Behind bars, The Chronicle, 12 January
As you read this, about 1 in 500 Australian adults are behind bars. Nationally, our imprisonment rate is higher than it’s been in at least a century – and perhaps longer.
Here in Canberra, we’ve always prided ourselves on having a lower crime rate and a more enlightened approach to criminal justice than other parts of the nation. And yet our incarceration rate should give us pause. The ACT’s current incarceration rate is 131 prisoners per 100,000 adults and rising.
Despite the fact that many categories of crime have fallen, Australia continues to lock more people up. Canberra might look good by comparison with other parts of Australia, but that’s only because their incarceration rates have gone up too. Canberra has a higher share of our population locked up than most states and territories did just a couple of decades ago.
Too few organisations work with those facing jail, but Prisoner’s Aid ACT is an exception. Prisoners Aid Manager Paul Thompson told me about one woman, who had been spent the night in the Canberra watch-house after being assaulted by her male partner, who had then charged her with assault. Prisoners Aid provided her with a MyWay card and a few essentials, and got in touch with ACT Housing on her behalf. Sometimes Prisoners Aid provides simply a warm jumper and a few kind words, but it helps assist those who are on their way in or out of jail.
The vast majority of those behind bars will eventually be released. It is in all our interests to support organisations like Prisoners Aid, who work to break the cycle of crime and punishment.