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We’re calling for the adoption of justice reinvestment to reduce the number of Aboriginal people in NSW prisons

We cannot afford to lose another generation of Aboriginal children to the criminal justice system.

The time is right for the NSW government to significantly shift policy and spending away from incarceration towards prevention, early intervention and treatment for Aboriginal children at risk. The time is right for the NSW government to implement justice reinvestment – because it just makes sense.

Our key message to government and the community is that there is a solution – a smarter approach that will reduce crime and create safer, stronger communities. It’s called justice reinvestment.

Specifically, we’re calling for

  1. A commitment to working differently on building safer communities through the implementation of justice reinvestment.
  2. A multi-partisan approach to developing and implementing a justice reinvestment plan for NSW that would:
  • Cross-departmental support, facilitation and implementation of community-driven justice reinvestment initiatives creating new organisational systems and smarter outcomes
Focus on:
  • Increasing community safety
  • Reducing crime
  • Reducing incarceration
  • Reducing recidivism
  • Reducing long-term justice costs
Remove barriers to justice reinvestment including by:
  • Reallocating resources into crime prevention and diversionary programs
  • Increasing greater transparency of, and access to, data for communities
  • Developing a framework of ongoing research, monitoring and evaluation of justice reinvestment.

Justice reinvestment is needed in NSW

Australia’s recent history of ‘lock them up’ law and order policies has resulted in record high prison populations at a cost of $3.7 billion a year.

Particularly affected are Aboriginal people who have been swept up into criminal justice system at astonishing rates.

Aboriginal people are over-represented at every stage of Australia’s criminal justice system.

Aboriginal imprisonment has increased by a staggering 50% in just ten years.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners make up just over a quarter of the total Australian prisoner population whilst making up only 3% of the total population.

Breaking that up into gender, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people account for a quarter of Australia’s male prison population.

Aboriginal women make up around 2 per cent of the female population but a third of Australia’s female prison population.

Across Australia female imprisonment rates have doubled in the last decade and Aboriginal women account for almost the entire increase.

Aboriginal women are also likely to have been victims.

Most people in prison have been there before. It’s one of the reasons imprisonment rates are sky-rocketing.

In NSW the prison population has never been so big, boasting a 17 per cent increase in just two years to reach record highs in December 2015.

NSW has the largest adult prisoner population, accounting for 33% of the total Australian adult population.

This is affecting Aboriginal people the most, and particularly children.

In NSW, over half the children in prison are Aboriginal.

Yet Aboriginal young people make up just 2.2 per cent of the population.

In fact, Aboriginal young people are 28 times more likely to be placed in juvenile prison that non-Aboriginal young people.

In NSW, reoffending is a big problem, with reconviction rates within two years over 70% for Aboriginal children.

And that’s expensive.

The cost of locking up one child in a NSW prison is $652 each day.

NSW taxpayers currently spend over $237,000 each year on every child incarcerated, and costs are increasing.

Just Reinvest NSW believes locking up children is government money poorly spent.

We cannot afford to continue down this path. There is a better way to invest our resources.

Since 2012, Just Reinvest NSW has been working to convince the NSW government to implement justice reinvestment.

Aboriginal leaders and communities support a justice reinvestment approach to reduce the number of Aboriginal children in our prisons and make communities safer.

Just Reinvest NSW is calling on the NSW government to implement justice reinvestment as a matter of urgency.

We cannot afford to continue down this path. There is a better way to invest our resources.

Given the enormous costs of incarceration – social, health and economic – it is clear that a new way of thinking is required to address the poor outcomes from the present system for everyone involved; and in particular to address the unacceptable over representation of Aboriginal children in our prisons.

A long-term, whole of government justice reinvestment approach can address the disproportionate number of Aboriginal young people being caught in a system that fails to rehabilitate, fails to deter and fails to keep communities safer.

Justice reinvestment focuses on why crime is occurring in the first place. When young people offend, there are often other issues at play such as homelessness, child protection, disability, high-risk drug and alcohol use, violence, poverty and a lack of appropriate services.

Justice reinvestment reduces crime, reduces costs and creates better futures, benefiting the entire community.

With the number of prisoners in NSW continuing to rise, it is essential that the government adopt a justice reinvestment approach.

NSW is in a unique position.

We are the home state for two pilot sites for justice reinvestment, in Bourke and Cowra. These sites offer the learning and experience essential for the NSW government to embrace a justice reinvestment approach.

NSW has an opportunity to take the lead in Australia in redirecting spending away from imprisonment and towards early intervention, prevention and diversion in a fiscally and socially responsible way.