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Australians that know a thing or two about Australia's prisons effectiveness regard a Sentence of jail incarceration as entering the Revolving Door

Practitioners suggested solutions

Below is an extract from
Call for complete rethink as prison population, recidivism explode - February 2016

Dr. Weatherburn, the director of the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, called for a complete rethink of the way crime is dealt with in the face of an exploding prison population and a political obsession with being "tough on crime".

Despite crime rates falling sharply since 2001, the prison population has increased, largely due to more people –

·         being refused bail,

·         receiving prison terms for minor crimes; and

·         staying in for longer.

Australia has about 36,000 prisoners and is spending more than $2.6 billion a year keeping them there. It is the most expensive and least effective form of reducing crime.

To reverse the trend, Dr Weatherburn floated a five-point plan that included locking up fewer offenders for minor assaults scrapping suspended sentences and "toning down the political rhetoric".

With the prison population in NSW hitting new records each month – it rose 12 per cent last year to reach 12,121 in January – so too has the number of men and women getting stuck in the revolving door of incarceration.

Below are extracts from Job scheme to help prisoners  - The West Australian -  23 Nov 2014


"Mr Forrest said the jobs that would be offered to prisoners would all be in the mining industry, but could range from hospitality to heavy vehicle maintenance.

He said he wanted to see the private sector engage with State governments across Australia to help stop the "revolving doors" in Australia's jails."

Below are two extracts from Prisons at breaking point, but Australia is still addicted to incarceration:

"For Eileen Baldry, a leading criminologist and University of New South Wales deputy vice-chancellor, it’s a hard-headed approach, one that sucks up billions of dollars that could otherwise go towards addressing the root causes of criminality through early intervention, diversion, prevention or rehabilitation programs.

"Former NSW director of public prosecutions, Nicholas Cowdrey, is one of those championing justice reinvestment. He is lobbying the NSW government to invest in the program in the 2018-19 budget.

He agrees the overcrowding problem is a failure of political leadership, and an inability to see past short-term electoral cycles.

“Sensible policy, especially in this area, takes more than three or four years to bear fruit and politicians prefer to stick with the tried and tested approach of ‘tough on crime,’” Cowdrey said.

“There doesn’t seem to be much room for ‘smart on crime’. The community bears the cost and the consequences of such tunnel-visioned policy.”

Below is an extract from Australia's jail population hits record high after 20-year surge

"Keith Hamburger, who formerly ran Queensland’s jail system as the state’s first director general of corrective services, said prisons “basically around the country at the moment are overcrowded”.

But “just building more prison cells and stuffing people into them is not the answer”.

Most in jail were on short sentences and with a lack of treatment programs to help stop reoffending. The system cried out for “a different approach from our policymakers”, Hamburger said.

“We need high-security prisons for dangerous long term offenders,” he told the Guardian. “But we are building far too many prison cells for people who churn through, spend weeks or a few months on remand, a few months in jail, then go out again.”

Surging prison numbers were one result of populist “tough on crime” lawmaking by state governments, including mandatory sentencing and tougher hurdles for bail, Hamburger said.

Many people, especially women, were stuck in jail because they could not access safe accommodation or drug treatment programs they needed for otherwise willing magistrates to grant bail, Hamburger said.

Now, if we had bail hostels with substance abuse programs attached to them, we could take a lot of people out of remand prisons around Australia tomorrow,” Hamburger said.

We’re just going about this the wrong way because it’s ridiculous when somebody gets a bail order, particularly for women offenders, and they’ve got a substance abuse problem and inappropriate or unsafe accommodation, and we slot them into jail instead of looking for a more cost-effective option."

“If government put a bit of effort into that in terms of times and resources, that’d be far more cost-effective than jail.”

Hamburger said the Indigenous imprisonment rate was “shocking and in terms of trying to do something, I reckon that’s low-hanging fruit”.

He is a proponent of Indigenous enterprises being given a bigger role in running “a lot of these hostels and healing and rehabilitation facilities” to cut imprisonment rates.

One of the few signs of any fall in jail statistics was the Indigenous imprisonment rate in the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory, which both fell by 4% in the last year, according to the ABS.

Hamburger said the rise in overall prison numbers demanded “meaningful” action on two main fronts: rehabilitating offenders and getting them back to a “law-abiding lifestyle” in their community, and “dealing with the drivers of social and economic dislocation that a lot of communities are experiencing”.

