Thursday, 5 June 2008

Lock ya up valley plans proceed

The Queensland Government is foolishly ploughing ahead with plans to build Australia’s largest prison in the Lockyer Valley. The announcement that this incredible waste of money will proceed despite a 4% drop in crime rates and no proportional increase in population is shocking.

Queensland has almost doubled the prison population of Victoria despite having one million fewer residents. Currently it costs $151.30 per day, or around $55,000 per year for a prisoner to remain behind bars.

Matilda Alexander, Coordinator of Prisoners’ Legal Service said: “The Queensland government’s plan to increase prisoner numbers despite calls for more money for teachers and health demonstrates a government that is planning for social failure rather than planning to address social exclusion issues and stop crime.”

It is expected that the first stage of the new mega-prison in the Lockyer Valley will be a women’s prison. In 1991/2 there were 71 women in prison compared with 334 in 2006/7. If the incarceration rate of women in Queensland has increased by nearly 500% in 15 years, we should be doing more than just building a new prison: we should be investigating the reasons behind this trend and addressing the underlying problems.

Deb Kilroy, director of Sisters Inside said “Women prisoners are the most disadvantaged group in our community. They are the most impoverished and abused and when they go to prison their children are left isolated. Social policy needs to be redirected to support women and children, not to punish and further marginalize them. Prisons do not resolve social issues, they create them.”

The Queensland Government spends only $1.1 million per year on externally provided prisoner programs and services. For 2008/2009 this is 0.2% of Corrective Services’ budget. This funding goes to community based organisations that provide post release support services such as assistance with accommodation and housing, employment and counseling; without adequate levels of these services ex-prisoners are drawn back into the prison cycle. Approximately 15000 prisoners are released from custody each year and over 60% of people in prison have been there before.

If Queensland was to reduce its imprisonment rate to that of Victoria’s, it would save in the vicinity of $120 million per year in operating costs alone. More than 50% of Queensland's prison population was unemployed at the time of their arrest and more than 70% of inmates have an educational level of grade ten or below. And yet Queensland prisons have the lowest rate of education and training in Australia and the second lowest employment rate according to the Report on Government Services 2008.

Can the government justify spending $485.1 million on building a prison complex that will cost $604 000 per day to run at full capacity while cuts are being planned in other areas? Dave Martin from Catholic Prison Ministry says that the State Government is planning for failure. “We call for the state government to abandon this project and put the hundreds of millions of dollars they would save into reducing recidivism and intergenerational patterns of offending. We need our government to build people not prisons”.

Mr Martin also believes that "Equally important is the impact that a prison some two hours west of Brisbane, will have on the families of prisoners. A huge number of these families face the same rising costs for fuel and no comparative rise in income. Having to transport children and other family members across the south-east of Queensland to this remote prison will also place a huge burden on families. The government is committed to maintaining family units and is fully aware of research around the importance of keeping families together. A prison at Gatton will instead result in more family breakdown which would be a terrible outcome for those families and for all of our communities."

Dave Martin
Coordinator/Social Worker
Catholic Prison Ministry
Ph: 3846 7577, Mobile: 0408467577, Fax: 38442703
PO Box 5251 West End, Q 4101

Supporting prisoners and their families


Girls gone wild?
According to Australian Institute of Criminology figures covering Victoria, Queensland and South Australia, overall female offending rates increased only for assault between 1995 and 2006. The rate rose 40% for women, compared with 15% for male offenders. Nationally, the imprisonment rate for women soared between 1984 and 2003, by 209% for women compared with 75% for men. So what's going on? Are women really becoming more violent?

We owe prisoners more than jail
Prisons are too important to be left to jailers, for the simple reason that the standard prison magnifies social problems. It is a congregation of people with an accumu–lation of risk factors for crime.

International Conference on Penal Abolition

The full agenda for ICOPA is now online, and pending any further changes, the line-up is looking like we're going to have a fascinating conference. With speakers coming to present papers from Brazil, Trinidad, Canada, Australia, USA, Belgium, Argentina, South Africa plus many more including the UK, we are really looking at a truly international conference.

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