Time to try a new approach for prison inmates By The Canberra by lindahy


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									Time to try a new approach for prison inmates
By The Canberra Times
522 words
2 March 2008
Canberra Times
(c) 2008 The Canberra Times

WE TALK of carrots and sticks, revolving doors and downward spirals. How to deal with criminals of
varying degrees of crime, drug addiction and states of mental health, how to rehabilitate, and
whether indeed we should try, have long been the focus of intense debate both nationally and
internationally. The ACT Government's proposed new jail is near completion and is being hailed as a
world-class facility with state-of-the-art design attuned to human rights guidelines. The Alexander
Maconochie Centre in Hume will house up to 300 offenders, and provides several types of
incarceration, from confined cells to shared group living. At first glance, it would seem little has
been spared to create a home away from home. The facility's aesthetics rival the latest trends in
household design. Anyone struggling for accommodation in Canberra at the moment would be
forgiven for feeling a little envious.

But is it extreme? No. People who commit a crime, for whatever reason and to whatever degree,
have rights. Our indignation over the treatment of those contained at Guantanamo Bay and other
internationally notorious jails must surely underline that notion. Last year's ACT Human Rights
Commission audit report on Canberra's detention and remand facilities was to the point - they were
inadequate and overcrowded, and fostered a culture of control and bullying. The long-established
argument that petty criminals often become hardened re-offenders once they enter the prison
system, together with the inadequacies of detention for those who are mentally ill, would surely
indicate that a new approach to jails must be tested.

On Friday new research into United States jails showed that for the first time in the nation's history
more than one in 100 American adults were behind bars. The US Justice Department's figures for
2006 showed that the prison population grew by 25,000 last year, bringing it to 1.6 million. The
figures make the US the world's most incarcerated nation. In Australia as at June 30, 2005, there
were 25,353 prisoners (sentenced and unsentenced) in Australian prisons, an increase of 5 per cent
from the previous year. This represented an imprisonment rate of 163 prisoners per 100,000 of the
adult population.

Unsentenced prisoners comprised 20 per cent of the total prisoner population, and, importantly,
most prisoners (60 per cent) had served a sentence in an adult prison prior to the current episode.
Clearly, the prison system needs to change. There will be detractors of the new jail, over the costs
per prisoner and the style and nature of the jail itself. But in today's world, it's a little hard to get
hold of rusty iron bars and barbed wire to achieve that certain jail- house look. Only time will tell if
the new concept will help turn around the prison system and its culture. But if the rhetoric behind
the Alexander Maconochie Centre proves true, then the community at large will benefit from a
reduced number of re- offenders, and the costs of continued incarceration.

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