Australian Red Cross is continuing its campaign for a radical shift in the justice system, with an event in Hobart's Government House where speakers called for funds to be redirected away from imprisonment and into crime prevention.
Friday May 6, 2016
Red Cross' 2016 Vulnerability Report Rethinking Justice calls on State, Territory and the Australian Government to put justice reinvestment at the centre of justice policy.
"Justice reinvestment is a proven alternative to what we're currently doing, which is not working, costing us billions and is fundamentally inhumane," says Russell Penman, Red Cross Executive Director, Tasmania.
The report was launched nationally recently and is being followed by a series of events around Australia to continue the focus.
Mr Penman says that in Tasmania, Red Cross is working in a number of programs aimed at directing people away from the prison system. "We have worked in the Risdon Prison for more than 10 years, mentoring offenders and building their skills and capacity so they have some skills and interests to carry them forward post-release," he says.
"We are also running a program in north west Tasmania so people who simply don't have the means to get the 50 hours needed for a learner's divers licence can get those hours, and therefore develop greater confidence, independence and ability to join the workforce.
"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."
Mr Penman says while prisons are a necessary part of society, the data shows that they are neither effective at rehabilitation, nor are they deterring crime. Some 38% of prisoners are reimprisoned within two years of their release.
Red Cross calculates 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. If the rate of incarceration were reduced by 2% a year savings of $2.6 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.
"We know that a disproportionate number of highly disadvantaged people end 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. Many have an acquired brain injury. 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," he says.
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. This reflects the broader disadvantage faced by many Indigenous people, and is another persuasive reason why resources must be diverted to those communities.
The event also heard from University of Tasmania Criminology Professor Rob White who highlighted the urgent need to do more to prevent crime.
For more on the campaign visit http://www.redcross.org.au/justicereinvest.aspx