Between February 20 and 24 police at Katherine in the Northern Territory conducted an operation dubbed “Operation Thumper” to “quell anti-social behaviour in our town”. In a statement, Superintendent Michael White noted:

“Of the 38 arrested, seven were for aggravated assault, eight were for breaches of domestic violence orders and a further eight were for drink driving offences. Police were kept busy as they tipped out more than 510 litres of alcohol and issued 74 infringement notices.”

Police also breath-tested 414 people and issued 13 summary infringement notices and 14 traffic infringement notices. Some 125 people spent time in the police drunk tank.

White declared the operation to be a resounding success, but my guess is the anti-social behaviour in Katherine has continued unabated post-Thumper, just like it has over the past decades in the wake of identical operations. The difference with this one might only be the brutal honesty in the name affixed to this particular exercise in hopelessness.

The police and the community know such efforts that result in the imprisonment of the already over-imprisoned do nothing to reduce the type of behaviour that seemingly appalls the good people of Katherine. Such operations seem to have become an end in themselves. The hard work of prevention, understanding, resource reallocation, communication is just that — too hard.

The people put offside by the actions of itinerants now simply demand a good thump every so often as a trade-off: “I will feel better about seeing you, your rubbish and your filth if I know the police get out there on a regular basis and make life very uncomfortable for you, even if only over a few days.”

The war is conceded. Nothing much will change. The minor battles are now what count.

These operations lead to jail and plenty of it. The $500 million new NT prison slowly emerges to receive the thumped. My tip? Given the burgeoning NT prison population and the mere 1000-bed capacity of the new prison, it will be full on its first day. The current jail at Berrimah will be kept open, and the Alice Springs Prison will be expanded (as per its original design). The NT is on the verge of taking its already world-beating levels of incarceration to new heights.

The defence lawyers and judiciary are increasingly taking shelter with the politicians. The cover the pollies took a while back is this “tough love” approach — forget the numbers in jail, think of the jails as schools and TAFEs and rejoice in the explosion in the numbers of the uneducated now exposed to compulsory schooling.

In late 2012 the chief justice of Western Australia described the new Derby Prison, designed for Aboriginal inmates, as “fantastic” and a “good institution”:

“I think it will provide prisoners with the opportunity for some behavioural change; ordinary prisons don’t provide prisoners with much opportunity for self-determination.”

Maybe it will, but unfortunately, in the midst of varying degrees of this punitive approach over the past nearly 20 years in the Top End, the crime rate, particularly violent crime, has spiralled upwards. In my view it will continue to do so if the response of the powers that be is to thump the undereducated, young and disadvantaged in the community.