Prison – reform or abolition?

Prisons are an attack on working class people. We provide details of the latest attempt to reform Queensland prisons below. We thank the organisers of a blueprint to break the cycle of incarceration and the follow up on Keith Hamburger’s Presentation at the Group 17 Meeting 29.06.22.

Malcolm X

Much is made of reform to assist indigenous break out of the cycle of imprisonment. Though not a direct parallel we give a timeline of how prison affected one of the best known Black nationalists, Malcolm X, who went down the path of revolution.


Malcolm X spent six-and-a-half years in jail. … As early as age 9, with his family in dire economic straits, Malcolm began robbing food from stores … In 1944 at the age of 20, Malcolm is sent to jail in Charlestown, Massachusetts, and assigned prisoner number 22843. He will remain behind bars until 1952.

In 1960, Malcolm arranges for Cuban revolutionary, Fidel Castro, and his entourage to stay at the Hotel Theresa after they are refused accommodation at a downtown hotel.

In 1962 Malcolm says the police shot “innocent unarmed Black men in cold blood” and urges action. An all-white coroner’s jury deliberates about Stokes’ killing for 23 minutes and terms it “justifiable homicide.”

In April 1964 Malcolm delivers an election year “Ballot or the Bullet” speech, then leaves for a five-week tour of Egypt, Lebanon, Liberia, Senegal, Nigeria, Ghana, and Saudi Arabia.

In 1965, Malcolm speaks in Selma, Alabama, at the invitation of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. In February, Malcolm X is assassinated while speaking at a rally in Harlem. A week before he was murdered, Malcolm’s home in East Elmhurst is firebombed. His family is evicted four days later. His biographer, Alex Haley, said that “What I was seeing was a man who was valiant beyond belief, whose structural world was tottering, and he was trying to hold it together.” Keith Hamburger’s submission is below.

Police Union

Readers will note that I have not included much about police union boss, Ian Leavers. His submission opposes Michael Bergman’s bill which aims to stop criminalising children. Leavers has been a regular defender of police who are liars and murderers. His union defended Mulrunji’s murderer, Snr Sgt Chris Hurley. Ian Leavers opposed the $30 million pay-out awarded by the courts to members of the Palm Island community after they were terrorised by Queensland Police in 2004. Then Premier of Queensland, Peter Beattie, ordered that police invade the island after Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley murdered Mulrunji Doomadgee in the police watchouse in November of that year. Leavers’ intervention in defending extreme police violence is not isolated to the death of Mulrunji. Leavers praised a policewoman ‘for bravery‘ when she shot an unarmed aboriginal man, Morris Michelo, in the stomach with her Glock pistol in Capalaba in 2015 (see We have no country, we gotta get it back! ).

Ian Leavers is a younger generation of copper than the ones I came up against on the streets and subsequently in the courts during the struggle for democratic rights in Queensland (Street Marches 1977-SEQEB Dispute 1985).

I met Leavers in court only once and that was at Mulrunji’s inquest where I asked him where the hearing was being conducted … Leavers struck me as a taciturn man who is distrustful of others and therefore not very forthcoming with information. Like Peter Dutton before him, Leavers will probably find his way into parliament one day. He appeared for Hurley in the court drama that followed the murder and supported the senior sergeant 100% even though the police union knew about Hurley and that he had a history of violence including assaults of police women. Why media outlets and political people would wish to publish the views of Ian Leavers and his union is beyond me. The trade union movement is correct in denying the police union a place in the annual May Day march.

No reform of the prison system would be complete without reform of the police and their union. But then, who am I, to be telling reformists what to do?

Ian Curr,
6 July 2022.

The entourage for Kumanjayi Walker’s murderer


The Justice Reform Initiative

The Justice Reform Initiative is a new national justice advocacy organisation working to reduce over-incarceration in Australia and promote a community in which disadvantage is no longer met with a default criminal justice system response. The Justice Reform Initiative currently has a network of over 100 eminent Australians as patrons, including two former Governors-General, former High Court judges, former parliamentarians from all sides of politics and many other established community leaders. We also have, and are continuing to build, strong support and partnerships with organisations and stakeholders around Australia who are all working to reduce incarceration.

The Justice Reform Initiative is ultimately focused on building a movement, rather than simply building an organisation. Our ambition is for this movement to be diverse but coherent: including victims of crime, and the voices of those who have been to prison; united in a vision to reduce the numbers of people incarcerated, but with acknowledgement that there are different strategies, processes and approaches towards achieving this reduction. As such, the Justice Reform Initiative is an alliance of people who share long-standing professional experience, lived experience and/or expert knowledge of the justice system who are further supported by a movement of Australians of good-will from across the country who all believe jailing is failing, and that there is an urgent need to reduce the number of people in Australian prisons. Together we want to break cycles of recidivism and build safer communities. We want a system where complex and intergenerational disadvantage is no longer ‘managed’ in criminal justice system settings. And we want to build communities, where there is the capacity, resourcing and support to genuinely address the drivers of imprisonment.

The work of the Justice Reform Initiative includes:

  • Developing and promoting evidence-based social and justice policy positions
  • Bringing stakeholders together
  • Engaging with members of parliament and policy makers
  • Building public support
  • Influencing public opinion and messaging

More information is available in our strategic plan and on our website. We also have a petition on our website for people to add their name to the growing number of Australians who want to send a clear message to all of our political leaders that jailing is failing.

Role of Advocacy and Campaign Coordinators

The Justice Reform Initiative has recently expanded our team in order to achieve our goal of reducing the numbers of people in prison by 50% by 2030. We now have advocacy and campaign managers in almost every jurisdiction (with Victoria recruitment to be finalised) who will work directly with the Executive Director to implement the strategic plan and drive reform in each of the states and territories. In Queensland, we are currently focused on forming strong relationships with organisations, groups, and individuals on-the ground to build a grass-roots picture of current gaps and opportunities in justice reform. This includes identifying alternatives to prison that we can promote as part of our evidence-based social and justice policy positions to parliament and policy makers. In Queensland, we will be developing a targeted Advocacy and Campaign Strategy based on the voices of the organisations, groups, community members and broader stakeholders that we meet with. I am more than happy to meet with anyone who is interested in having a conversation – people can reach out to me on the contact details below.

 Mervyn Langford
0400 497 422

Please comment down below