it looks the Eddie Obeid “investigation” is going to go on forever. Even where they finally get jailed like Alan Bond, it just seems like a minor slap on the hand for a very lucrative return, often in gentlemen’s resort prisons like Bernie Madoff was sentenced to or Jordan Belfort, the Wolf of Wall Street. Famously no-one responsible for the GFC ever went to prison.

dungfungus 8:08 am 14 Apr 15

Testfest said :

I would like to see Australia avoid following the US model of seemingly throwing people into prison at every opportunity, but I would like to see those committing violent acts against people (and possibly animals depending on the circumstances) receive gaol time. Also for those convicted of maliciously or wantonly destroying (valuable) property.

“Why is it so that offences seem to be continuing to occur and seem to be increasing?”

Are they increasing? I think it more likely that what is increasing is the media coverage of crimes, through both the traditional media and social networking. So our perception of the crime rates has changed, not the actual crime rates.

Here are the stats for all of Canberra (excluding traffic infringement notices):

2011 – 33,503 incidents
2012 – 31,723 incidents
2013 – 30,306 incidents
2014 – 29,234 incidents

Source: http://www.police.act.gov.au/crime-and-safety/crime-statistics

They only have the past 4 years available, but it looks like a positive trend to me, with reported crime decreasing each year whilst the population of Canberra has increased each year.

Evilomlap said :

One word: Ice. Ice is to the Australian drug landscape in the 2000’s what crack was to the United States in the 1980’s. It’s cheap, easily available, and highly addictive. It has lead to an exponential increase in petty crime and violent crimes. Hence, more people are being locked up because of it.

I don’t think Canberra has the same problems with Ice that other parts of Australia are experiencing. Not yet, anyway.

I assume the stats. you are quoting are “reported” incidents?
I for one have given up calling the police to attend incidents that should be reported. The reason is they that they either don’t turn up or they turn up too late. This isn’t a criticism of individual police by the way.
I wouldn’t put much faith in the suggestion that crime is abating in Canberra.

Testfest 7:00 pm 13 Apr 15

I would like to see Australia avoid following the US model of seemingly throwing people into prison at every opportunity, but I would like to see those committing violent acts against people (and possibly animals depending on the circumstances) receive gaol time. Also for those convicted of maliciously or wantonly destroying (valuable) property.

“Why is it so that offences seem to be continuing to occur and seem to be increasing?”

Are they increasing? I think it more likely that what is increasing is the media coverage of crimes, through both the traditional media and social networking. So our perception of the crime rates has changed, not the actual crime rates.

Here are the stats for all of Canberra (excluding traffic infringement notices):

2011 – 33,503 incidents
2012 – 31,723 incidents
2013 – 30,306 incidents
2014 – 29,234 incidents

Source: http://www.police.act.gov.au/crime-and-safety/crime-statistics

They only have the past 4 years available, but it looks like a positive trend to me, with reported crime decreasing each year whilst the population of Canberra has increased each year.

Evilomlap said :

One word: Ice. Ice is to the Australian drug landscape in the 2000’s what crack was to the United States in the 1980’s. It’s cheap, easily available, and highly addictive. It has lead to an exponential increase in petty crime and violent crimes. Hence, more people are being locked up because of it.

I don’t think Canberra has the same problems with Ice that other parts of Australia are experiencing. Not yet, anyway.

dungfungus 6:30 pm 13 Apr 15

I would be interested to know how many are career repeat offenders.
Apparently drug addicts are comfortable about being there because the supply of drugs is assured.

Evilomlap 12:42 pm 13 Apr 15

One word: Ice. Ice is to the Australian drug landscape in the 2000’s what crack was to the United States in the 1980’s. It’s cheap, easily available, and highly addictive. It has lead to an exponential increase in petty crime and violent crimes. Hence, more people are being locked up because of it.

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