Academic journal article Social Justice

Abolitionism and the Paradox of Penal Reform in Australia: Indigenous Women, Colonial Patriarchy, and Co-Option

Academic journal article Social Justice

Abolitionism and the Paradox of Penal Reform in Australia: Indigenous Women, Colonial Patriarchy, and Co-Option

Article excerpt

IN THIS ARTICLE WE PROVIDE AN EXPLORATION OF ABOLITIONISM IN THE CONTEXT OF THE Australian colonial project. Our intention is to advance a critical understanding of the paradoxes and challenges presented to the abolitionist vision by the project of penal reform.

During the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, Australia has witnessed the emergence of a diffuse patchwork of abolition and prisoner rights campaigns, which have been informed by the unique political and cultural contexts of the various Australian state jurisdictions. (1) Some of these campaigns, specifically in states such as New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria, have had a profound impact by eliciting and shaping government and correctional penal reform programs (Brown and Zdenkowski 1982; Carlton 2007). Paradoxically, Australia has witnessed at the same time a revalorization of the prison and of punitive measures as primary solutions for dealing with social problems and structural disadvantage (Baldry et al. 2011).

The Australian abolition project has engaged Indigenous struggles for self- determination in a limited and inconsistent way. (2) We therefore begin this article by recognizing Australia's origins as a colonial project, and that Indigenous Australians have been and are subjected to colonial positioning and a continuum of oppression. Abolitionists in the United States and Canada have similarly located Indigenous struggles against colonialism and imperialism at the center of the abolition project (Pate 2008; Smith and Ross 2004) and have identified the nexus between colonial violence and gender oppression within an abolition framework (Lucashenko 2002; Ross 1998; Smith 2005). Abolitionists recognize that domination and oppression are experienced along interlocking lines of race, class, sexuality, age, and ability and are products of a socioeconomic and political system characterized by bell hooks (2007) as imperialist, white supremacist, and capitalist patriarchy. Building on this work, we conceive abolition in the Australian context primarily through a postcolonial and neocolonial lens (Blagg 2007; Cunneen 2001) that begins by recognizing Indigenous experiences of dispossession, genocide, and ongoing struggles for self-determination.

We focus on Indigenous women because their experiences embody and exemplify the intersections between colonial and neocolonial oppression and the multiple sites of gender disadvantage and inequality that stem from patriarchal domination (see Baldry and Cunneen 2012; McCausland and Baldry 2013). Indigenous women experience a "double jeopardy" due to their being both female and colonized (Baldry and Cunneen 2012). The focus on Indigenous women is consistent with a recent groundswell of decarceration campaigns by community organizations, advocates, activists, lawyers, former prisoners, and academics concerned specifically with imprisoned Indigenous women and their non-Indigenous counterparts. Much of this campaign work has emerged in response to disproportionate increases in the numbers of imprisoned women and to reports of human rights abuses and gender and racial discrimination in women's prisons in multistate jurisdictions (see Anti-Discrimination Commission Queensland 2006; Armstrong et al. 2007; Cerveri et al. 2005; Department of Corrective Services NSW 1985; Equal Opportunity Commission Victoria 2006; Kilroy and Pate 2010). In states such as Victoria, New South Wales, and Queensland, these complaints provide a vital context for the implementation of what is officially represented as gender and culturally responsive penal reform initiatives in correctional settings and post-release services. These reforms will be discussed here as case studies.

We illustrate how abolitionist advocacy work and campaigns related to Indigenous women have been translated into official and institutional penal inquiries and reform programs in ways that neutralize critiques while legitimizing and preserving the status quo. …

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