Most [offenders] come from difficult socioeconomic backgrounds, have had problematic education experiences and many come from abusive and neglectful families,” Hamburger said. “Than we put them in prisons, which are basically [overcrowded] around the country.

“There’s a lack of treatment programs and the great majority of sentences are relatively short sentences.

“So just building more prison cells and stuffing people into them is not the answer.”

Below is an extract from The small town trying to shift spending from punishment to prevention - The Guardian

Economic sense

Championed originally in the US in response to huge overcrowding in prisons, justice reinvestment involves the redirection of corrections budgets to community priorities. Instead of spending money on keeping people in prison, it invests in prevention: in health, education, housing, employment – whatever helps.

The Aboriginal barrister and academic Prof Mick Dodson says few people realise that it costs $400,000 a year to keep a young person locked up in juvenile detention in NSW.

        “If Cowra’s got 10 of them locked up, you do the maths,” he says. “That’s $4m. Why not spend that money in the community doing good things that keep those kids out of trouble?”

He hastens to say that justice reinvestment is not a silver bullet or a free-for-all: “We’re not talking about keeping everyone out of prison because some people who commit offences that are horrendous are a danger to society and have to be locked up. But we’re talking about people who can’t pay their fines, doing low-level crime.”

Australia is now spending $4bn a year on prisons: “That’s a lot of money and it’s unsustainable.”

But although a Senate investigation recommended a justice reinvestment approach three years ago, Australian governments have been slow on the uptake.

The Maranguka justice reinvestment project in Bourke is the only major scheme in the country. South Australia has committed to two trials, and the Australian Capital Territory has an official policy but no active program.

Cowra is a community of about 12,000 people, with a “strong and proud” Aboriginal community who make up 7% of the population, compared with 2% nationally. During many consultations over the three years, the research team, led by Guthrie, met with representatives from education, employment, health, community service, police, judiciary and business sectors, as well as young people, parents, grandparents and carers.

Kendal Street, Cowra’s main road. The town’s Aboriginal population is ‘strong and proud’.

“Often communities are asked to spend a bucket of money in a certain amount of time and this was the opposite of that,” Guthrie says. “There was no bucket of money, no promise of funds at the end.”

In the end, Guthrie says, the project’s approach freed people up to think more broadly, “to not think within the constraints of a certain amount of money”.

The research team calculated that the cost of incarcerating Cowra citizens over the past 10 years had amounted to $42m. Community representatives then worked through the crime categories behind that cost, and selected which crimes they believed could or should be dealt with by non-custodial sentences. They came up with eight categories:

1. Traffic offences
2. Public order offences
3. Justice procedure offences
4. Property damage
5. Drug offences
6. Fraud and deception
7. Theft
8. Unlawful entry with intent/burglary, break and enter

Those categories, dubbed as “JR-amenable”, equated to about 50% of crimes committed, offering a justice reinvestment “saving” and potential funding pool of $23m over 10 years.

What to spend the ‘saved’ money on?

Priorities for reinvestment in Cowra included: service mapping (noting the difference between availability and access to services); keeping young people engaged in education at all costs, through after-school, suspension, homework and mentoring programs; employment and skills development; personal safety with an emphasis on housing (emergency, halfway houses, hostels); and community transport.

Guthrie says the research has built a model for other communities to explore and is hopeful it will result in a scheme in Cowra. “I think we’d find it quite painful to have to break the relationship now,” she says. “We’ve built the trust both ways.”

West, the mayor, says he has been pleasantly surprised by the support in the community. He says: “We have young people out there who deserve to be looked after. You don’t have to be young to make mistakes and get it wrong, so it’s nice to be a caring and compassionate and civilised community, to give people a fair go.”

But he says the state government’s response to Cowra’s work has been “frustratingly slow”.

The federal opposition leader, Bill Shorten, highlighted Cowra’s work in his response last week to the latest Closing the Gap report card on Indigenous disadvantage, and the local state Nationals MP, Katrina Hodgkinson, has championed the town’s plan within the NSW government.

But that political support is yet to translate into funding. “I’m personally disappointed the progress has been very slow to date,” West says, adding that Cowra’s proposal is exciting, innovative and backed by broad community support and in-depth research. “The government has nothing to lose and everything to gain.”

