Bill Potts writes to the Fraser Coast Chronicle regarding the death of an inmate at the Maryborough Correctional Centre.
The Death of Accused in Jail Should Cause us Concern
The death of one diminishes us all; no matter the circumstances, the place, or the character of the victim or the accused murderer.
The death of a man in Maryborough Prison and the subsequent appearance of an accused prisoner in the Magistrates Court has thrown up difficult problems and fundamental questions.
We don’t lock up people and throw away the key as most prisoners will be released.
For many, the prisons have become warehouses for the violent and the dispossessed.
Our society reserves its harshest punishment of exclusion for life for those convicted of this heinous crime.
But life and justice, to paraphrase, are an accumulation of anguishes and are dear to me, so I fight for them.
A man charged with a crime and facing a punishment is not guilty and is presumed to be innocent until a jury of his peers finds otherwise.
This presumption of innocence is the same law you would want applied to yourself, your family members and your loved ones if they were accused of any crime.
It is the hallmark of a free and just society.
Too often we hear of a shocking crime and think because the police have charged “a man who was helping them with their enquiries” that the guilty man has been caught and we can all sleep safer in our beds.
This thinking puts the cart before the horse of fairness, and guilt before the producing of evidence.
Juries must be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt of guilt based on tested evidence in a court of law and not the court of public opinion.
Not for our Maryborough prison authorities though these niceties of the criminal process.
If you are charged with a crime whilst a prisoner you are treated as if you were guilty and the punishment starts immediately whatever the state of proof or justice in your case.
Without waiting for the trial process the accused is put in solitary lockdown in the detention unit for 23 hours a day and is isolated from other prisoners and denied normal privileges.
Who cares, I hear you ask?
They are only prisoners and deserve to be there surely?
If it’s not a matter of safety for the guards and other prisoners than we all should care.
A just society and its prison system should give more than lip service to the fundamental principles of our justice system.
Fairness and justice, according to law, are more than slogans. They are rights, hard fought for. Justice has to be equal for all, including accused prisoners.