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The Forum > Article Comments > 'Intractable' - a vivid insider's perspective > Comments

'Intractable' - a vivid insider's perspective : Comments

By Robyn Lincoln, published 17/4/2007

Book review: 'Intractable', replete with colourful language, a rollicking good yarn and a documentary of beatings and humiliations.

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Hi to all of you good folk...

Here with have another academic pontificating on the apparent ills that seem to persistently beset the NSW Prison system. Particularising once again, the poor ol' KSSU (Katingal)now closed, and in fact demolished !

And in their usual pompous and dogmatic way, they (academics) labour away in their obscure little offices telling all, and in fact, any who'll listen to them, what should be done in our custodial centres, 'round this great country of ours.

Fortunately for us the taxpayer, governments don't usually pay too much heed to their recommendations or indefatigable carping.

Sadly though, they tend to present their many arguements, often without accumulating and establishing ALL THE RELEVANT FACTS!

Once again, we have another academic (Ms Robyn LINCOLN), who has gone off 'half cocked', essentially basing most of her opinions on the recently published book 'Intractable', authored by one, Bernard Thomas MATTHEWS.

I've read Mr. Matthews's book and thoroughly enjoyed it. He's presented his opinion and views well, apropos Katingal, and that was that. A generally good read, as I said.

However, what I find quite vexatious, is that this academic comes along and makes all these assertions and claims, without first establishing the facts. How many former Katingal Prison Officers have you interviewed, Ms. LINCOLN ?

You see, I too was in the KSSU, but I wore 'blue'. Further, I served there substantially longer than Mr. MATTHEWS was so incarcerated therein. I also have an opinion and I'm in possession of the same facts, that Mr MATTHEWS, claims to have exclusive ownership of !

Posted by o sung wu, Saturday, 28 April 2007 5:36:50 PM
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As he usually does, o sung wu raises a particularly valid point. Accounts of these kinds of places, which by definition are seen by very few of us, would undoubtedly be much more enlightening if we were to hear from the perspectives of all involved - most notably in the prisoner/gaoler relationship, but also from administrators, medical and paramedical personnel, social workers, chaplains, visitors, contractors, police etc.

While my personal experience of incarceration is limited to the odd night in the watchhouse in my exuberant youth, I've long been fascinated by the integral nature of penal institutions to Australian culture, which dates back to the First Fleet. For one reason or another, I've encountered quite a few people over the years who are involved in the oddly-named "Correctional" industry - on both sides of the bars, as it were - and it seems to me that they are all indelibly marked in a social sense by their experiences, but virtually none for the better. Whether they're prison officers, ex-prisoners, psychologists or priests, they all carry a detectable social shadow - at least to those of us schooled in the social sciences (amongst others).

For example, our very own Col Rouge - who generally seems to be an intelligent if somewhat cantankerous participant in this forum - seems to become even less reasonable whenever the subjects of crime and punishment are raised here. While my experience and reading suggest that there are good people on both sides of the bars in any prison, they all inevitably are dehumanised by their penal experiences - even, it seems, those who just keep the prison books in order.

I think that there are far too many people in our gaols, in many cases for 'crimes' that wouldn't actually be offences if we had a rational criminal code - particularly in relation to drugs. Further, the gross over-representation of minority groups in our prisons (particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people) should be cause for national shame.
Posted by CJ Morgan, Saturday, 28 April 2007 7:24:00 PM
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