Guest Post: thefrollickingmole – The Unseriousness of Modern Prison ‘reformers’

It’s becoming quite clear there will be a push for large numbers of current inmates to be released from jails as the new drip, drip of the campaign emerges.

Led by the assistant Treasurer Andrew Leigh it will be presented as a pragmatic budgetary exercise, saving millions of dollars as non violent crims are released or diverted from prison.

Australia could free a third of its prisoners with little risk to community, new research finds

Exclusive: Study says reduced incarceration of non-violent offenders can deliver savings to taxpayers and get more people into work

Andrew Leigh’s own uni thesis was on de-incarceration, making much the same arguments that it would be an economic plus.

In his own article for the Guardian, Leigh makes much of crime rates going down “despite” more people committing crime being locked up. Rather than drawing the obvious conclusion, that more crims disabled by incarceration = less crime he has a much more fantastic view; that is, that large numbers of crims in jail and lower crime rates shows too many are in jail.

Anyway, I’ll fisk this particular article as it’s the most recent in the steady “It’s the responsible thing to do” propaganda campaign.

Australia’s prison population could be reduced by one-third with little risk to community safety, according to research conducted for the Institute of Public Affairs.

The research paper by Prof Mirko Bagaric, the dean of law at the Swinburne University of Technology, recommends law reform to prevent imprisonment of non-violent offenders.

It adds to calls from Labor’s assistant treasury minister, Andrew Leigh, and the Committee for the Economic Development of Australia to tackle Australia’s rising incarceration rates, particularly among women and Indigenous women.

….

People are jailed after they commit crimes. If groups (such as men as a whole) commit offences deserving of being disabled from society then that’s what happens.

Bagaric cites Australian Bureau of Statistics figures that show Australia’s incarceration rate now sits at 214 prisoners per 100,000 adult population, a near-record high.

Since a low in 1984, Australia’s incarceration rate has increased by over 4% a year, three times faster than the growth in the general population.

Three graphs to show the problem they are “solving’.

First, the 30 year crimes reported rate.

Second the imprisonment rate (from the productivity report, which decided to chuck homicides as its level to measure crime against in the graphic).

Thirdly, what are the non violent offences which they claim can be release without negative impact on society? This is from the Aboriginal figures.

From the productivity commission report.

The overall offender rate (total offenders proceeded against by police per 100 000 population) fell by 18 per cent between 2008?09 and 2019?20, while the imprisonment rate rose by 25 per cent over the same period

In effect the increase in incarceration matched the reduction in crime, add in that in many cases one prisoner may in many cases (particularly burglary) may be responsible for dozens of offences before incarceration and there is a definite trend, more crims disabled = less crime.

Further confirmation here in its findings.

The literature has consistently found that incapacitation through incarceration leads to significant reductions in crime. The estimated effect of incapacitation from changes in sentencing policy ranges widely between 2.8 to 15 crimes per year of incarceration depending on the type of crime and the cohort of offenders

After that lengthy digression I think it can be shown in very broad terms:

1: More offenders in prison = less offending

2: The majority of people they are saying can be released from prison are not ‘one offs’ but habitual or spree offenders who have been caught and convicted of multiple crimes to cause their incarceration.

https://www.aic.gov.au/sites/default/files/2020-05/tandi247.pdf

In 2020-21, Australia’s spent about $4bn on prisons, at a cost to a taxpayer of each prisoner a year of $375 a day or $136,875 a year, the paper said.

Bagaric noted that 42% of prisoners have not committed a violent or sexual offence. He calculated a reduction in the prison population of about one-third would be possible even if the 10% of offenders who have committed serious property crime or serious drug offences remained in prison.

“In revenue terms, this would result in an annual taxpayers saving of approximately $1.25bn,” the report said.

This “saving” is apparently based on transferring the cost of prison to the insurance industry & private citizens.

Here are a couple of figures which estimate the cost of non violent offences:

Robbery

Total for robbery: $600 million (overall) $3,600 per robbery

Burglary

Total for burglary: $2,430 million (overall) $2,400 per burglary $2,000 per residential burglary $4,500 per non-residential burglary

Theft of Vehicles

Total for theft of vehicles: $880 million $6,000 per theft of vehicle

Theft from Vehicles

Total for theft from vehicles: $530 million $550 per theft from vehicle

Shop Theft

Total for shop theft: $810 million $110 per shop theft

Other Theft and Handling

Total for other theft: $640 million $360 per theft

Criminal Damage

Total for criminal damage: $1,340 million $700 per incident of criminal damage

Fraud

Total for fraud: $5,880 million

Drug Offences

Total for drug offences: $1,960 million

Total for all “victimless” crimes.. I’ve excluded arson which was huge, but most of them are sent away despite it largely being a property crime.

