“There is no public understanding of prison conditions.” – Jager, Prison psychiatrist.
“Who wants to grapple with crime and evil in humanity?” – Seichter, Head Warden.
“Nobody cares about us.” – Gruber, prisoner.
WHEN TALKING to prisoners and prison staff, a widespread feature is a general mood of resignation: there is no public interest in the incarceration system, and therefore no urge to change what has been dysfunctional for decades. This lack of interest may derive from a lack of knowledge and a lack of reporting – and it definitely results in unworthy prison conditions.
Prisons might be one of the most severely underreported spheres in our otherwise heavily investigated world. This is certainly true for Austria, where reporting is hindered by various factors.
Journalists trying to investigate the penitentiary system are used to having their interview requests declined when it comes to talking to incarcerated people.
Permissions can only be granted if “the educational influence of the prisoners is not compromised by the contact; which is generally not assumed to be the case of interviews”, as explained in one of the rejections I received from the Ministry of Justice.
Blickpunkte, “points of view”was Austria’s only prison newspaper written by prisoners. In 2016, it was forced to shut down after an attempt to distribute the publication outside of prisons. Back then, the Ministry of Justice filed a decree, which forbidds judiciary employees to take over functions that fall under the media law. This hinders the production of prison newspapers, since inmates are allowed to write and layout media, but they are not permitted to function as medium owners or publishers. The decree therefore made the production of a newspaper behind bars close to impossible.
Austrian scientists, on the other hand, struggle with the fact that their research is often funded by the institutions they are supposed to look into. This raises questions concerning their objectivity and sometimes leads to their results not being published.
Prisoners’ unions have been repeatedly prevented from existing, with the argument that prisoners do not have workers’ rights.
In a context where journalism, freedom of assembly rights and science are unable to function to such an extent, public awareness can only be missing.