Joseph Akeroyd: Rediscovering a Prison Reformer
Welcome to Newsgram.
When a crime is committed we want justice. We want it swift and we want to make sure it doesn’t happen again. We have a system of laws that are there to make sure the proper punishment is rendered in accordance with the law. We’ve create penalties for criminal conduct and we seek to rehabilitate criminals through incarceration.
How often do you think about what happens beyond that. When the bars close. What is happening to the person locked up? We don’t really care right? I mean, the perpetrator has been dealt with and justice has been served but what about rehabilitation? Aren’t these people supposed to be punished to the degree that they will realize the error of their ways? Once educated, depending on the severity of their crimes, they are then rereleased back into society.
It’s a complicated issue.
I came across a book written by Ron Wilson that focuses on the system of Justice in Australia. It’s titled Joseph Akeroyd: Rediscovering a Prison Reformer and in it, he writes about a man who moved directly from the education system to become Inspector General of Victoria’s prison system between 1924 and 1947. Yea, he was there a long time and during his administration prison was run like a school.
Wilson (Prison like School) What happened in the way that prison education was managed in Victoria at that time was so different from other jurisdictions in Australia but also quite different from other jurisdictions in the world. Each prison was in fact a registered school. It was funded by the education department it was staffed by the same teachers delivering the same curriculum and programs that were happening in the much broader community.
So how did all this evolve? Ron set out to find the answers and he first had to understand who Joseph Akelroyd was.
Wilson (Principles of Teaching) He was a man who came into his role with the strong commitment to saying, as an educator using the principles in terms of education principles and the principles of teaching this is the way that prisons should be managed they should be managed on the principles of education and the principles of teaching.
Fundamentally people are put in jail to be punished for their crimes. That has always been the case but in order to reform these criminals Akelroyd chose to learn more about them.
Wilson (Look at the Man) Akelroyd , in his educational principles said, what we’re going to do is start to have a look at why these people are in prison . Look at the man, what’s the background, what’s happened to this man that he’s ended up in a prison environment.
He set about making important changes. He implemented a treatment based approach rather than a punitive one. But change never comes easy. The system of justice at the time required punishment for crimes committed. Punishments like whipping and hanging, and he was responsible for making sure that punishment took place. So where is the teaching moment?
Wilson (What did you Learn) He started to have conversations with criminals who were about the be whipped. He would have a conversation with them before the whipping, personally he would do this, and then after the whipping but he would ask the question, he’s got this recorded, he would ask, what did you learn from this experience? With those guys who are about to be hanged he would apply a similar sort of structure, now he couldn’t have the conversation with them after they’d been hanged but what he did do was have the conversations with other prisoners around saying, what did this experience with you being so close to a hanging, what did it tell you? What did you learn from that? So he would have those conversations.
Utilizing his education background, Joseph Akeroyd revolutionized the ways prisons and prisoners in Victoria were managed with lasting results. Many of his reforms are still around today.
I found this book interesting because it not only talks about Akeroyd’s educational approach but it does so by reflecting on stories of modern day interactions between teachers and prisoner students. There are all kinds of personal stories where Akeroyd interacted with infamous criminals that talk about thwarted escape plans, being wrongfully convicted and getting that conviction reversed or his recording of the final days of a man who was about to be hanged.
This book will get you thinking about crime and criminality. I remember back in college I was once assigned the task of writing a paper on how crime was necessary and important to society. Seems crazy right? It pushes and shapes our moral boundaries.
Justice and reforms are constantly changing and so is what we view as normal. Ron Wilson understands this and chose to focus on one of the pioneers in this type of thinking. His book Joseph Akeroyd: Rediscovering a Prison Reformer is a glimpse into education and prison management and one man’s inner conflict with reform techniques.
The book is available online at various places and there are links in the show notes. And, that will do it for this edition of Newgram.