$12,640 million dollars

Or a lazy $12 Billion.

Now obviously this is the total for crimes committed, but if I was to return to a, lets say year 2000 crime rate and assume the number of crimes remained consistent..

Roughly 1.9 (but ill call it 1.8 to make it easy) in 2000 vs .8 as the rate for 2020

So in effect 1/3 more crime should have taken place, giving a new figure for costs of “victimless’ crime of $16,811 million, or $4,171 million more.

In effect the proposition that releasing large numbers of convicted non violent offenders is a cost benefit is making the somewhat heroic assumption that offending will at ¼ of the rate it would otherwise be. (Ive ignored inflation for these figures)

The duck botherer gets it right from time to time.

Bagaric, an expert in punishment, reviewed academic literature on the principles of sentencing, concluding there was “no basis” for thinking harsh sentences could deter specific offenders, “There remains considerable uncertainty on the capacity of the sentencing system to rehabilitate offenders,” he said, citing rising rates of reoffending.

He proposed abandoning the pursuit of “unattainable sentencing aims” and instead aim for more proportional sentences, that is, that “the punishment should be matched by the harm caused by offence”.

I actually agree with him on this, but he may not like it. If I steal someone earning $30 an hour (after tax/ living expenses) vehicle worth $10,000 and write it off I have effectively enslaved them for 333 hours of their lives.

I want those 333 hours paid back.

Prison or a HECS type reimbursement would be nice.

My modest revitalised HECS system…

….

Labor’s national platform states that incarceration “fails to reduce recidivism, provide effective outcomes for victims of crime or to make our communities safe”, promising federal Labor will work with states and territories to pursue “evidence-based criminal justice policies … which rely less on high cost and harmful prisons”.

High cost until you look at the cost of not having offenders physically unable to commit crimes.

Bail, but you must wear the new, improved finger bracelet.

The US has recently experienced declines in the prison population, with some of the biggest declines in liberal states in the north-east.

Both the IPA and Leigh also cited Texas as another success, where Leigh said there is “a bipartisan recognition by Republicans and Democrats that higher incarceration means higher taxes”.

Bargaric said “the experience in the US of the past decade shows that incarceration numbers can be reduced without compromising community safety, and in a way which delivers savings to the government budget bottom line and gets more people into work.”

….

I think its likely the IPA is succumbing to a bit of ‘noble cause” corruption here.

Where reform is greatly needed, and should also reduce numbers quite a bit is reducing the number of people on remand.

Its an absolute load of wank that so many people are awaiting trial. Most will be found guilty, but while on remand are effectively locked out of most of the programs (drug/education etc) which prisoners can access.

In short it is likely bulk de incarceration would lead to a pretty severe quality of life issue for many ordinary Australians, with property crime steeply increasing and nuisance crime also becoming more commonplace.

An example would be the laws around public drunkenness/ hoboism – does anyone think allowing homeless to take over inner city alleyways and parks has made life better for anyone concerned?

And then there will be the awful side effect of possible vigilantism and people deciding since there is no law protecting their items there should be no law protecting the offenders either. It’s the basic reason you see horrendous footage from countries with little law presence. The law protects offenders more than the citizens.

Official crime dropped, but the public wore the cost.

Oh for an honest debate, instead of stage managed assholes stroking each other to an already prepared ministerial announcement…

..

The topic itself is huge, way larger than a simple “more/less people in jail = more/less crime, but we have states for a reason, and it should be a brave state leading the way so the rest can watch and learn and emulate what works and what doesn’t.

Rather than some grand Federal “one size fits all” approach designed, in a large part, to hide the inevitable problems.

Comment away.

51 thoughts on “Guest Post: thefrollickingmole – The Unseriousness of Modern Prison ‘reformers’”

  1. In laymans terms this proposal wants to shift the cost of releasing criminals on to the public and their insurers. This will have the effect of causing more injury to the public – both physical amd monetary, and insurance premiums to rise. Again another cost to the public.
    Dumb, dumb politicians!


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  2. I’m all for diverting non-violent first offenders from the prison system, but this push to release repeat offenders raises the philosophical question of why we have prisons.

