This has been on my mind for a few days now. Over the last few weeks I’ve been viewing some research and lectures by prominent experts like James Gilligan, Alfie Kohn, Gabor Mate, Ben McLeish and Robert Sapolsky. What this research does is have a good, clear look at human behaviour and society. Since the development of fields like Psychology and Sociology, we’ve learned an awful lot about ourselves. What we find is that the traditions we were brought up with, often based on historical views and religious influences, have certain outlooks that are not matched in the reality of human behaviour and development. Consider the thought James Gilligan raises in that video: that punishment is the greatest contributor to violence that we know of. Not something one generally hears as part of tough on crime election platforms, is it?
Governments are elected, in states and federally, to represent the interests of the citizens and keep things humming along. Policing and prison is part of this. Not even a month ago, I explored some of these issues in another post about the shooting of a 14 year old child by a policeman in Kings Cross. It was incredibly disappointing then to see the same mistakes made, yet again, in our recent state budget.
They’re not even trying any more. The increase of funding to prisons and religious schools is so blatantly unhelpful, particularly being at the expense of other programs that might produce more positive results, and we’ve known that these approaches don’t work. Not anywhere. Not ever. The only reason people ever took those positions was because there was no other better idea around and that punitive religion enforced it. Okay, so now in the 21st century we do know that it doesn’t work and we have two or three hundred years clear and recent experience seeing that it doesn’t work. Yet somehow we’re presented with the proposition that if it’s done a bit harder or a bit more, that suddenly the fog will clear and everything will magically be okay. It’s like the doctor saying “Oh, you’re sick because you haven’t had enough arsenic.” The reality is that the so called “tough on crime” or “zero tolerance” approach simply doesn’t work at all. It is based on a mythological ideal that is about two and a half thousand years old and was incorrect in the first place.
So now here we are, going around the mulberry bush once again. More people will become victims of crime. More people will have their lives ruined by incarceration and the public will pay for it all through the nose.
How dreadfully disappointing, when this stuff has been known, widely known, for decades. When there are other countries taking other approaches that have proven to be much more constructive. But Australia is apparently stuck in the same useless, pointless closed loop that has sucked the US down the drain. Spending hundreds of thousands of dollars keeping people locked up after the fact rather than helping people do well and live their lives in peaceful well being.
And this approach is frequently implemented where free market social darwinism is being promoted. There’s a lot of money in private prisons. Whose interest does that serve?