Behavour Getting Worse in Prisons?

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?

One thought on “Behavour Getting Worse in Prisons?

  1. Hi Anne,

    Wow. What a tragic story! You are right. If we could appropriately address the incidence of children in this country dealing with poverty, abuse and mistreatment, it may very well reduce the incidence of children (turned adults) who end up in the prison system.

    I have heard people on social forums, show very little concern for ‘once-criminals’, often complaining that our prisons are a luxury resort for them, and they add the point that with people living in poverty, the prisons shouldn’t be so good (‘costing us our hard-earned tax-payer money’ etc.). However, you’ve raised some food for thought here, and that is: If more time, money and resources were outlaid on intervening with troubled children, then possibly, we wouldn’t have the financial outlay in the prison system. So either way, we may be providing resources to the same segment of society, but just doing it in a different order. Of course, there are people who have had a good upbringing and are ‘evil’ and there are people who live in poverty who do not end up in prison. But there are, no doubt, some correlations between poverty and neglect, and an adolescence/adulthood of crime.

    I think it’s a long road to address this, though. I have a lot of ‘teacher’ friends, and the amount of time they discuss their heartbreak at the level of neglect with some children, it makes you realise: It is happening everywhere. We also hear a lot about the failings of DoCs and how they haven’t intervened sufficiently. Most probably a symptom of being under-resourced (which is common amongst many industries in this country – 1 person doing the job of 10).

    It’s really a sad thought. At the heart of it, the boy you are referring to sounded like he did have a decent heart in there, he had just lived on the wrong path all his life. Very sad and scary, to think that he would have to reoffend to be cared for, which hurts him and innocent victims of his crime. Heartbreaking.

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