    They have more than one purpose, one of which – arguably the chief purpose – has been ignored by liberals for deacdes, namely that serving a prison sentence meets the satisfaction of justice. In layman’s terms, the punishment should fit the crime.

    If criminals are going to be released early on no account other than the say soof academics and reformers, how will justice be satisfied and what sort of society will we become if it is not? One where life and property are devalued.


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  3. Shy Ted

    I havent, but let me guess, a “coincidental” run of the same issue?

    One might almost think government and ABC were working hand in glove at times.


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  4. The literature has consistently found that incapacitation through incarceration leads to significant reductions in crime.

    This is so obvious that only a faux intellectual, masquerading as a politician could argue otherwise.


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  5. I agree with Andrew Leigh.

    Putting white-collar crims next to indentured violent psychopaths makes no sense. Let the psychopaths kill/rape each other, and only each other, to everyone’s ultimate benefit.

    Non-violent crims should be doing measurable, extensive and even arduous community service.
    They can also be effectively confined, to within a few square metres, through the use of ankle/wrist bracelets and CCTV thru 5G arrangements, at their own expense and upkeep, for years, if necessary.
    If they attempt to evade this, they can then learn the customs of prison showers, first-hand and to their hearts’ content.

    There would be millions, maybe billions saved in dismantling excessive prison infrastructure and running costs.

    It is incredible that this is even remotely controversial.


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  6. mole

    Some initial thoughts.

    I could accept a system where non-violent offenders who commit financial crimes are not jailed, but only with at least the following conditions.

    .1 Neither violence (including any damage to property), nor any threat of violence, was involved.

    .2 The criminal is required to reimburse the full sum stolen, in the priority order of, first, any insurance excess paid by the victim, then any insurance pay outs, finally any other uninsured losses.

    .3 All income of the criminal above the minimum wage is garnisheed for the repayments.

    .4 The criminal is not to receive any social security support, including medical costs, until the full sum in reimbursed.

    I might add more conditions later, these are just initial thoughts.


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  7. Hmm – Golas – there has some been harmed by their actions.
    How severe is the harm to others.
    These white colalr criminal behaviour have foul attitudes and lack of respect for other peopel and their proeprty.
    These are the onw use really use language to assault you and think they aer smarter then you.
    Put these against the not as bright physical violent criminal and I raise the question – which one is the worse one?
    For me most of the time it is the white collar criminal.


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  8. Is this actually an admission they can’t win a war on drugs and are running out of money?

    It could possibly be about removing victimless crimes from the statute books.

    Which seems bizarre considering it was a misdemeanour not to wear a face covering until recently.


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  9. I’m on board.

    One suggestion, i understand they are ‘non-violent offenders’ but to appease those who are against removing them from jail, can we move these “non-violent’ offenders to suburbs that support this measure.

    I am sure Andrew Leigh and other academics who all mysteriously end up living in the same areas would be happy to have them, right?


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  10. One might almost think government and ABC were working hand in glove at times.
    Senator-elect for Pennsylvania John Fetterman has also been spitballing the “releasing a third of US prisoners would be net neutral” line.
    Like an arbitrary reduction in water, fossil fuel, fertilizer… and the human population as a whole, this discussion paper has been circulated from the high ups in The Cathedral.


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  11. I think very few people should contest anything in court (civil or criminal) and even fewer should go to gaol. The code of Justinian IIRC punished theft by a fine four times the value of items stolen.

    I say this and at the same time acknowledge some people get light sentences for very serious crimes.

    Furthermore, gaol should be solitary confinement only. Brutalisation of criminals beyond hard labour is not acceptable.

    If we want anymore, we can have a death penalty, to be applied in very limited circumstances such as total unanimity of the trial judge, prosecutors, jury, magistrate at committal and (automatically heard before) appellate judges.

    If it’s not acceptable neither is a hellscape of rape, murder and beatings. No decent country allows that anywhere.


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  12. BJ, I must respectfully disagree.

    Sociopaths who scam elderly people out of their life savings do terrible harm. It may not be physical, but the consequences for the victims often include physical illness as well as mental torment.

    These victims do not have years to wait while the legal wheels grind and then the scammer is somehow supposed to repay them in dribs and drabs, hopefully before they die. That is not justice, it is a disgrace.

    Similarly, the latest scams where emails that exactly resemble those from a business or a financial institution, except that the bank account details have been changed, can cause crippling losses to entirely innocent people. As above, a system whereby the victim might eventually get a few dollars back years later while the thief goes free is not justice, nor is it a deterrent.

