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Building Bridges, Not Walls: Prisons and the justice system – Suggested actions.

Sunday 21st August

The Australian Catholic Social Justice Council is now preparing for the release in September of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Social Justice Statement. In their Statement, Building Bridges, Not Walls: Prisons and the justice system, the Bishops revisit an issue that the Christian churches together addressed over 20 years ago. It is the view of our Bishops that since that time, the levels of incarceration, the poor treatment of inmates and the impoverished conditions of people returning to society has not improved. They believe that in many ways it has become worse.

The statement is of particular relevance to our parish. Fr Peter Carroll msc, a once frequent visitor, and parishioner Margaret Wiseman are Prison Chaplains …… a ’Special  Ministry’ as described in the last edition of ‘The Bridge’. Both Fr Peter and Margaret have been involved in preparation of the statement and Margaret will be respondent at its launch on Sep 14th. Both will attend the 13th World Congress of the International Commission of Catholic Prison Pastoral Care in Cameroon in late August.

Over the coming weeks we will publish items taken from the newsletter of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council, the social justice and human rights agency of the Catholic Church,  to encourage thought, prayer and, possibly, action in support of this ministry. The first item appears below ……….

URGENT APPEAL – CLEMENCY FOR ANDREW & MYURAN

Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran

Andrew and Myuran, two young Australians, face execution in Indonesia. They have admitted trying to traffic drugs to Australia. They have exhausted their appeals. All that can save them is clemency from Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

The ‘Mercy Campaign’ has

been established by lawyers, volunteers and a journalist to send a simple and respectful message to the President: please spare the life of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran.

Lawyer Julian McMahon asks  ‘How can you help? You can be a respectful, courteous, clear thinking, courageous person and involve yourself in the Mercy campaign. The Mercy campaign is run by a wonderful group of young people who want to convert the death sentence in this case to a jail sentence. Please consider their website carefully.’

Please visit the Mercy Campaign website, sign and promote the petition for clemency: http://mercycampaign.org

Sunday 28th August

Building Bridges, Not Walls: Prisons and the justice system

INTERNATIONAL PRISON CHAPLAINS CONFERENCE

Fr Peter Carroll msc, Margaret Wiseman and five Prison Chaplains from other states will be representing Australia at the 13th World Congress of the International Commission of Catholic Prison Pastoral Care which begins in Cameroon this Sunday. The theme of the Conference is ‘Catholic Prison Ministry Working for Justice, Peace and Reconciliation’. The organisers say, ‘Especially, we hope that this meeting will give a boost to organise Catholic Prison Chaplaincy in every country in a positive way. … We can learn from each other how to enhance prison chaplaincy and work on better conditions for persons who are in prison.’

Among the issues to be addressed are: juvenile detention, family issues, prison conditions, reconciliation, alternatives, and mental health in prison. To find out more and to follow the progress of the Congress, visit: http://www.iccppc.org

At the Congress Eucharist our delegates will present  a cylinder painted by an Aboriginal inmate at Long Bay containing prayer petitions from Australia on the congress theme. In this way  prison inmates and others have been invited to be ‘a presence’ at the congress. We are also invited to be ‘a presence’ through the following prayer

7th July, 2011

Area 2 Long Bay,

New South Wales, Australia

God, Our Creator,

we acknowledge the ancestors and original owners of this land,

a land of wealth and freedom, far horizons, mountains, forest and shining sand.

Maker and spirit of earth and all creation let your love possess our land

and may we share in faith and friendship, the gifts unmeasured from your hand.

We pray for all the imprisoned, those on the inside, whose confinement is obvious

and those on the outside, whose imprisonment is subtler.

We reach out in grace, knowing that human divisions are false,

that we are not the innocent praying for the guilty or the right praying for the wrong

but people praying for people, the hurt remembering the hurt,

the failure reaching out in love to the failure in a single community.

We remember those who seek to change difficult life stories,

midwives of hope and agents of grace.

We remember and pray for the victims of crime on the outside,

knowing that we do not have the luxury of black and white,

the simple answer or the easy question.

We remember and pray for the countless victims on the inside

casualties of uneven playing fields and difficult starts,

dreamless futures and nightmare pasts.

We remember the whole criminal justice system and its process,

those caught up in it, those on every side and in every moment of it.

