Program to tackle indigenous over-representation in jail could be a ‘game changer’.
From the SMH: The NSW government and the opposition have backed potentially “game changing” pilot programs to tackle the crisis of Aboriginal over-representation in detention.
Justice reinvestment, a policy to redirect government spending from prisons to community-driven crime prevention programs, has been successfully introduced in parts of the United States and Britain.
In a sign the major parties in NSW may be prepared to move away from populist “tough on crime” policies before the March 28 election, Attorney-General Brad Hazzard said the policy is “potentially a major game changer” while the opposition pledged funds for trial projects.
The state prisoner population is at an historic high of 11,000, latest figures from the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research show. As at December, more than half of the young people and almost a quarter of adults in detention were Aboriginal.
Not-for-profit organisation Just Reinvest NSW says the state spends about $650 a day to keep a young person in detention but it costs a “lot less to educate and … rehabilitate them.”
Sarah Hopkins, the chairwoman of Just Reinvest and a solicitor with the Aboriginal Legal Service, said it was developing an “Australianised” version of justice reinvestment.
The organisation was approached by the Aboriginal community in Bourke to help develop a plan to reduce crime and recidivism among its young people. Bourke is the first of what is expected to be a number of trial sites for justice reinvestment in NSW.
Ms Hopkins said potential “circuit-breaker” programs in Bourke might include “warrant clinics”, where young people with a warrant outstanding for their arrest could meet with a support team rather than handing themselves in to police. The team could help devise a plan – including, for example, school attendance and drug and alcohol programs – that could be taken to court to persuade a magistrate not to impose a custodial sentence.
Just Reinvest hopes to present a “common sense” plan to the government next year with an estimate of the NSW budget savings that would be realised by reducing crime and incarceration rates. The long-term aim is for the savings to be reinvested in the preventive programs, or funds diverted from existing programs to initiatives with better outcomes.
Shadow attorney-general Paul Lynch said NSW Labor would “commit to $4 million over the term of the next government to develop pilot projects in NSW and the establishment of a co-ordinating unit within the government to drive the process.”
“Aboriginal over-representation in prison continues to be a stain upon this state and nation,” he said. “NSW Labor believes that the policy and strategy of justice reinvestment provide a way of responding to this crisis.”
Mr Hazzard said there had been no requests for funding yet “but I’m happy to consider any proposals within the usual funding processes of government”.
He said he had been to Dubbo, Bourke and Brewarrina recently and “heard firsthand how community-owned programs can make a difference”.
“Justice Reinvestment has at its heart a bottom up driven approach where the community and agencies like police, Legal Aid and the courts can all come together with one vision,” he said.