    Someone who holds up a shop with a weapon and nets a couple of hundred dollars is much worse than someone who steals your life savings by deception?

    I don’t think so.


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  13. What Joanna said. Get your car nicked, house robbed, scared half to death, spend your little money on improved security and so on. First offenders need longer sentences of incarceration and the regime of gaol to develop some good habits and skills. Witness the little crooks as they laugh at non-sentences. Victims should have a say in sentencing – “the maximum”, “the minimum” “mow my lawn every week for a year and if you don’t, the maximum”. It would wake up both sides.


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  14. Thanks for the comments so far.
    I absolutely agree non-violent crims and “white collar” could be better accommodated in a sort of “half prison”, where they work, and work off their restitution to the victim.

    Much theft is overlapping with drug issues so limited legalization (downer types, on script or pharmacy issue) would probably have more effect on prison population in that area.

    Im more offended something is being put forward as an economic saving when its actually more a cost shifting at the detriment of the general public.


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  15. Agree with most commenters.
    The punishment for non violent crims must be real, it must fit the crime, but it should not necessarily require prison time, that’s the ultimate carrot/stick approach.

    Properly supervised, compulsory community service and/or electronic confinement would cover most crimes.
    I challenge any white collar crim to game such a properly constituted, non custodial penal system, for the potential of failing the test and ending up as someone’s prison bitch remains real and would focus the mind, acutely and quickly.

    Of course, politics will intervene. The penal-juridico-industrial complex will ensure such a system will never happen.


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  16. Financial crimes like fraud deprive the defrauded of the fruits of the precious time they spent working for those fruits. I equate fraud, theft etc to “little murders”. Imagine how straight business of all sorts would be if these crimes were treated like murder.
    Heinlein invented the concept of Coventry. Wilderness area, securely fenced off. Don’t like civilised society and show it by harming others? In you go.
    I’ll say that crimes against idiot administrative law should be treated differently unless loss or harm to third parties is shown.
    There has been a dreadful trend to administrative law which is “strict liability” where to be guilty there is no need for the prosecution to show that you intended to break the law.


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  17. Johanna

    a system whereby the victim might eventually get a few dollars back years later while the thief goes free is not justice, nor is it a deterrent.

    The thief goes free to work (no matter at what job) at minimum wage, with the rest garnishheed. Will have no access to government funded assistance, until the debt is paid. It is not perfect, but chucking the thief in jail ensures no repayment at all.

    Take for example Alan Bond, who stole millions, spent not much time on a minimum security prison farm, and was back rolling in dough soon after his release.

    Perfect is the enemy of “better than the current system”.


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  18. There has been a dreadful trend to administrative law which is “strict liability” where to be guilty there is no need for the prosecution to show that you intended to break the law.

    Good point, no jail unless convicted in a jury trial or similar?
    Admin law is “do it because i say so’ and can be quite divorced from justice.


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  19. There has been a dreadful trend to administrative law which is “strict liability” where to be guilty there is no need for the prosecution to show that you intended to break the law.

    Or even have, in the case of “reverse onus of proof” laws such as “proceeds of crime” laws. These are an absolute obscenity and are massively abused in the US (and no doubt here as well).


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  20. Putting white-collar crims next to indentured violent psychopaths makes no sense. Let the psychopaths kill/rape each other, and only each other, to everyone’s ultimate benefit.

    Yes, but what about those in between those two groups? The car thieves, burglars and vandals. Lock the bastards up I say. Then you’ve got to ask, why am I locking up a burglar for stealing a few thousand dollars, but a white-collar crim who has stolen millions can stay home?

    Nah. Lock them all up. They are criminals.


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  21. Eyrie and Joanna
    Bond went otjail and woujld have been a target. He had private security. He faced the music – was it long enough – probs not – especially after I read how we made his way up and how many people got rolled and bankrupted by him – he should have been stopped earleir.
    Eyrie – jail time plus the proceeds of crime – you do both. Living outside big deal – paying back the debt inconvenience – Jail really scares people.
    Take a look at the tent city prision in Arizona, I think. Breakfast is cereal, lunch a fritz sandwich, dinner is something simple. The only TV channels were the weather and Disney.
    The prisioners slept in tents and did manual labour.
    The media make the warden and this system look stupid. They are not – in my humble opinion.


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  22. Bring back exile! The Romans used it for people who weren’t violent offenders.

    That third of prisoners who Dr Leigh says could be easily released would make excellent candidates to being totally released without any strings attached.

