Urgent Call for Reform of Justice System
31 March 2016 at 8:56 pm
A new research report from leading Not for Profit aid agency Australian Red Cross has called for a radical shift in the justice system, redirecting funds away from imprisonment and into crime prevention.
The Australian Red Cross 2016 Vulnerability Report Rethinking Justice called on all governments in Australia to put justice reinvestment at the centre of justice policy.
“Justice reinvestment is a cost-effective alternative to what we’re currently doing, which is not working, costing us billions and is fundamentally inhumane,” newly appointed Red Cross Chief Executive Officer Judy Slatyer said.
“Justice reinvestment means money is diverted from building and running more and more prisons into strengthening disadvantaged communities to address the issues that lead to criminal behaviour in the first place.
“The number of people in prison has doubled in the last 20 years. Overcrowded prisons are costing us $3.4 billion a year to run. So it makes sense to reduce the flow into prisons, rather than building more. This means redirecting spending to tackle the underlying causes of crime including poor mental health, poor education and employment prospects, homelessness, domestic violence and alcohol and other drug abuse.”
The report has made five recommendations, including that all governments jointly commit to justice reinvestment through the Council of Australian Governments; that they fund justice reinvestment trials in areas of high rates of crime; and they commit to a 10 per cent reduction in adult imprisonment rates over the next 10 years, with a 50 per cent reduction target for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples within five years.
Slatyer said a disproportionate number of highly disadvantaged people ended up in prison.
“It’s estimated prisoners are up to three times more likely to have mental illness and up to 15 times more likely to have a psychotic disorder. Another study has found 42 per cent of male prisoners and 33 per cent of female prisoners have an acquired brain injury,” she said.
“Crime is higher in more disadvantaged postcodes, where there’s entrenched poverty, segregation and residential instability. So people go into prison disadvantaged and they come out of prison even more disadvantaged. And this also hits innocent families and communities. When a child loses a parent to the prison system this becomes an intergenerational problem.
Slatyer said the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in prisons must be urgently tackled.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are being incarcerated at rates 13 times greater than non-Indigenous people.There has been an extraordinary recent growth in prisoner numbers among Indigenous people of 88 per cent since 2004,” she said.
“This reflects the broader disadvantage faced by many Indigenous people, and is another persuasive reason why resources must be diverted to those communities if we are to turn around these shameful trends.”
She said while prisons were a necessary part of society, the data showed that they were neither effective at rehabilitation, nor were they deterring crime.
“Of the 42,239 people released from Australian prisons in 2013/14 almost 60 per cent had previously been released from prison – only to return,” she said.
“Some 38 per cent of prisoners are re-imprisoned within two years of their release. By any measure that’s not a good return on an investment.”
Red Cross calculated that substantial funds could be freed up by justice reinvestment.
“If the rate of incarceration were simply held at current levels through justice reinvestment and other reforms, savings of $1.2 billion would be generated over five years,” the report said.
“If the rate of incarceration were reduced by 2 per cent a year savings of $2.3 billion could be made over five years. Part of these savings could be invested in the social and health services that would, over time, address many of the underlying causes of crime.”