Why wouldn’t they be absolutely grabbing it with two hands?

The community wants about $750,000 over three years to appoint a program coordinator and fund early groundwork and evaluation, including liaison with the more established justice reinvestment program in Bourke.

The NSW attorney general’s department says it “has received the application and will arrange a meeting with the Cowra Justice Reinvestment project team to discuss the proposal”.

Hodgkinson is more inclined to blame the “slow wheels” of bureaucracy than government inaction but also admits she is frustrated by the pace of progress. She says a detailed proposal for funding was submitted to the then attorney general, Gabrielle Upton, last October, but she has been making strong representations for nearly a year.

“Why would they be wanting to delay something that’s going to have great community acceptance [and] be a positive for the New South Wales budget overall?” she asked. “I don’t understand. Why wouldn’t they be absolutely grabbing it with two hands and saying ‘let’s get on with it, let’s just do it’?”

Below is an extract from Australia spending more on prisons, policing than other comparable countries: report

The report, by conservative think tank the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), said despite spending an estimated $16 billion a year on our criminal justice system, Australians felt less safe than the citizens of many comparable countries.

Author Andrew Bushnell said Australia's $4 billion prison system had created a "class of persistent criminals" because it was failing to reform inmates.

The report — Australia's Criminal Justice Costs: An International Comparison — said Australian prisons were the fifth most expensive among 29 countries in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The report advocates evidence-based reforms, including locking up only the most dangerous criminals and dealing with non-violent, low-risk offenders by way of home detention, community service, fines, and restitution orders.

Mr Bushnell said police resources should be concentrated in postcodes where crime was most prevalent and more money should be spent on preparing prisoners for the workforce.

"No-one doubts that prisons and police are vital government expenditures. But we are entitled to value for money and we're not getting it," he said.

 Below is an extract from The expensive problem with our prisons: Why spending more doesn't make us feel safer  -  Andrew Bushnell

Alternatives to prison

When you consider Australia has a high level of reoffending, with more than half of released prisoners returning to corrections within two years, it is clear that our increased criminal justice spending is not yielding the results we might rightly expect.

Addressing this underperformance should begin with punishment reform for non-violent, low-risk offenders. Violent criminals must be imprisoned to keep the community safe. But for other offenders, measures like home detention and community service — properly supervised of course — can achieve both retribution and better rehabilitation outcomes.

Reducing reoffending is the best way to reduce incarceration spending and crime. Unemployment is a known correlate of crime, and the ample resources of our prisons should be directed towards job training and literacy and numeracy. Policing has also been shown to be effective in reducing crime, but merely increasing police numbers is not enough. Police resources must be carefully targeted to known sources of crime.

Below is an extract from BOCSAR crime stats boss Don Weatherburn calls for lighter prison sentences

Sarah Hopkins, a managing solicitor for the Aboriginal Legal Service and chair of Just Reinvest NSW, said workers in the justice system had reached "an all-time high level of frustration".

"We have this entrenched public conversation around ... the need to punish and the power of punishment to deter crime. When you look at the evidence, it simply isn't true. Harsh punishment does not deter people from committing crime," she said.

Just Reinvest, a pilot project in Bourke, re-aligns money that would have been spent on the criminal justice system towards education, treatment and other services to tackle the causes of crime.

"With rates of incarceration of indigenous people, it's such an urgent problem and it would be such a development if people could just start embracing a commonsense approach," she said."

She said there was a myth that victims of crime want harsher punishment. "Everybody would agree what victims of crime want is that the crime doesn't happen at all."

The Productivity Commission found 44.3 per cent of adult prisoners released in 2012-13 returned to prison within two years, an increase from 39.9 per cent in 2010-11. In NSW, the average cost per inmate, per day, is $237.34.

A spokeswoman for the NSW government said they would consider the contents of Dr Weatherburn's paper. "Community safety is the government's number one priority and this requires an efficient and effective justice system," she said.

Below is an extract from Back to prison  -  Background Briefing

In NSW, it’s approximately $250. By contrast, the work of Community Restorative Centre ("CRC") was costing an estimated $70 per day. Governments continue to spend much more on locking people up than on the cheaper options that prevent people returning to jail.

