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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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Build a prison and they will fill it!
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John Hargreaves 2:18 pm 16 Apr 15

Girl_Friday said :

John Hargreaves said :

dungfungus said :

John Hargreaves said :

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.

I am happy to move on, now that you have confirmed that the AMC is full of repeat offenders and the illegal drug supply into that institution is part of its mission statement.

I have said no such things and all in Canberra will know that. Such blinkered thinking smells of a bigotry and bias which is rather bogan like. It does you no credit. What is it about the corrective services system that has you so riled? Is it because you have a thing about people who are sent there? Is it about your own issues and the perceived injustices you have felt were perpetrated upon you?

When will you give credit to the successes of the system and render some thoughts on how it can be improved instead of sitting back like a refugee from a Muppets show complaining?

I raised the issue seeking some thoughts on going forward with the system and trying to draw upon the input of Riotact contributors. I did not write this as a temptation for those who wanted to gratify their innermost desires by attacking me personally.

I have had experience in this system from being its minister, being the shadow minister, visiting about 20 prisons, talking to organisations like Prisoners’ Aid and having people I know, and in some cases have an affection for, incarcerated in both NSW systems in Goulburn, Singleton and Junee and in the AMC. I am grateful on their behalf for the AMC because it changed their lives for the better, all of them, whereas the NSW system would only have hardened them.

I suspect your idealised view of the AMC is formed from an experience that is 3 or 4 years out of date, at a time when it was looking like fulfilling it’s promise. Far from saving people from the NSW system, it looks to have simply become a version of the NSW system.You need to get out more John, there are prisons across Australia doing great work in physical conditions that would appear draconian by ACT standards. For the coin that place is costing, only the most apathetic of communities wouldn’t seek answers.

You’re right in that I am a it out of date but please remember that I did name a few institutions interstate that were doing great things, for example the Women’s prison in Perth. It is amazing having been reborn from a draconian cement ridden rat hole to a calming place where people are saved. Check it out, if you can. I’ll put a link up in a minute.

I do seek answers and this is why I wrote about the issues confronting the AMC but again, we need to give credit to where it belongs. The Transitional facility is going great guns. the fact that the residents don’t have concrete everywhere, they can see the grass, the kangaroos and the sky. They can see the stars and the plans overhead. They don’t have razor wire everywhere they look and they are treated as human beings not just numbers.

If I am idealistic – guilty. If I am naïve, – I don’t think so – you can’t go and talk to the people I did who were murderers, drug traffickers, paedophiles and simple criminals without having some education.

BUT… thanks for all the contributions so far. It is nice to have a conversation on a subject which is often taboo.

Girl_Friday 1:07 pm 16 Apr 15

John Hargreaves said :

dungfungus said :

John Hargreaves said :

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.

I am happy to move on, now that you have confirmed that the AMC is full of repeat offenders and the illegal drug supply into that institution is part of its mission statement.

I have said no such things and all in Canberra will know that. Such blinkered thinking smells of a bigotry and bias which is rather bogan like. It does you no credit. What is it about the corrective services system that has you so riled? Is it because you have a thing about people who are sent there? Is it about your own issues and the perceived injustices you have felt were perpetrated upon you?

When will you give credit to the successes of the system and render some thoughts on how it can be improved instead of sitting back like a refugee from a Muppets show complaining?

I raised the issue seeking some thoughts on going forward with the system and trying to draw upon the input of Riotact contributors. I did not write this as a temptation for those who wanted to gratify their innermost desires by attacking me personally.

I have had experience in this system from being its minister, being the shadow minister, visiting about 20 prisons, talking to organisations like Prisoners’ Aid and having people I know, and in some cases have an affection for, incarcerated in both NSW systems in Goulburn, Singleton and Junee and in the AMC. I am grateful on their behalf for the AMC because it changed their lives for the better, all of them, whereas the NSW system would only have hardened them.

I suspect your idealised view of the AMC is formed from an experience that is 3 or 4 years out of date, at a time when it was looking like fulfilling it’s promise. Far from saving people from the NSW system, it looks to have simply become a version of the NSW system.You need to get out more John, there are prisons across Australia doing great work in physical conditions that would appear draconian by ACT standards. For the coin that place is costing, only the most apathetic of communities wouldn’t seek answers.

John Hargreaves 11:05 am 16 Apr 15

dungfungus said :

John Hargreaves said :

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.

I am happy to move on, now that you have confirmed that the AMC is full of repeat offenders and the illegal drug supply into that institution is part of its mission statement.

I have said no such things and all in Canberra will know that. Such blinkered thinking smells of a bigotry and bias which is rather bogan like. It does you no credit. What is it about the corrective services system that has you so riled? Is it because you have a thing about people who are sent there? Is it about your own issues and the perceived injustices you have felt were perpetrated upon you?

When will you give credit to the successes of the system and render some thoughts on how it can be improved instead of sitting back like a refugee from a Muppets show complaining?

I raised the issue seeking some thoughts on going forward with the system and trying to draw upon the input of Riotact contributors. I did not write this as a temptation for those who wanted to gratify their innermost desires by attacking me personally.

I have had experience in this system from being its minister, being the shadow minister, visiting about 20 prisons, talking to organisations like Prisoners’ Aid and having people I know, and in some cases have an affection for, incarcerated in both NSW systems in Goulburn, Singleton and Junee and in the AMC. I am grateful on their behalf for the AMC because it changed their lives for the better, all of them, whereas the NSW system would only have hardened them.

Testfest 12:33 pm 15 Apr 15

carpediem said :

Having had some first hand experience I can tell you that the ice epidemic is as big a problem in Canberra as everywhere else. It’s like Evilomlap said it is cheap and very easily available to anyone.

What first hand experience is this? What makes you think it’s an epidemic rather than just an isolated case?

I’m not trying to have a go at you here, I am genuinely curious as to the extent of the problem of ice usage here in Canberra. I had a quick search on the ACT Police media releases and got these results:

Alcohol – 549 results
Heroin – 68 results
Ecstasy – 63 results
Marijuana – 3 results
Cocaine – 38 results
Amphetamine – 47 results
Ice – 46 results (but at least 10 of them refer to that cold slippery stuff we get in winter, ice cream or ice hockey)

If ice has become so widespread and easily attainable in Canberra, why haven’t the police been busting the manufacturers / dealers? Do we need to be hitting the panic button here?

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