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Today is a good day to stop building prisons and start building communities

The Uniting Church in Western Australia, along with other church and community partners, is calling on the people of Western Australia to think again about crime and justice.

“Today, International Prisoner Justice Day, is a good day to stop and re-think the way we approach the issues of crime, prisons, prisoners and justice,” said Uniting Church in Western Australia Moderator, Rev Ken Williams. “The way we address crime and criminality here in WA just isn’t working. Successive state governments have fought over who is ‘toughest’ on crime, and what we have ended up with is prisons that are hugely overcrowded and a community that is less safe, not more so.

“It’s time for a new approach that will set our community free from the cycle of crime. Imprisonment needs to be seen as the last resort, not the first resort.”

To gain the public’s attention, the Perth Wesley Uniting Church has been ‘imprisoned’ behind fencing topped with barbed wire. Attached to the fencing are posters giving information such as:

  • It costs $100,000 to keep one adult in prison for one year
  • 40% of prisoners reoffend within 2 years of release
  • Up to 50% of Australian prisoners say drugs contributed to their offence
  • Having a parent in prison means you’re more likely to end up there yourself.

One poster asks the questions, ‘What do you think prison is for?’

“We think Western Australians need to start asking themselves, what is prison really there for?” the Moderator said. “As Christians, we ask God to forgive us, as we try to forgive others. We think there’s a need for a more compassionate approach that focuses on creating healthy communities that support people to break out of the cycle of crime.”

To help the community explore the issues, the Uniting Church and community partners are launching a new website, www.buildcommunitiesnotprisons.org.au which links to research on the impacts of prison on individuals and communities, contains stories of real people affected by the cycle of crime, includes a new four-part group study resource, as well as ideas to help get active on this important issue.

Rev Ken Williams is the pastoral leader of the Uniting Church in Western Australia. Before ordination he worked in the Department of Community Welfare and was responsible
for juvenile justice institutions.