We pray a blessing on all those who enter prison,

We pray a blessing on all those who wait on the outside

We pray a blessing on the world community

teach us to deal with each other with compassion.

Keep all of us ever mindful of your law of love

so that we may temper justice with mercy, exercise control with compassion.

May our motives and our actions conform to your will

and fulfil your purposes all the days of this life

so that we may share in the life to come.

Amen.

Sunday 4th September

Building Bridges, Not Walls: Prisons and the justice system

CANA COMMUNITIES – MENTORING PROGRAM

An Opportunity to Step Out with Prisoners:

Stepping Out. Cana Communities is expanding its work with men and women leaving prison.

Sometimes this involves providing a home for them to live in an environment that

encourages trust and assists them in coming to terms with their release. Part of this care involves volunteers acting as mentors – that is establishing with the newly released a guiding and encouraging relationship that isn’t governed by judgements and notions of punishment. Effective mentoring can help prevent re-offending. Sister Anne, the prison Chaplains and the members of the Cana Community are seeking men and women who would like to experience this special outreach. Initially just a few hours per month are required pre-release, during which the relationship is established. On release, the extent of the involvement is based on the need but a commitment to this work is expected to last over several months. If you would like to know more about this work please contact frank@ozburrows.com or elizabethlee@ozemail.com.au. Visit the website: http://www.cana.org.au

Sunday 11th September

Building Bridges, Not Walls: Prisons and the justice system

REPORT – ‘DOING TIME, TIME FOR DOING’

Source: The Australian

The Australian Government’s Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs has released its Inquiry Report, Doing Time-Time for Doing, which considers the range of issues impacting on over-representation of young Indigenous people in detention, including health, education, employment and substance abuse.

The report states “It has been 20 years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody Report and yet the incarceration rate of Indigenous Australians, including Indigenous youth, is worse now. Indigenous juveniles are 28 times more likely than non-Indigenous juveniles to be incarcerated, despite Indigenous peoples representing only 2.5 percent of the Australian population. This is a shameful state of affairs.

Indigenous social and economic disadvantage have contributed to the high levels of Indigenous contact with the criminal justice system. Sadly, the Committee found there is inter-generational dysfunction in some Indigenous communities which presents a significant challenge to break the cycle of offending, recidivism and incarceration.”

The Committee has made 40 recommendations to Government and believes that to effect change in the area of Indigenous disadvantage and disproportionate incarceration rates, the following principles must be applied:

  • engage and empower Indigenous communities in the development and implementation of policy and programs
  • address the needs of indigenous families and communities as  whole
  • integrate and coordinate initiatives by government agencies, non-government agencies and local governments and groups
  • focus on early intervention and the well being of Indigenous children rather than punitive responses and
  • engage Indigenous leaders and elders in positions of responsibility and respect.

To access the report, visit: http://www.aph.gov.au/house/committee/atsia/index.htm

To support the recommendations contact your local members on http://www.johnalexander.net.au/contact-john and http://epping.electorate.com.au/Contact_Me/Greg_Smith_MP.html

Sunday 18th September

Building Bridges, Not Walls: Prisons and the justice system

A reminder that the Bishop’s Social Justice statement on prisons and the justice system will be published this coming week. The Statement addresses five key challenges relating to the criminal justice system: fear campaigns about law and order; social factors that can contribute to crime; the dignity of prisoners; adequate support for people coming out of prison; and realistic alternatives to incarceration.  “No crime can diminish the fact that we are all created in the image and likeness of God.”

We are asked to consider how we can offer support and make a difference for our brothers and sisters in prison and seeking bridges to a new life

Over the last few weeks we have published the following opportunities to act in support of the statement. Each opportunity has been drawn from the newsletter of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council, the social justice and human rights agency of the Catholic Church.

  • URGENT APPEAL FOR CLEMENCY  FOR ANDREW AND MYURAN who have been sentenced to be executed by firing squad in Indonesia. Sign the petition for clemency: http://mercycampaign.org
  • Pray for prisoners everywhere with the “Prison Prayer” (need to confirm name and that the prayer will be on the parish website and add the link).
  • Volunteer to assist Cana Communities in their mentoring programme for released prisoners. Contact contact frank@ozburrows.com or elizabethlee@ ozemail.com.au. or visit http://www.cana.org.au
  • Read the report of The Australian Governments Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs  Doing Time-Time for Doing, which considers the range of issues impacting on over-representation of young Indigenous people in detention. (http://www.aph.gov.au/house/committee/atsia/index.htm) .  To support the recommendations write to our local members on http://www.johnalexander.net.au/contact-john (Federal) and http://epping.electorate.com.au/Contact_Me/Greg_Smith_MP.html

We will include a précis in next week’s bulletin and publish the complete statement on the parish website. If you want to read the complete document and cannot access it through the internet contact Brian Moir on 0419264117.

