No Apologies by the Liberal Nationals

The Liberal-Nationals make no apology for that investment which is about ensuring prison officers are safe, our streets are safe and dangerous offenders remain behind bars," The Minister for Corrective Service said (Perth Now May 25 2011) see link below.

The challenge for Mr Redman is to read what his peers in other jurisdictions are doing to make their communities safer, to listen to what the workers at the coalface are talking about in terms of effectiveness of his department, and for him to seek wise counsel from the Inspectorate, the Judiciary, the Crime Research Centre, the Australian Institute of Criminology and reports on effective prisons from Europe and elsewhere.

These would provide greater benefit to him than political advice from his advisors who have a stronger interest in his re-election rather than his effectiveness at reducing victimisation through fair and just means; including the rehabilitation of offenders, the adequate training and resourcing of parole officers, and the difficulty facing numerous NGOs who struggle with being drip-feed with the remains of his costly prison budget to resource their programs.

Securing his governments re-election should not be what drives him. Prison Officers are unable to state whether or not they are safe, under-resourced or over-worked without fear. Rehabilitation and Education workers dare not speak out about their lack of resources and the narrow focus of too few programs, whilst Parole Officers face direct action if they complain about high case loads, a lack of time and other resources to effectively support offenders, and where strict silence is the rule of the day for his department. The Management of Risk applies as much to departmental workers' jobs under his watch as it does to the offenders in their contractual agreement.

May I humbly suggest to the Honourable Minister that he attends a forum where he can listen to feedback from the people in his own department, suggestions from Independent Prison Visitors, members of Victim's Groups, prison officers from Serco as well as his own prisons, his superintendents and other key stakeholders, including the Inspector, past and present members of the Prisoners Release Board, the Chief Justice and other people better informed than his advisors.

This is not to say that the Minister has an easy task, for he has to house in prison the people most affected by his government's policies, oversee escalating prisoner numbers, and keeping the lid on information that would suggest that he is out of step with better practices across other jurisdictions. But of course I have to understand that where a community is able to produce money so readily through taxes and fines, and are prepared to forego more effective ways to reduce fear and victimisation, then his methods of 'prison as the best control' work for him. 

I hope that he is willing to learn, for history tells us here in WA that Ministers and Commissioners come and go with their large superannuations, but practitioners, parole officers and prison officers remain steadfastly silent as they suffer under fear and threat to keep the unproductive system running. If the Minister would be so kind as to come and listen to the voice of others, then we can organise it.

Dr Brian Steels,
Coordinator, Asia Pacific Forum for RJ; Institute for RJ & Penal Reform

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