By: Anne Rinaudo

Discussion of crime and punishment inevitably gets heated. Some people want to take a hard line ‘prison is for punishment’ approach while others see merit in addressing the social circumstances and personal difficulties that got people behind bars.

On the other hand some people point to systemic failures and see certain populations, for example people with Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds, significantly over-represented in prison populations.

They argue the cost to government of locking people up is enormous, especially if it comes with little effort to improve prisoner lives by giving them skills to gain work and to survive outside jail.

Fergus Hynes wants to change perceptions about the potential to redeem the lives of people in prison. He is a committed Christian who has spent many years as an official jail visitor.

Fergus says we need to approach the public debate about prison with compassion for prisoners, realising that separation from the community, family and friends is a significant punishment.

While he agrees that some people clearly need long incarceration for awful crimes, Fergus argues that even those people should be treated humanely and not locked up 23 hours a day.

He also believes many offenders can learn from their mistakes and overcome problems and disadvantages that landed them in jail.

What is not often accounted for, he says, is the cost of keeping someone behind bars compared to the benefits of keeping people out of jail in the first place.

He believes the money spent on maintaining increasing numbers of prison beds could more effectively provide other services to benefit the whole community and mitigate against the problems that can lead people into crime.

Such an approach, he says, would benifit the community through lower crime rates and better services for the whole community.

Fergus Hynes outlined his thoughts to Stephen O’Doherty in this Open House podcast.

Listen: Fergus Hynes in conversation with Stephen O’Doherty

About the author: Article supplied with thanks to Open House.

Anne is the Producer of Open House – a weekly three-hour live talkback radio show exploring life, faith and Hope from a Christian perspective.