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July 31, 2017 | by  | in Opinion |
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We Need to Move Beyond Incarceration

In March, the Family and Whānau Violence Bill was introduced before Parliament with the stated goal of providing “the levers and tools that help protect victims and hold perpetrators to account.”¹ The levers and tools it proposes include the creation of new prison sentences, the lengthening of sentences, and making access to bail more difficult.

This bill seeks to end the epidemic of domestic violence through incarceration.

The idea that protecting victims of domestic and sexual violence can be done by locking away the people responsible is a very attractive one. Victims absolutely need justice. They need to be supported and feel secure in knowing that the person who harmed them won’t continue to do so. Historically, however, this has never been an effective solution.

In New Zealand, prisons were established specifically to suppress insurgency among Māori who were pushing to retain their social, economic, and political power. Prisons emerged to displace them so that their land could be bought by settlers. Even today, prisons still exist to suppress, brutalise, and dehumanise.

It should come as no surprise, then, that locking away violent people only serves to make them more violent. Assaults both by other prisoners and by Corrections staff are a regular occurrence. Sexual assault is rampant following the implementation of double-bunking prisoners in single-prisoner cells due to overcrowding. And all prisoners are sexually assaulted by Corrections staff by way of regular strip searches.

So the Government’s solution to domestic and sexual violence is to meet it with more sexual violence?

Of course, those with wealth and social capital are often not criminalised for acts of domestic and sexual violence. From Johnny Depp to Woody Allen to Donald Trump, people of power are consistently excused for their actions while their victims are accused of lying or seeking attention. Prisons, on the other hand, are filled up with poor people, people who are socially and economically deprived, people without wealth or privilege.

The wealthy and respectable will continue to act in violent and harmful ways because they know they can. Accountability is not demanded of them. Meanwhile, those who are criminalised will be subjected to a punitive and violent criminal justice system. They will come out traumatised and more prone to violence, and will continue to either victimise or be victimised.

Our response to a problem as serious as domestic violence cannot be to just move violence from the family home to the prison — we must address it head-on. Prisons can never be used for meaningful accountability and rehabilitation because prisons and patriarchy come from the same source.

We have to be brave and imagine a world without prisons. We must demand accountability of perpetrators of sexual assault, but in ways that do not isolate and dehumanise them.

We need infrastructure that can support victims and help perpetrators to rehabilitate, or else there can be no justice, no end to the cycle.

We need to end poverty, implement healthcare, social housing, quality education on sex and consent in schools, and rehabilitation programmes to help with addiction and substance abuse.

Prisons are fundamentally incompatible with this kaupapa, something our settler-colonial capitalist government cannot and will not provide.

 

  1. Family and Whānau Violence Bill, General Policy Statement, Page 2.
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