Yesterday’s news of violence at the Christmas Island detention camp has provoked a stream of vitriol in what we are coming to know as the “hate media”, directed at the prisoners with a venom we never see when actual convicted criminals riot in jail.
It is a fair bet that few, if any, of the “send ’em back” brigade have actually seen the inside of a detention centre. I have visited the centres at Maribyrnong, Villawood, and the infamous Woomera, and they were indistinguishable from most jails apart from three things: they were run by private companies, the prisoners had committed no crime and their detention was arbitrary and indefinite. The guards were no different from prison guards, with all that implies. Furthermore, they forbade me from speaking with prisoners about their incarceration (we should chat about the weather?). I objected to the notion of a private employee telling me what I was allowed to speak about, but did not press the point when I saw the fear of repercussions in the prisoners’ eyes.
Violence cannot be condoned, but neither should we condemn others without understanding their circumstances.