An End to Prisons – Poster Art

By Right Now | 12 Feb 12

This article is part of our February theme, which focuses on one of the great silences in the human rights conversation in Australia: Prisoners’ Rights. Read our Editorial for more on this theme.

Flat Out is a Victorian state wide support and advocacy service founded in 1988 for women who have had contact with the criminal justice system. Flat Out’s vision is that women are not imprisoned; women’s rights are understood and upheld; and there is a compassionate response to personal and social trauma. The organisation leads and participates in research and community education, seeking to inform the community and other service providers about the issues that occur for women in the prison system and post-release. Flat Out works towards having a strong voice in the prison abolition movement in Australia, in the hope that eventually prisons will not be seen as a legitimate arm of the justice system, but will be viewed as an antiquated, cruel and ultimately ineffective institution.

The Centre for the Human Rights of Imprisoned People (CHRIP) is a project of Flat Out focusing on education, community capacity building, and systemic advocacy. The work of Flat Out and CHRIP builds on the intrinsic connections between service delivery and systemic social change work that has been present since Flat Out’s inception. This model ensures that the individual needs of women who are criminalised, imprisoned or recently released from prison are met alongside work to address broader structural issues such as poverty, institutional racism and violence against women.

In 2011 Flat Out published the poster “An End to Prisons” with a volunteer CHRIP working group. The poster is aimed specifically at the community sector and provides information and analysis about who is imprisoned in Victoria, the harms of imprisonment, the social and economic costs to the community, and decarceration strategies for community organisations. As a community resource, the poster is a form of creative outreach and political education providing practical and realisable strategies for change. It continues conversations about the longer-term goal of abolishing imprisonment and finding alternate responses to pressing social issues, and encourages community organisations to use their voice, knowledge and resources to educate and advocate for decarceration.

The poster was launched at the September 2011 forum, Why more prisons are not the answer to reducing crime and disadvantage; the argument for a prison moratorium in Victoria, which was organised by Flat Out, the Centre for the Human Rights of Imprisoned People (CHRIP), Inside Access, the Federation of Community Legal Centres, and Smart Justice.

Creative political education – in this example, a poster that reflects a political stance – has been described by the Just Seeds Artists’ Cooperative as “the transformative power of personal expression in concert with collective action.” Educational posters that utilise art and graphic design as campaign tools to reflect social, environmental, political and cultural injustices can inform, influence and inspire grassroots organising and struggles for justice. CHRIP’s “An End to Prisons” poster draws from the INCITE! and Critical Resistance poster depicting their 2001 Joint Statement on Gender Violence and the Prison Industrial Complex. The poster outlines critical issues of interpersonal and state violence (including criminalisation, police violence, imprisonment, domestic violence, sexual assault), and goes on to recommend concrete steps toward transformative change. Using compelling graphic design, the poster incorporates large amounts of text including positive strategies for community organising, whilst retaining artistic appeal, making it a relevant and effective tool eleven years after its original publication.

For the “End to Prisons” Poster, to complement existing research reports, journal articles and factsheets, we chose the medium of a creative, informative poster to increase the visibility of issues around imprisonment and abolition, and present information in an accessible, aesthetically pleasing format that is less likely to be shelved away and forgotten. We hoped community organisations would display the poster in spaces visible to workers and people accessing services, to spark conversation and reflection. Employing visual culture we have been able to engage people that might otherwise not be exposed to information about prisons and the abolition movement. This also draws on the history of grassroots collectives and community organisations in Victoria linking art and political posters to awareness-raising and social change, which have included posters to communicate issues of poverty, police brutality, homelessness, Indigenous land rights, and women’s rights.

The “End to Prisons” poster is available at Flat Out/CHRIP events or can be downloaded from the CHRIP website.

This article and poster were put together by the Centre for the Human Rights of Imprisoned People (CHRIP) Working Group: Emma Russell, Lorena Solin, Terri Silvertree, Liz Patterson, Rachel Barrett and Phoebe Barton (CHRIP Project Worker).