National inquiry into Justice Reinvestment
Federal Senator Penny Wright initiated the national inquiry into the “Value of a Justice Reinvestment approach to criminal justice in Australia.” Senator Wright, a lawyer, has been appointed as the Chair to the inquiry. Hearings begin in Perth on April 17 and in Sydney the following week.
Incarceration rates Australia-wide have skyrocketed. The prison population has doubled from 15,000 in 1992 to 31,000 in 2012. Aboriginal incarceration rates keep on rising and they are damaging the fabric of Aboriginal communities. It is argued that Justice Reinvestment can reduce incarceration rates.
Senator Penny Wright is the Australian Greens spokesperson on Legal Affairs. She said “Justice Reinvestment is something I have had a long term interest in.”
“Indigenous detention rates are both a symptom and a cause of extreme disadvantage. When it comes to young Indigenous people a whole generation is at risk, to the detriment of their communities and of all of us,” said Senator Wright.
“Those who go in to prison almost inevitably come out again back to their communities and the circumstances that led to their offending. Without addressing those factors, the cycle is destined to be repeated. Communities pay the price in more ways than one.”
“Justice reinvestment is about redirecting or reinvesting resources away from prisons into programs and strategies that are proven to prevent crime from occurring in the first place. It is an old idea with a new name: the idea that prevention is better than cure.”
The terms of reference of the inquiry will seek to clarify the drivers behind the past 30 years of growth in the Australian imprisonment rate, the economic and social costs of imprisonment, the over-representation of disadvantaged groups within Australian prisons, the cost and availability and effectiveness of alternatives to imprisonment – including prevention, early intervention, diversionary and rehabilitation measures. There will be a whole-of-the-nation methodology approach as to how to implement Justice Reinvestment.
In the end it comes down to the Federal Government and the action they will undertake to encourage the adoption of Justice Reinvestment policies into State and Territory jurisdictions.
The inquiry will delve into the detail of incarceration and the high rates this nation endures. It will inquire into Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and disadvantaged peoples in our prisons and into prisoners experiencing mental ill health, cognitive disability and hearing loss.
Submissions to the inquiry have been lodged by many Aboriginal organisations including the National Congress of First Peoples, Aboriginal Family legal units from Central Australia to Victoria, from the New South Wales Reconciliation Council, from the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency, from ANTAR and NATSILS and many others.
Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda said Justice Reinvestment could reduce the numbers of Aboriginal peoples before the criminal justice system. He said Justice Reinvestment could reorient the system to early intervention, diversion and whole-of-community support instead of placing “non-serious offenders” in prison.
“We must act now before we lose another generation to the criminal justice system.”
Senator Wright told The Stringer that 118 submissions have been received – including submissions from the Australian Red Cross, Australian Human Rights Commission, White Ribbon and St Vincent de Pauls.
The Stringer has read the submissions from Reinvest NSW and the Australian Red Cross, these two submissions are substantive.
Senator Penny Wright
Senator Wright said there are three elements to Justice Reinvestment. “Preventing crime by strengthening the communities where it tends to occur, diverting people away from jail by using other forms of punishment to avoid the ‘university of crime’ effect and preventing re-offending through effective rehabilitation, parole supervision and after jail support.”
“It is an evidence-based approach that has worked in the United States with spectacular results. Texas is a great example of the success of Justice Reinvestment. After implementing Justice Reinvestment in 2006, they closed the 1,100 bed State prison in 2011 and recently recorded the lowest violent crime rate in 30 years, saving $1 billion.”
“Now 16 US States have taken up or are seriously investigating Justice Reinvestment.”
“The Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee will investigate growing imprisonment rates and the benefits of implementing a Justice Reinvestment approach across Australia. It will also examine the longstanding over-representation of Indigenous Australian in the criminal justice system,” said Senator Wright.
Senator Wright said that she hopes this inquiry can drive the changes necessary to bring together a whole-of-government approach to make the difference to peoples crying out for help and to rise from disadvantage and despair