Friday, November 5, 2004

Community Challenges in Justice

Punching on ones own like yourselves is soul destroying, we need a few friends. Keen to learn of your friends?

Professor of criminology at Victoria University, Philip Stenning, recently visited the Napier Public Library to view the Robson Collection, which is a special collection on criminal, restorative and social justice based on the philosophy of "developing communities not prisons".

Named after John Lochiel Robson (1909-1993), the collection was developed as a community initiative by the Napier Pilot City Trust, and it relies totally on donations from the community and around the world.

"I've had a fairly long association with John Robson himself, he is one of my predecessors, being the founding director of the institute of criminology where I'm now the director." says Philip.

"John's whole vision was that doing criminal justice too big a task for government and that the only way you can really achieve effective justice is by involving communities and embedding "the doing of justice" in the communities themselves."

He believes the Robson collection is a very significant element in what's happening here in Napier, because it represents an effort to provide a unique knowledge base from which the community can develop sensible community positions. 

"John Robson was very insistent 'that's it's not enough to have a community - it has to be a well-informed community", because the alternative to a contribution from the well-informed community is ill-informed and prejudiced vigilantism and the lynch-mob scenario."

Criminals have been called a lot of things over the years, including 'society's trash', and Philip analogises the disposal of rubbish to highlight his point. "The traditional idea of how we deal with rubbish is to collect it, put it in a rubbish bin and put it out on the street and then the city comes and takes it away.

Then you don't worry about what happens to it afterwards, or how much there is.

What we've come to realise now is that this is not an acceptable way to deal with rubbish because for a start the city doesn't have unlimited capacity to deal with rubbish, but more to the point, the environment doesn't have unlimited capacity to absorb and accommodate all that rubbish.

What we see in the environmental area is a whole lot of new initiatives and more effective ways to dispose of rubbish, but more importantly, more effective ways to prevent rubbish from accumulating in the first place.

We are seeing is an increased effort to require the community to take responsibility for the amount of rubbish it produces and what happens to it afterwards. In some ways we've treated crime and criminals in a very similar way in the past.

When a crime occurred, you'd call the police and expect them to take the person away and deal with it and you don't worry about it afterwards.

We've now realised that is not an effective way to deal with rubbish, and John Robson and others have been promoting is that this is an ineffective way to deal with crime and criminals.

We need think of new ways of dealing with this, and to persuade communities to accept responsibility, not just for dealing with it but for the generation of criminality in itself." He says we need to get people to recognise that criminality starts in the home, in the schools and in our institutions.

"Criminals aren't "out there", they're not "them", they're "us", and that's what the idea of community-based criminal justice and penal policy is all about, getting the citizenry to understand that the origins of criminality are within the community."

While some groups, like the Sensible Sentencing Trust for instance, could argue that this approach would absolve the criminals of responsibility, Philip says this is not the case.

"No, we're not doing that. After all, committing a crime is a choice, but it's a choice that is structured by the environment in which people grow up. If we want to reduce or prevent crime, we have to not only work on changing people's choices but also work on changing the underlying environment within which they make those choices."

He agrees it is not easy to solve the problem, which is often deeply rooted in particular lifestyles.

"For instance, take the kid who goes to school after a night of not much sleep because his parents have been fighting. He hasn't had breakfast, he can't learn on an empty stomach, he can't concentrate, he's falling asleep all the time, so he fails in school. And where does he end up?

He ends up in a criminal lifestyle. And you can treat that kid all you like, but unless you address the underlying problems that led him into that lifestyle in the first place then you're not solving the problem. 

It's a case of recognising that the roots of crime are in our own communities, they're in our own homes, they're in our own institutions, and we have to address those as well as dealing with the crime after the event. This is why the whole community needs to be involved, because the only people who can change those things are the community itself."

By Carolyn Veen posted 5 November 04
Photo: The John Robson Collection  


NSW Prisoners' linked to Osama Bin Laden: Ten News
NSW prisoners held in a "box within a box" with "no fresh air or sunlight" at the countries terrorist jail (HRMU) or High Risk Management Unit at Goulburn Correctional Centre, (a super-max prison in NSW), are said to have followed Osama Bin Laden from their isolated cells.

