It is official: the behaviour of inmates is deteriorating in our prisons despite the carrot of early release for good behaviour.
I heard this interesting statistic discussed on our Wednesday Forum on the radio. Each of the four guests declined to hazard an opinion on why this may be. But sadly, I knew the answer straightaway.
Back in my teaching days, I came across a ‘BAD’ boy. He’d served time in juvenile detention for break and enter, and was generally considered a hardened criminal by the age of twelve. After a couple of years, he was released back into the community, ‘rehabilitated’, and sent back to school.
A Dickensian character, he was small, pale and sharp-featured, a sure sign of malnourishment in early childhood. He was ‘aggro’ and temperamental, unless something caught his interest. Then he was surprisingly clever, touching in his eagerness to learn. He was good at maths and art: something he had found out about himself in prison. We got through our lessons by a combination of tact(on my part), magnanimous restraint(on his) and humour.
Imagine how I felt when I overheard him confide to a friend: ‘You know, it’s not bad in prison. You have sheets on your bed, good food – three good meals a day, every day; hot showers, TV. I’m going to do something so I can go back.’
I found it hard to hold back tears. This poor little boy had not even the basics in his home that he found in prison. No, I am most certainly not suggesting that we lower the standards of our prisons. Nothing is further from my mind.
I do, however, think it a shameful indictment on our society that children can be raised in such poverty and neglect that prison life with all its restrictions and only basic provision for human needs can seem like luxury to those who have never known sheets on their beds or good food on the table (or perhaps do not even have a table).
This poor child saw in his prison bars, levels of security and comfort he had never known in a house where filth, neglect, hunger, physical and verbal abuse by drink and drug-ridden adults was the norm.
Who wouldn’t prefer a residence with locked doors, sheets on the bed and three good meals a day? It only makes sense when you think about it – if you can bear to.
One question:Whatever happened to that famous promise of no Australian child being in poverty after 1990?