According to the 2012, Australian Bureau of Statistics, over 85,000 men and women in Australia were under the authority of custodial services. Of that, almost 30,000 were in full-time custody within more than 94 correctional centres around the country . That figure is 2% higher than the year before.
For each individual in that situation, there are on average 3-4 family members directly affected. So it is a very real and growing issue in our communities and a reflection of issues in overall society.
If nothing is done, if nothing positive intervenes, if hope and meaning are not available options for a different life, the cycle will remain and it can only get worse.
However, let's look a little further into these issues to really understand the problem.
Statistics show that:
- 75% of the children of people involved in crime will themselves end up involved in crime at some level;
- most juveniles commit a crime to either 'fit in' with their peers, to 'stand out' or to impress someone whose approval they seek. It doesn't take much for 'a' crime to become a lifestyle; and
- most juvenile offenders are a function of their environment. They often cannot recognise that they have choices and that alternatives to crime are real options for them. They are usually from broken homes, with minimal (if any) positive role models that can help them grow to be positive members of their community. Most are dealing with very real issues of isolation, anger, rejection and loneliness.
The families affected by having someone go to prison are most usually:
- the forgotten victims of crime;
- living without hope or understanding of the future;
- struggling with the potential or the reality of a fractured family structure – often with no warning beforehand;
- living in isolation with a range of negative emotions, feelings and perceptions - whether shame, guilt, fear or worse; or
- financially insecure or bereft.
The parent on the 'outside' left alone to raise the children, is usually ostracised and isolated from their peers and often from their own families. They are left alone to deal with their fears and emotions, as well as the physical difficulties arising from the imprisonment of the other parent, as well as all the normal issues experienced by children and adolescents.
The men and women serving time
When they hear the words inmate, prisoner or criminal, a lot of people immediately think of someone who has committed mass murder or another very serious crime. While there are some inmates serving time for very serious crimes,
- half of the inmates have an aggregate sentence length of less than 5 years
- 3% of convictions around Australia are for traffic-related offences;
- a high number of sentences (12%) are for drug related crimes, and most of those petty crime;
- many of those serving time have literacy skills of 7th grade or less, with some 60% of them being classed as functionally illiterate or innumerate;
- most inmates come from broken homes, very dysfunctional environments and most have had very poor role models (especially male);
- most women in prison come out of extremely abusive environments, current and from childhood, with around 80% having been victims before they were offenders;
- approximately 55% of all inmates in an adult prison have served a previous sentence, and that re-offence (recidivism) rate will continue unless something intervenes in their lives; and
- most inmates do not realise they have a choice, or if they do, how to act on that choice to make sustainable change for the future.