One of the tabloid media’s favourite stories is about good hardworking Australians’ taxes being spent on prisoner privileges. This has even extended to the criticism of special treatment (ie flatscreen TVs) for prisoners in the Metropolitan Remand Centre, which is for people who haven’t actually been found guilty by the courts yet.
On Herald Sun logic, if you’ve committed rape or murder, or even if you’re suspected of such, you’re a bad person, and you don’t deserve anything. In fact, the public interest would be best served by keeping you in a dark hole and feeding you curds and whey. It wouldn’t do much for your rehabilitation, but this doesn’t matter, because you’d be in there for life anyway. Although life imprisonment, thinking about it, would be fairly costly to the taxpayer too. But let’s not think about it!
Recently the Herald Sun ran a piece about the Port Phillip Prisoners’ Committee asking for things like more money for phone calls, photographs in the visitor’s centre, 1.25 coke bottles on the canteen list, jelly crystals, and a better choice of chips. The committee is chaired by the notorious Julian Knight and other serious criminals, and the main thrust of the story was ’murderers and rapists demand lollies and chips.’
Of course, the tabloid media want a flashy story to sell papers, which usually involves focusing on the gruesome, shocking, outraging details. * It’s probably pretty easy to find these kind of stories in a maximum security prison, not just because of its inhabitants’ history of horrible behaviour, but because of the dehumanising effects of deprivation of liberty and forced institutionalisation. In this context, you’d surely expect a bit of unhinged unreasonableness.
But in my (limited) experience dealing with prisoner issues in a previous job, small things – like getting sunscreen while working outdoors, being able to do your education, getting lollies or having access to toaster – take on immense importance to prisoners in their colourless, de-individualising world. These things represent small pockets of interest, or differentiation from others, and become ways to maintain interest in life, identity, and self worth when you’re in prison.
This is not to say that all the requests of the prisoners’ committee are reasonable, or should automatically be granted. It’s also unclear whether the prisoners’ committee effectively represents the rest of the prison population, and whether its specific demands accord with majority wishes. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was extremely unrepresentative: isn’t it true that these kind of committees, even outside of prison, often attract the power seeking characters?
Requesting sterilised hair clippers seems pretty reasonable. Not sure about the lollies, although I must say, I also don’t really care. Would restricting prisons to healthy food be a good thing for prisoners’ mental health, or just mean in a small kind of way, and counterproductive to their rehabilitation? And how does the amount of taxes spent on these things compare with wasteful government spending in other contexts?
One thing’s for sure: if the readers of our more highest circulating newspaper are able to maintain any personal reflectivity and intellectual curiosity after imbibing these brain-numbing stories daily, then I’m very impressed with humanity. **
*If all you read was the Herald Sun (particularly online), you’d think Australian society was made up of sexual assailants, child molesters, mob crime, illegal immigrants, graffiti vandalism, sexy celebrities, and cute animals. Oh, and corrupt anyone-paid-by-taxpayer, and red tape.
**The comments suggest otherwise, but then who are these online commenters? Someone should do a psychological study on them. Especially the Youtube commenters, who will get into all-out warfare with each other over a Lady Gaga clip.