SJS2011-12BuildingBridges

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Building Bridges, Not Walls Prisons and the Justice System:

Building Bridges, Not Walls Prisons and the Justice System SOCIAL JUSTICE STATEMENT 2011 - 2012 © Australian Catholic Bishops Conference 2011. You may download, display, print or reproduce this material for personal or non-commercial use, as long as you acknowledge the copyright holders. All other rights to the material are retained by the original copyright holders. Australian Catholic Bishops Conference

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Image: ‘Christ of Maryknoll’ by Robert Lentz OFM, © 2002, courtesy Trinity Stores ( www.trinitystores.com )

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I’d first met ‘Jason’ as an angry, aggressive 17-yr-old who’d just been sentenced to 10 years for a violent assault. In his seven years in prison, Jason has taken advantage of every opportunity. He’s a boy who’s grown to manhood in a violent environment, and he’s grown up by himself. Prisoners have a saying: ‘If you’re going to be rehabilitated, you have to rehabilitate yourself’.

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But Jason's an exception – almost unique. Compare him to another inmate I spoke to the other day. I said to him: ‘I hope I’m alive to see you living as a normal man outside’. He answered: ‘I don’t know what a normal man would look like’ . A prison chaplain

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It is time for all Australians to revisit the needs of prisoners, their loved ones and those who work with them.

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It is time to commit ourselves to reducing the number of Australians held in prisons and making better provision for ex-prisoners to become law abiding and constructive citizens.

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It is time to knock down the walls of social exclusion that increase the prospects that a person will end up in jail.

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Before and after jail we need bridges not walls

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underprivileged Prison - a last resort The majority of prisoners are from the most disadvantaged sections of the community: Indigenous People People in underprivileged areas Those suffering mental illness. The Bishops raise a number of concerns mental illness Indigenous

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underprivileged mental illness Indigenous Social disadvantage and inequality create circumstances that make some people more likely to come into contact with the criminal justice system.

Between 1984 and 2008 …:

Between 1984 and 2008 …

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Australia’s imprisonment rate almost doubled

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If the increased rate of imprisonment is not being driven by a rise in crime, we must ask what the real causes are… There is an increase in imprisonment rates, but not an increase in crime rates.

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One reason is the laws enacting tougher bail conditions This means some people are kept in jail for years, without being sentenced – and may even be found innocent when their case comes to trial. There is no recourse to compensation.

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Increased imprisonment rate of Indigenous people The great Australian shame is that Indigenous Australians are being imprisoned at a far higher rate than non-Indigenous Australians. The situation is even worse for young Indigenous Australians.

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Source: Australian Institute of Criminology, ‘Australian Crime Facts and Figures 2009’

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Unequal administration of justice across the states and territories of Australia There are enormous differences in the imprisonment rates of the various Australian states and territories.

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The Church’s teaching on crime and punishment All of us are called to respect the human dignity of every person, including those who have committed serious crimes.

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We strongly advocate and work for justice that restores, heals and protects; a justice that makes the offenders accountable for what they have done; At the 2007 World Congress of the International Commission of Catholic Prison Pastoral Care, the chaplains stated: a justice that provides restitution to the victims who are most of the time ignored and forgotten by the current justice system; a justice that engages the community in facilitating the healing process, thus leading to the re-integration of the victim and the offender to the community.

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countering fear campaigns about law and order addressing social factors that contribute to crime maintaining the dignity of those in prison providing practical help for people coming out of prison providing realistic alternatives to prison. The challenges confronting us:

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Countering fear campaigns about law and order In state elections it is commonplace for politicians to outbid each other in pledging to be tough on crime for the sake of creating a safer community.

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But there is also a danger that sensationalist claims about increasing violent crime … … have more to do with immediate political advantage and popular perceptions than with the safety of the community.

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Addressing social factors that contribute to crime Most prisoners who suffer from mental illness, drug or alcohol addiction, or intellectual disability are in prison because of inadequate community resources in these areas. Prisons are unable to adequately treat these problems. A community justice advocate

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Maintaining the dignity of those in prison Prisoners are deprived of their freedom but they must never be deprived of their human dignity. No civilised society can tolerate prisons being conducted as barbaric institutions.

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Providing practical help for people coming out of prison Once released, ex-prisoners face an uphill battle of waiting lists for many basic services and supports – like drug treatment or for somewhere to live. And so many people get locked into a vicious cycle of addiction, petty crime and prison. A prison chaplain

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The emphasis must be on support, not surveillance … We should maintain and act on the hope that with appropriate support, ex-offenders have the capacity to become productive, law-abiding members of society.

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Providing realistic alternatives to prison While society does need prison as a last-resort punishment … research raises doubts about its capacity to rehabilitate and deter offenders. Diverting people from the prison system also makes economic sense.

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There are alternatives to prison that highlight positive developments in the criminal justice system. They offer longer-term benefits that are often more effective in helping people regain their self-worth and take on the responsibilities of citizenship.

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‘And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ What is our response as Christians?

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And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Matthew 25:40

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As communities of faith, we can ask ourselves what comfort and support a person leaving prison would be likely to find in our parish church? What could you and your parish do to help a prison chaplain trying to help a released prisoner find a job or a home?

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Whenever we hear prisoners being discussed in our parliaments or in the media, let us ask whether the dignity of prisoners is being respected. Is prison being viewed as a last resort?

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What are we doing to adequately fund our health, education and welfare services to ensure that today’s disadvantaged children are not tomorrow’s prisoners?

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How can we, in our hearts, our homes and community, foster a spirit of understanding towards those who make wrong decisions in life and may even do great wrong to us? Will we cast the first stone?

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As we gather to worship and celebrate the Eucharist, let us consider how we can provide a place at the table of the Lord for prisoners deprived of their liberty.

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For practical ideas, pick up this Ten Steps leaflet ‘Building Bridges, Not Walls’

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Acknowledgements: Australian Catholic Social Justice Council www.dreamstime.com www.christianphotos.net www.bigfoto.com Helen Kearins rsm Sarah MacRaild Australian Catholic Social Justice Council

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