Justice Denied In NSW Corrective Services
There used to be a (VJ) or Visiting Justice who would go into the prison and judge any claim or accusation that was made by any prisoner or prison guard. If it were found that a prisoner had offended then punishment was metered out.

We the prisoners at the High Risk Management Unit at Goulburn Correctional Centre would like to ask you for help in receiving equal treatment and opportunities as other prisoners throughout the system. As we are told that we are not in a segregation unit but we are treated as though we are in one.

The gates into the HRMU were blocked by over twenty five armed police. The Inspectors in charge, Greg Jago and Alan Whitten said access to the institution was being denied.

Rally for Inspection of Terror Unit, the HRMU
Letters from prisoners describe abuse which, is part of the system. Prisoners report that they are kept in isolation without cause, they are deprived of air to the point of near asphyxiation, they are kept in freezing temperatures, gassed with unknown substances, and deprived of natural light. There is medical evidence that they are self-harming due to the conditions.

Prisoner Abuse Not Just in Iraq
"The basic message of the study is that prisons are, basically, destructive environments that have to be guarded against at all times," he (Craig Haney) said. Regular training and discipline could keep prisons from degenerating into pits of abuse, but the vigilance had to be constant, with outside monitoring as well.

Conditions in the HRMU
Justice Action is trying to obtain documents on behalf of prisoners held in the Goulburn High Risk Management Unit (HRMU) from the Federal Attorney General's Department, Corrective Services Minister's Conference regarding the process described below, in which the Standard Guidelines for Corrections in Australia were adopted.

Message of Solidarity: Greens
No where is the problem more evident then in the High Risk Management Unit in Goulburn Jail. Like the "super-max" units in the United States the HRMU uses unsubstantiated claims of "risks" to justify what is often the unjustifiable - the segregation and isolation of human beings.

Doctor Ron Woodham I presume?
"Corrections Health staff provide medical care. However, its staff's authority is essentially limited to making recommendations to corrective services on treatment. Corrective services staff can then decide what treatment can be given."

Carr's Castle the real story H.R.M.U.The High Risk Management Unit Goulburn Correctional Centre. A prisoner writes, " I was unsuccessful in my letters to Dr Matthews CEO of the Corrections Health Service on my problem regarding air - claustrophobic effect the cells have on me. Just recently the management decided my injuries are not seriously affecting me so no further discussions are necessary.

NSW Terrorist Minister leads the way
New South Wales is hosting a two-day conference of state and territory prisons ministers on how to detain terrorists. John Hatzistergos and Bob Carr know all about it having the states most draconian terrorist unit already. The (HRMU) acronym Harm-U the High Risk Management Unit at Goulburn.

On the treatment of prisoners at the NSW HRMU
Prisoners sister's letter from her brother: Following our phone conversation some weeks ago I would like to set out a few points on the treatment of prisoners in the High Risk Management Unit at Goulburn (Super Max) (Guantanamo Bay).

Review of Justice Ministers claims about conditions at HRMU
There is no fresh air in our cells only Air conditioning pumped out of an 8 x 8-centimetre vent over our beds. Conditions change with filthy moods of the prison guards. Induction clothing "one set" mostly shorts and a prisoner remains there for two weeks depending whatever suits the staff. If a prisoner shuts up about the abuse, and freezing conditions (Goulburn cold in winter hot in summer taking into account you're housed in concrete) then you may go to units 8 or 9.

Watchdogs slaughtered in NSW
On Tuesday the Carr Government reduced transparency and accountability yet again and New South Wales is in danger of becoming entrenched with cronyism and intimidations with the Carr Labor Government that continues to slaughter the watchdogs.

The ruling class, capitalism and de-valuing the scholar
An example is the High Risk Management Unit at Goulburn Correctional Centre. " a box within a box" with no sunlight or fresh air. With no constructive education, hobbies or work for the prisoners. Extensive lock-downs and security rule the HRMU. Visitors have to pass a security test to gain access. Prisoners are chained and cuffed in leg-irons if they are to be moved. Prisoners are moved into a different cell every 14 days and the guards move their personal belongings.

Escape proof but not so the prisoners mind
Fewer prisoners escape from prison these days because they're "cemented in" by materials that do not break and by legislation that can keep prisoners in jail until they die.

