Justice, Sentencing and Prison Reform - Private Members Statement

Today I will speak about an issue of concern to my constituents, and I share that concern. I refer to reform of prison laws, policies and programs and for a restorative, rehabilitative justice system that achieves positive outcomes for the community and for offenders and their families. There has been unprecedented public debate recently about how New South Wales legislation and policy deals with crime, with reputable organisations such as the Community Justice Coalition and the Council of Social Service of New South Wales arguing for a move to reducing recidivism. Judge Marien, President of the Children's Court, has called for implementation of the Noetic Report to address the underlying issues that cause juveniles to commit crime, rather than simply to continue to imprison young people. I commend the Government for its review of the Bail Act following serious concerns being raised about increased numbers of juveniles in prison.

Simply putting more people in prison has been standard practice in New South Wales and the statistics are alarming. The number of prisoners in this State has increased by 32 per cent since 1999 despite stable and falling crime rates. New South Wales has more than 11,000 prisoners—twice as many as Victoria and the third highest recidivism rate in Australia. While imprisonment has a role in crime control and punishment, there are also social and economic costs such as family breakdown. I have heard many reports about ex-prisoners released to homelessness in the inner city, with no job, no home, no income and few prospects. It is not easy to get back on your feet from there.

It costs $210.50 a day or nearly $77,000 a year to keep someone in prison, and New South Wales spends more than $966 million on custodial services. We could perhaps spend this amount more wisely and get better outcomes. Very little is spent on early intervention or diversion from crime. Short-term and remand prisoners do not get rehabilitation or treatment and three-quarters of juvenile detainees get no help to make their way out of a crime career. The Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research says that a 10 per cent drop in the number of prisoners returning to prison would save more than $28 million each year. This money could be invested in diversion, rehabilitation and alternatives to imprisonment, and it could be targeted towards disadvantaged communities where imprisonment rates are high. While the previous Government said that it would reduce re-offending by 10 per cent by 2016, there are few programs, little funding and little progress. I call upon the new Government to invest more in services that help ex-prisoners to get back on their feet, into employment and housing, rather than back in prison.

Nearly 45 per cent of New South Wales prisoners have at least one mental illness and prisons now act as asylums. We should use targeted services such as the Mental Health Court in Hobart, which integrates treatment with sentencing and has significantly reduced reoffending. Many prisoners have a history of substance abuse and we need programs that break the nexus between drug addiction and crime, such as drug courts and Magistrates Early Referral into Treatment Program that has successfully reduced re-offending amongst drug offenders. Specialist programs are needed for the significant proportion of prisoners who have a disability, particularly an intellectual disability, which could be one-third of those attending court. We need programs targeting women, Indigenous people and some ethnic communities that are at risk for specific crimes. Community services such as Community Restorative Centre Justice Support, Tribal Warrior, Babana Men's Group and the Women in Prison Advocacy Network must be expanded. Diversionary programs like the Intensive Supervision program have reduced offending by 60 per cent. Circle Sentencing and the Bail Assistance Line have also been successful. These initiatives and pilots must be extended across New South Wales.

Other countries have applied a justice reinvestment approach, where a share of public spending on imprisonment is diverted back into initiatives that reduce offending. In Oregon in the United States of America this resulted in a 72 per cent drop in juvenile incarceration. In Texas reinvestment of $241 million in treatment and post-release programs stopped the prison population growing for the first time in decades. New York's Re-integrative Sentencing, which focuses on education, job training and substance abuse treatment, reduced prison numbers by 20 per cent with no increase in crime. The United Kingdom has the Rehabilitation Revolution, which is aimed to reduce crime and recidivism, and has trialled integrated offender management approaches like the Diamond Initiative.

I call on the Government to increase investment into early intervention through support services, therapeutic help and local capacity building to divert people from the criminal justice system and to expand diversion and rehabilitation programs to reduce reoffending, to reduce prisons expenditure and to integrate ex-offenders back into communities. This approach would reduce community impacts and give hope that people in the criminal justice system can make their way out and reintegrate into the community.