anarchist blackcross autumn bulletin 2016 part3

Gender diverse people and the Prison System, part 1

By Karen Parker (aka Karen d’Konyak),


Centre for Research in Language Diversity

November 2015, members of three La Trobe student groups, the Queer Department, the Gender Sexuality and Diversity Collective and the Transgender Circle, held a memorial to mark the Trans Day of Remembrance. It was an intimate gathering of gender diverse people and allies, where the names of some of those in our community who did not survive 2015 were read out.

We also paid tribute to those who continue to survive oppression despite the odds. A special mention was made of those of our community who are incarcerated in prisons here and around the world. This is a largely unknown story of oppression. In Australia, the true

number of gender diverse people who are currently inside or who have died in prisons is unknown because the department of corrections does not make this information available to the public. Indeed, little information is made available about the lived experience of people in prisons generally, and even less is known about life inside for queer people.

What is the function of prisons? An abolitionist view of prisons recognizes they are oppressive institutions historically linked to class rule and slavery, and that they enable a context where an internal hierarchy of brutality flourishes. Colonial rule in this country was predicated on the concept of a ‘prison state’ as a means of the British Empire dispensing with its lowest socio-economic classes. To this end, white colonists invaded this land, and murdered, kidnapped and enslaved many indigenous people in their attempts to establish their prison state. The transition from empire-based prison to commercial venture came about in the late 20th century, so that many prisons are now privately operated. In contemporary Australia, the penal industry continues to grow and expand rapidly, with record rates of imprisonment of women and vastly disproportionate rates of incarceration of indigenous people, including minors. The most recent wave of expansion of the prison state is in the form of offshore detention centres for asylum seekers.

In the wider society, two contradictory opinions seem to be in popular currency: prisons are widely acknowledged either as inhumane, and even in the most rational terms, as counterproductive responses to crime and justice issues, or they are regarded as ‘leisure centres’ with ‘hotel-like facilities’. The latter view is far from the truth, as anyone who has been inside, or ever visited anyone in prison can verify. The facts that are incarceration rates continue to rise. A recent report from the Australian Bureau of statistics reported its key findings that Australian adult prisoner numbers continue to rise:

The number of prisoners in adult corrective services custody increased by 7% from 33,789 prisoners at 30 June, 2014 to 36,134 at 30 June, 2015. ..The national imprisonment rate was 196 prisoners per 100,000 adult population, a 6% increase from 186 prisoners per 100,000 adult population in 2014.” (ABS 2015)

Many inmates are non-violent offenders, for example, the largest increase in imprisonments in 2014-15 was for illicit drug use, up 17% (ABS 2015) and many of those imprisoned are survivors of violent crime themselves,


Thanks to Jessica Ison for comments.


%d bloggers like this: