PIAC was thrilled to host a special performance of Jailbaby and conversation with award-winning playwright Suzie Miller at Griffin Theatre Company recently.
Jailbaby tells the story of two young Australian men, Seth and AJ, treated unequally by the institutions they come up against because of their different backgrounds .
The play details how class and privilege determine outcomes. It shows how early contact with the criminal justice system causes trauma and harm – and increases the likelihood of reoffending, with violent results.
Jailbaby is an urgent examination of the Australian criminal justice system and, as Miller put it, the ‘state-sanctioned torture’ of sexual abuse in prisons.
Miller, previously a PIAC solicitor, has made her name writing plays that confront power structures and audiences alike. 2019’s Prima Facie told the story of Tessa, a barrister famed for defending men suspected of sexual assault, before becoming a victim herself. The play now forms part of the training for legal professionals and law enforcement in jurisdictions in the UK and Australia.
TESSA (The Examination of Serious Sexual Assault), an organisation dedicated to reform of the UK’s sexual assault laws, was established by barristers and judges who saw the play.
Miller joined the cast for a Q&A following the performance of Jailbaby. During the conversation, Miller reflected on her experience as a lawyer, drawing parallels between the impact that art can have and the systemic change at the heart of PIAC’s mission.
‘Often, I’d keep someone out of prison for a period of time and it was like putting your finger in a leak in the ceiling, going: “How long is this going to last for?”’
‘And so there was no systemic change. Whereas PIAC really does do that… And that has informed my work, the idea that one story can have a really significant impact,’ Miller said.
Anthony Yangoyan, who plays both AJ and Seth, spoke of how the play highlighted how prison can cause lasting harm.
‘[AJ] turned into a homophobic character towards the end, when he wasn’t initially, and the trauma he has, has caused that.’
‘I think [the play] opens up uncomfortable conversations – in this play, it’s not like: “How do we solve it?” It’s: “How do we start talking about it?”’
AJ and Seth are both just over 18 years old, and adults in the eyes of the law, but Miller also spoke about how criminalisation harms children.
‘The very, very first thing is to keep young people out of prison. It’s not a place for children, it’s not a place for young people.’
‘How do we do that? We intervene, and we advocate, and we talk about raising the age of criminal responsibility… There has to be so much more intervention at earlier stages. PIAC is doing that wonderful advocacy about young people in prison,’ Miller continued.’
Emily Mayo, Campaign Manager for Raise the Age NSW, struck a similar note as she identified the play as a form of advocacy, saying: ‘We just saw a way to effect change. Art brings change, litigation brings change, campaigning brings change.’
‘We know that criminalising children causes them harm. We know that what we do now does not work – it doesn’t work for our kids, it doesn’t work for our communities.’
‘It’s time to do better for our kids. It is time we looked creatively for ways to do better.’
If you’d like to know more about or get involved with the NSW Raise the Age campaign please contact:
Emily Mayo, Campaign Manager
02 8898 6509