Just lies! Powerful prisoners don't exist at the HRMU because of the security of the prison. So even when prisoners are dumped inside a concrete box that is inside a concrete box with no fresh air, no sunlight and no constructive work they are powerful? What about powerless. These prisoners are moved from their cells to another cell every 14 days and constrained with leg irons and cuffs, how are they powerful? Please explain!

Noble Cause Corruption
I am writing to you as I have been in segregation for a couple of weeks. I have had my "C1" minimum-security classification taken off me and replaced with an "A2" special management at Goulburn jail. I most definitely have not done anything to warrant such punishment.

Premier Bob Carr, Deputy Premier Andrew Refshauge, Senator Aden Ridgeway,and other community representatives have been invited to receive the message from the men of "The Hole.

High Risk Management Unit (HRMU) INSPECTION
This letter is to request permission for an independent inspection team to examine the 75-cell HRMU at Goulburn Jail. The proposed inspection team consists of specialist doctors, jurists, members of the Corrections Health Service Consumer Council and prisoners representatives.

Stopping Violence
We had a TV program in NZ some time ago where a guy pointed out that it doesn't matter how long the sentence is sooner or later they will have finished their sentence and go back into society and therefore live next door to someone!

Abuse within prisons makes prisoners more violent upon release
The Australian public was confronted with similar accusations during 1978 when the NSW Royal Commission into Prisons headed by Justice Nagle found that the NSW Department of Corrective Services and its Ministers of both political persuasions had unofficially sanctioned the systematic brutalisation of prisoners at Grafton Jail from 1943 to 1976. A former Grafton prison guard, John Pettit, testified to the extent of that brutalisation:

Our very own Alcatraz
I heard voices from the Gatehouse. The clicking of handcuff ratchets. The noise heralded the arrival of the transfer escort. I looked around my cell for the last time my home since the summer of '71, when I was transferred to Grafton as an intractable prisoner.

As an ex-Grafton intractable (1971-1975) and the only living ex-prisoner to have served the longest time inside Katingal (1975-1978) I feel qualified to offer the following personal observations:

Brett Collins: Speech to Nagle Symposium 25 years on
I was serving 17 years, was in segregation and had served five of the almost ten I eventually did. The prison movement outside had made the Royal Commission aware of the plight I was in as one of the prisoner organisers. That attention meant I was safer from that time on. Although two years later I was returned to Grafton with the classification of intractable.

Midnight Special
If you ever go to Goulburn HRMU yeah, you better walk right You'd better not breathe and sure thing better not fight.

The Long Trail to Apology
Native America: All manner of unusual things can happen in Washington in an election year, but few seem so refreshing as a proposed official apology from the federal government to American Indians - the first ever - for the "violence, maltreatment and neglect" inflicted upon the tribes for centuries.

Restorative Justice Practices
Restorative Justice Practices of Native American, First Nation and Other Indigenous People of North America. This is part one in a series of articles about restorative justice practices of Native American, First Nation and other indigenous people of North America. The series is not intended to be all-inclusive, but rather a broad thematic overview. A related eForum article, "The Wet'suwet'en Unlocking Aboriginal Justice Program: Restorative Practices in British Columbia, Canada," can be read at:

That the forms of restorative justice and mentoring that are so successful in reducing social unrest be adopted immediately, running parallel to imprisonment until the public feels safe without prisons.

Restorative Justice and the Law
To acquire knowledge, one must study; but to acquire wisdom, one must observe."-- Marilyn vos Savant.

Government justice not personal justice
Mr Brett Collins of Justice Action said, "Victims should be looked after properly by implementing restorative justice measures and victims should be compensated for their pain and suffering. " However prisoners are entitled to serve their sentences in peace and privacy as well."

Sentencing: Violent crime and practical outcomes
In addition introducing restorative justice programs giving the offender a chance to interact with the offended person if they wish and visa-versa. People are not "dogmatic" therefore should be given a second chance opposed to Life means Life!

Sentencing reform
Beyond Bars is making a submission (with a focus on alternatives to custody) to the sentencing council. "We should consider the alternatives which take into account victims' interests and involvement. Restorative justice. Also mentoring as a positive form of social support, coupled up to restorative justice (as the punishment) to satisfy those who demand it."

Australian prisons are fast becoming the new asylums of the third millennium. The prison industry is booming, while Australia spends far less on mental health services than similar countries.