The Big PROJECT!!!!! Ethics In Action-Melbourne.
In 1983 we wrote, "If
prisoners are to change, the prisons themselves
have to change."
We were clear then that prison officers were a crucial
part of any attempts to change prisons and prisoners.
We have not changed. All people are unique. In fact
we believe that prison officers are a critical component
not only of institutional change, but of offender change
In the early 80s we were involved with Jack Bush,
a teacher with the National Institute of Corrections
in the creation of a therapeutic community for violent
men that was, to all intents and purposes, run by prison
officers. It was they who ran the groups, worked on
the offender's global issues and used CBT for the work.
We provided the experiential role work and skills
rehearsal that we believe is so critical, and that
meets the RESPONSIVITY needs of offenders. All of us
learn in different ways: picture, action, word, metaphor
etc. Drama and drama therapy are the indispensable
glue for all of this. RESPONSIVITY is a key component
of successful re-education for offenders learning cognitive
Jack used to say of his version
of CBT for offenders, "It's
just cognitive science, that's all it is". He
saw it as the indispensable base line to offender change.
(We see it as one tiny but critical part! Human beings
are more complex than behaviouralists admit.) In other
words, changing offenders through CBT is not a mystery-
it is not a process that psychologists and psychiatrists,
for example, must do with prisoners in isolation, in
secret without officers . CBT for offenders is just
careful correctional science . After all, CBT is simply
about what motivates you to do what you do, learning
to know that, and then changing it! OR ...
... What I think affects what I do. If I can control,
disturb, or change what I think, I can perhaps change
what I do ...
Motivated and ethical prison officers can easily
shift ancient angry mindsets using correctional science.
So, it was easy to be involved in helping to shift
a system moving in thet direction of system wide offender
In 2002, Astrid Birgden from the Commissioner's Office
of what is now Corrections Victoria, Melbourne, asked
us to create a teaching to introduce the risk/needs
offender management process that the system was going
to put in place. Their new strategy is called the Rehabilitation
Framework-it is bold, simple, and well within the usual
international framework of effective offender change
and management. We bid, we came, we started.
And culture is sometimes all!! They looked English, and they weren't. We had
to modify all our teaching enormously for the contract. And it's a big contract:
teach as many officers, administrators, community corrections officers as you
can as much about ethics, cognitive skills, bullying and sabotage as you can
in three day chunks over a period of one year. The core of this teaching was
that rehabilitation and security would coexist to reduce the number of prison
Simple - and a huge task. It's a big change. For
Even though this is the global language of Caucasian
corrections nowadays (assessing risk, calculating needs,
and providing offense-specific treatment), and even
though Canada, UK, USA have all implemented these types
of changes - there have been problems. First it is
axiomatic that systems appear to fear the disapproval
of their officers. Canada, for instance, had great
troubles introducing risk/needs because no one in the
system had been informed, warned, asked, or allowed
to disagree. So, the change process came to a halt.
Thus, "Ethics in Action," or "Setting
The Scene" came about.
We have visited, over the last 6 years of coming
to work in Australia, many of the institutions in the
Victorian prison system: Lodden , Bendigo , and Ararat
in particular. We have trained some of the officers
in techniques to work with sexual offenders. We visited
as many of the prisons as we could that were involved
with the training- Barwon, Tarangower, DPFC. It helps.
For drama therapists: Don't presume that what happens in another country is
what will happen in your target country. To do so is rude and arrogant. And,
remember that you can change it if you got it wrong . Prison officers can be
abrasive, confronting, stand-offish, or rude, but also delightful, playful
Research, find out, listen, go to, visit sites, visit people, listen for hints
and indicators, be ready to change, and teach what you know. CULTURE is often
all! Saying I in the USA is normal and comfortable. In Australia it can be
seen as arrogant and elitist.
From the commissioner to the line officers, and all
the way in between, the staff sits in a knowledge circle
to discuss, argue, listen, role play, do experiential
exercises and disagree over the Rehabilitation Framework.
Hot circles! Can prisoners really change?! What is
the real role of custody staff?! What is cognitive?!
Who can work with psychologists, they're tree huggers?!
Statistics say this framework should really work?!
Prove it !!!.
Debate means everyone is equal, unique, and treated uniquely - it is a critical
ethical rule. We have held a lot of these knowledge circles -- approximately
700 staff members or more have gone through so far. This year we began again
on January 30, and we have gone through the year - 3 days, 20 staff, at a time,
group by group.
And in the middle of this, we talk about how the
Rehabilitation Framework might get sabotaged, about
inter-staff bullying and sabotage games like losing
lists, or intimating to offenders that all programs
are worthless. Interesting-the global games of sabotage
can be found in the prisons of Romania, South Africa,
and United States. There is nothing new in sabotage.
And that's why we teach ethics
with the information about the Rehabilitation Framework.
It's a potent stew.
Ethics? Why? Because it's about how to do life -
how to do more good things than bad. It's about seeking
the right action. It's what we do all the time, slowed
down, thought about, and added to. If I stay late at
work, the consequence is that the work does get done,
my boss is pleased. But, if I stay late, I don't see
my children, they sleep without seeing me, they just
came back from camp, my wife will be distressed. What
should I do- what will bring the best result, how should
I do/live my life?
In some way or other, we are all ethically challenged people . Whether an officer
in the yard, a community corrections worker with a client who is possibly drunk,
or a boss who has to make ten decisions that affect the well-being of 2,000
people everyone must work it out- how do I decide what to do?
(For the sociopath, the answer is easy - what is the best for me?)
Moral Philosophers are Goodness-nudgers. They are
an unbroken line of men and women who have thought
and thought about how to work out the way to get the
most good out of any situation.
In Ethics in Action we looked at the favourites -
Immanuel Kant, and Aristotle, and the Utilitarians
-Bentham and Mill -- all long dead all alive quietly
in our minds! We find them through role-plays , Boal
situations, painfully alive in dilemmas from the street
to the prison-like whether or not to tell your boss
that your partner on the job is a dangerous drunk.
And it all gets tested -- old dilemmas: Why do we
save the life of someone who is drowning? Would we
save his /her life if we knew he was a person who had
murdered, or if he was a violent thief, or if he had
committed sex offenses?
All life is sacred.
A good action produces more good than bad.
A good action is proportionate.
Good actions need fair attempts at honesty.
All people are unique
What do we believe?
The word "ethics" created such a storm . It is such an ancient word,
so misused - and yet it created a storm. I AM ETHICAL - everyone says it, "I
came for my ethics cleansing!" said one officer.
Camus says, "People will defend heaven and hell itself, just to prove
that they are Innocent!" It got so hot that the powers above dropped the
word ethics from the original title "Ethics in Action", and retitled
the training as the innocuous "Setting The Scene".
Change in a prison is fragile. We cannot give many
details in this limited report, but there have been
a thousand blessed moments: The light coming on when
staff realized that they had endured bullying; The
difference between the first and last day -- on the
first day ethical dilemmas were solved in an eye blink,
while on the last day it might take 40 minutes. Connections
made, staff listening to staff from other institutions,
without the disruption of phone calls, and always thinking,
thinking, thinking. Also, the wonderful complexity
of Australian life- it looks like English and it ain't.
And some magic moments of generosity to the foreigners.
It is a play still unfolding ...