No Escape: Prisons, Therapy & Politics

No Escape: Prisons, Therapy & Politics

No Escape: Prisons, Therapy & Politics

No Escape: Prisons, Therapy & Politics

Excerpt

Enquiries and commissions regarding the conditions and management of prisons have been curiously repetitive in the sixteen years since the Nagle Royal Commission damned the penal institutions of New South Wales. Each report emphasises the benefits of a reduced rate of recidivism and suggests that a more caring, therapeutic approach would eventually cost the taxpayer less and protect the community more.

The establishment of new 'crisis support units' within prisons and a greater emphasis on counselling, as implied in the 'case management' of inmates, suffer as concepts however, from a number of inherent contradictions. This is one reason why they are as unlikely to work as any previous attempts at penal reform over the last two decades. Another is that, as far as prisons go in the context of late-twentieth-century capitalism, these incredibly compassionate and well-intentioned notions miss the point entirely. By focusing on the individual inmate, their proponents fail to acknowledge the political and economic forces that fill our prisons.

Despite the avowed existence of the mechanisms of rehabilitation -- education, work and counselling -- daily prison life is about mental and physical survival within a regime that can only desocialise, brutalise and restrict any future opportunities an inmate may look forward to on release. We have come to know this almost instinctively and it is a rare person who can walk through the gates of a prison for the first time, as a prisoner, staff or visitor, who does not feel a tightening of the scalp, the prickling of fear. Between the strip searches and random urine sampling that are part of life in prison and the overzealous and arbitrary interpretation of prison rules, the psyche of the inmate is ever compressed. Robbed of any right to question what happens to them, it is hardly surprising that inmates seek refuge in chemical oblivion, prescribed or otherwise. Drug debts and violence frequently come hand in hand, however, and survival can become even more tenuous.

On realising that the vast majority of prisoners pose no great . . .

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