19 January 2012
Expert comment on the Fulham prison riot
The riots at Fulham Prison raise questions about the Victorian Government's experiment with private prisons, according to RMIT University Adjunct Professor Peter Norden AO.
"The community can rightly condemn the behaviour of a small section of the rioting inmates, but the underlying causes for the unrest need to be investigated," Adjunct Professor Norden, a former prison chaplain and founder of the Victorian Criminal Justice Coalition, said.
"Victoria has one of the highest rates of private prisons in the world and the profit motive of the international agencies that run our private prisons leads to cost-cutting decisions, such as overcrowding, less staff, early lockups and cutbacks to rehabilitation programs.
"The Kennett government introduced private prisons to Victoria in the early 1990's and today Victoria leads the world in this correctional experiment. It is far from clear how the private prison companies are accountable to the Victorian government and the wider community.
"Fulham prison was originally constructed for around 600 inmates but now has a capacity for 845. It is constructed on a model that relies on electronic surveillance, low staff-to-inmates ratios and minimal program costs.
"Private prison firms are more interested in doing well than doing good, and ultimately, their major goal is to produce profits for their shareholders.
"The expansionary prison policy of the current Victorian government will lead to further overcrowding of the state's prison system in coming years, resulting from the sentencing reforms introduced into Victoria over the last twelve months.
"While the community can expect better prisoner control by the authorities, it is critically important to understand why such behaviour emerges in particular prisons.
"Careful evaluation of prison routines, such as overcrowding, earlier lock up times, cutbacks to prison rehabilitation programs and visiting times, will often reveal what underlies some of this unacceptable behaviour."
Adjunct Professor Norden has studied the private prison systems in the United States and the United Kingdom. An Adjunct Professor in RMIT's School of Global Studies, Social Science and Planning, he is available for interview.
For interviews: RMIT University's Adjunct Professor Peter Norden, (03) 9925 2305 or 0409 040 994.
For general media enquiries: RMIT University, Marketing and Communications, Gosia Kaszubska, (03) 9925 3176 or 0417 510 735.