 

Sunday 25th September – Social Justice Sunday

Publish the précis of the Social Justice statement. I have the following document but don’t know how closely it aligns with the ‘official’ one. I will liaise with Maree when published.

In their Statement, Building Bridges, Not Walls: Prisons and the justice system, the Bishops revisit an issue that the Christian churches together addressed over 20 years ago. In 1988, the bicentenary year of a nation born of a penal settlement, the churches made the following impassioned plea:

‘The Christian community cannot be obedient to its Lord and remain aloof from the situation that exists in our gaols. Too many people enter the gaol system, particularly those who are young and poor. Too many prisoners exist in appalling situations of violence, lacking proper facilities, enduring overcrowding and boredom. Despite these harsh conditions, there is no measurable reduction in crime and little is done either to ensure that they are not caught even tighter in the web of continuing crime.

‘If we believe in compassion, justice and care of the least for whom Christ was concerned, we should consider the plight of those who are in our gaols’.

This call is not just insightful but a tragically prophetic one, for it remains as applicable to the operation of prisons and the justice system today. Since that time, the levels of incarceration, the poor treatment of inmates and the impoverished conditions of people returning to society has not improved. In many ways it has become worse.

Whereas the call of the churches was insightful, the policy of increasing incarceration levels defies logic – because while crimes against property and people have largely remained steady or fallen, we are locking up more and more people and building new prisons. Then we were locking up around 90 per 100,000 adults. This has close to doubled at around 170 per 100,000.  Over $2.5 billion is spent on corrective services each year and over $10 billion on criminal justice overall. In this age of fiscal austerity and competing budget priorities, one would imagine there is a need for thorough analysis and public scrutiny of whether this is an effective use of taxpayer dollars.  This year’s Social Justice Statement considers some important questions, including:

Is the focus of law and order campaigning adequately addressing all the factors that contribute to crime?

Are the increasing levels of incarceration justified in the light of stable or falling crime rates?

Is the penalty of imprisonment a ‘corrective service’?

What less costly and community-building alternatives to prison need to be considered?

Are we adequately supporting those leaving prison to reintegrate into the community and thereby reduce rates of reoffending?  Questions like these are about much more than just the economic effectiveness of prisons and the justice system. They concern the responsibility and moral commitment of our society to rehabilitate offenders, prevent crime, and ultimately to improve community safety and social cohesion.

It should be a concern for Australians, then, that most of the public attention on crime and justice addresses none of these issues.  Instead we see a very narrow focus on crimes and criminals at the time people are going into and coming out of the gates of prison.  Much political debate and media reporting on the sentencing and imprisonment of offenders promotes retributive justice and condemnation of the criminal. Talk about the release of an offender is focussed largely on whipping up community fear and condemnation of those who have served their time but are still portrayed as ‘the criminal’.

Community fear is a potent force. ‘Get tough on crime’ policies are vote winners and usually entail the building of more prisons. In the 2008 South Australian election, for example, a senior politician voiced his preferred approach to ‘Rack ‘em, pack ‘em, stack ‘em, if that’s what it takes to keep our streets safe.’ That same year, the then NSW Premier said of the available prison cells, ‘I don’t mind if we fill them up and if we fill them up and have to build another jail, we’ll build another jail’.  But there is little or nothing here about addressing the factors that contribute to crime, rehabilitating offenders, supporting victims, reducing re-offending or mending community relations.

This year’s Social Justice Statement does consider these issues. In doing so, the Bishops call each one of us to become involved with the issue:

‘It is time for all Australians to revisit the needs of prisoners, their loved ones and those who work with them. It is time to recommit ourselves to reducing the number of Australians held in prison, making better provision for ex-prisoners to become law abiding and constructive citizens.  ‘It is time to knock down the walls of social exclusion that increase the prospects that a person will end up in jail.

‘Before and after jail, we need bridges, not walls.’

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