The War Against Prison Contraband

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The photos said it all in The Daily Telegraph’s exposé on the massive haul of contraband recently found in New South Wales correctional facilities: Ice, marijuana, steroids, weapons, tattoo guns, mobile phones and SIM cards, along with more than 8000 litres of ‘jail brew’ – booze that’s made by inmates in bin bags with fresh fruit mixed with other ingredients until it ferments and turns alcoholic.

Such a story could be seen as a PR disaster for New South Wales Corrective Services Commissioner Peter Severin, who, in an interview published in the Sydney Morning Herald in 2014, spoke of his desire to improve the prison system so that it would reduce numbers of reoffenders. In the same article, Mr Severin said prisons must ‘strive to be places of redemption and hope’.

How, then, is it possible to reconcile such a large discovery of illegal substances with Severin’s mission?

It’s no secret that many inmates have issues with alcohol and drugs. Some feel if we are serious about rehabilitating inmates, then we also need to be serious about getting them clean. They express the view that inmates cannot possibly beat addiction while they are in environments full of temptation.

It would be easy to assume that the system is failing both inmates and the community in light of this large haul of contraband, but prison administrators claim it is evidence that their crackdown is working.

Prisons Minister David Elliott was quoted in The Daily Telegraph story saying the size of the haul meant a win for corrective services in the fight against contraband.

While a large percentage of the haul was found inside prisons, the story also reports that 187 visitors were charged last year after trying to smuggle illegal items into gaols. And sneaking things into prisons may soon get a whole lot harder – high-tech body scanners and more sniffer dogs are soon to be deployed in the war against smugglers.

On an average day, about 35,000 people are held in Australian prisons, and statistics suggest that numbers are continuing to rise.

Around 92 percent of all inmates across 110 Australian correctional centres are male, and the facilities cost taxpayers more than $3.7 billion dollars a year to run.

Many argue that to reduce reoffending rates, it is important to focus on rehabilitation rather than just punishment – doing what we can to maximize the chance that offenders will become adjusted, functioning, contributing members of society upon release.

A significant proportion of inmates suffer mental health issues that need to be diagnosed and treated. Others have been marginalised by social and economic factors, finding themselves drawn towards crimes. If we can help turn their lives around, we may be able to stem the tide of repeat offending.

So while corrective services may be proud of the latest seizures, perhaps a better thing to focus on is implementing programs which help to reduce reoffending rates.

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