Lou Schetzer, from the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, says: ‘It's dumb public policy. It's dumb economics. It's costing the taxpayer an enormous amount for these people to be continually re-offending and re-incarcerated. And we really need to look at a better way of investing the public dollar that encourages that reintegration into society so that people who are released from prison can make that valuable contribution to society.’

The Department of Corrective Services says that under the new system, it will be spending twice as much as it is currently on transition programs. But there are concerns about the efficacy of the new three month programs, whether the pay rates can attract the degree of skilled staff needed for complex clients, and about case loads.

Professor Eileen Baldry from the University of NSW, researches prison populations. Up to half of prisoners have a mental health disorder, and a significant minority—up to 15 per cent—have a cognitive impairment. Professor Baldry has found that there’s significant overlap of those and other issues.

‘Post-release,’ she says, ‘you really need skilled workers, you need a range of connections to the range of service provisions that that person will need, and you need time.’

‘This is not something which is going to be addressed in three months or six months. It’s something that’s going to take a long time.’

There’s a dearth of research in Australia on what works in post-release programs. However, Professor Baldry says overseas research makes clear what model is necessary.

‘[What] we know works is, some people call it “wrap around”, some people call it holistic, some people call it a “fully supported housing project”. That’s the kind of program that is most useful. Because what it does, it addresses either sequentially or at the same time, a lot of those issues.’

‘Work, particularly in the United Kingdom, some in Canada and a bit in the United States, shows very clearly that the recidivism rates from those kinds of programs are very low.’

Don Weatherburn, the director of the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, says governments should be focusing on recidivism above all else.

‘Well it's hugely important,’ he says. ‘We tend to preoccupy ourselves with creating alternatives to prison, forgetting that most people going to prison this year, or last year, are actually going back to prison.’

There’s more leverage, he says, in reducing the prison population by reducing the rate of return to prison, rather than reducing the number of people who go there in the first instance.

Tackling recidivism is not politically popular, however. The last NSW politician who tried was the recently dumped Attorney-General, Greg Smith.

His former media advisor, legal journalist Michael Pelly, says Mr Smith’s interest in keeping people out of jail, where possible, was popular for a while—including with the new Premier, Mike Baird, who was then the treasurer. Prison numbers came down, and jails were closed.

‘The treasurer thought this was tremendous,’ says Mr Pelly. ‘Less money: $70,000 a year for an adult, $250,000 a year for a juvenile.’

‘That adds up to a lot of hospital beds you can provide. And a lot of deficit and infrastructure you can build. And that was all going very well until the pressure went on, and the whole notion that anybody would be seen as soft on crime.’

According to Mr Pelly, the pressure came largely from one source: 2GB’s Ray Hadley.

‘Ray has very solid links to the police and has a very particular view about law and order policy, and his voice is extremely influential.’

‘Each parliamentary office up at Parliament has a radio selection. And I can assure you that from 9 o clock to 12 o'clock, I'd say 80 per cent of parliamentarians had Ray Hadley on the radio and had Ray Hadley telling them for a good four months that Greg Smith is soft on crime, was a raving lunatic, that Barry [O’Farrell] should sack him.’

Gradually, Mr Smith lost the support of his colleagues. Mr Pelly says he was frustrated that amid the noise of the law and order rhetoric, the fact that the Attorney-General was aiming for a safer community was lost.

‘This is the whole folly of the exercise. That it doesn't allow for a nuanced approach.’

‘Don't forget we were a penal colony, founded on the idea that people could get a fresh start. Macquarie emancipated the convicts, made them productive members of society.’

Below is an extract from Australia’s prison system isn’t working. It needs urgent attention -  Jane Fynes-Clinton  Aug 2017



                  "But looking squarely at the bitter reality of our crime statistics, considering alternatives to jail for more offences, spending on correcting instead of warehousing and trusting that our police are keeping us safe are big steps towards a fairer, safer and more just community."



Below is an extract from Queensland drug trafficking convictions up 330 per cent in 10 years: report by Kristian Silva - 14 Feb 2018:

"Mick Palmer, a former Australian Federal Police commissioner, said a "one size fits all" approach did not work when it came to punishing drug traffickers, many of whom were low-level operators and addicts themselves. 
He said law enforcement agencies had enjoyed increased success, but "we can't police our way out of this". 
"No matter how many seizures we make or how many arrests we make for trafficking the unregulated nature of the market and the huge profits that are able to be obtained make it inevitable that the problems are going to continue," he said.