    All we’d need to do is use HMAS Canberra to land them on a peaceful shore far away. Somalia seems an excellent choice since the locals aren’t going to mess with a heavily armed RAN ship.

    On the other hand he could always take a tip from the Taliban. They’re scholars of the Koran and all, and the ALP rather likes western Sydney Koran followers.

    Taliban-run Afghanistan brings back executions and amputations for crimes (14 Nov)

    I don’t think Afghanistan has many prisoners on their books, so the goal of minimizing the prison population appears to’ve been met in that country.


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  23. There is also a push to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14 and not have anyone under 17 jailed

    Classic 1st order thinking. it sounds great.

    Until you realise just how many kids under 14 can be used by older people as catspaws and, once crisis accommodation is full (and it usually is) you are left with throwing them back to reoffend.

    There arent enough foster carers to cover the needed demand.


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  24. Logic dictates that white collar criminals not be treated in the same way as violent offenders and I appreciate the various arguments in favour of less onerous penalties for them. However as a victim of a white collar fraudster who much later went to jail for other greater scams than the one I suffered, I must admit I was hoping he would be violently beaten and sodomised on a regular basis while he was inside It was cold comfort, but comfort nevertheless.


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  25. Any interest in Correctional Services living up to its name, or is simple revenge your main goal?

    Of all points raised the only one that is easiest to agree with is the victims having a say in sentencing. If the severity of punishment should fit the harm of the crime, and noting severity of harm is subjective, then the only person who can appreciate the severity of the crime should influence sentencing.


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  26. The best idea is a return of chain gangs for all criminals.

    Nothing would be a greater deterrent to criminal actions than the regular sight of chain gangs of criminal;s working in all weathers on the roads. Hell a few months on a chain gang might actually reform more than a few criminals too.


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  27. The Big House is a rite of passage for certain people who make up nearly 50% of WA’s inmates. It’s where they catch up with long lost family and share stories. They get their teeth fixed up any necessary surgery done, and little health issues such as high blood pressure are picked up. Gives them a clear period off the alcohol (and also the fags these days), and some even learn a bit of trade skills at places like Acacia.

    Take all that away and their average life expectancy will fall.

    Solitary confinement is a form of torture, even for the most mentally and spiritually resourceful. Put the brahs in solitary and they will go insane and kill themselves, short time.


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  28. I agree with some commentators. At least with respect to theft, if a thief is arrested, tried, and convicted, the government via the court should demand the payment of restitution from the thief to the victim (Exodus 22:1, 4). The theft of most property requires double restitution to the victim (Ex 22:4). The thief who cannot pay must be placed in a position of compulsory service in which part of his pay goes to his victim. Courts are thus used as an arbiter of justice to the victim. There is no debtor’s prison. There is no guilt atonement payment to the state via incarceration, nor any excess costs to the taxpayer for prisons.


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  29. Any interest in Correctional Services living up to its name, or is simple revenge your main goal?

    I place restitution above rehab for a start.

    For first time entrants then rehab is the goal, for recidivists then disablement from abusing the rest of the population is the goal.


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  30. “If we want anymore, we can have a death penalty,…”

    Sorry, can’t support that at this time.

    Are there people who live, yet don’t deserve to?
    Undoubtedly.

    Are there people who die, yet don’t deserve to?
    Also undoubtedly.

    Unless and until you can restore life to those unjustly killed, I cannot support death, even of those who do not deserve to live, as a penalty.

    Besides, “hard labour for life, with no possibility of parole” is, IMO, more fitting – plenty of time for them to ruminate on what might have been, and on what they did to earn their sentence.


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  31. ““Hard labour for life” has now been whittled down to what?”

    Death penalty has gone as well.
    If we are going to re-instate one, the “hard labour for life” would get my support.


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  32. Kneel

    The substitute for death was to be “hard labour for life”, and the “reformers” swore that it would not be watered down. It was, as it will again if it is re-introduced.


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  33. Besides, “hard labour for life, with no possibility of parole” is, IMO, more fitting – plenty of time for them to ruminate on what might have been, and on what they did to earn their sentence.

    You are possibly correct.

    My objection is to other prisoners being our torturers and executioners.


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  34. I make the same comment every time. Anyone who thinks the death penalty does not reduce recividism is a cretin and a mortal danger to you and your family.


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  35. The majority of prison reformers simultaneously advocate tougher sentences for “hate crimes”. So it’s not that they think prisons don’t work, it’s that they don’t believe in deterring violent crime.


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