• search

What is justice reinvestment?

Justice reinvestment reduces imprisonment rates while making communities safer.

Evidence shows strategic community-driven investment in localised early intervention, prevention and diversionary solutions can reduce crime, build local capacity and strengthen local communities.

If there’s less crime, there’s less imprisonment.

Justice reinvestment reallocates taxpayer dollars from prisons and invests them back into communities where it’s needed most.

It’s about investing locally where crime is occurring to address the particular problems facing individuals and communities.

Because a life inside is not the life you would wish for any child.

How does justice reinvestment work?

Justice reinvestment is a data-driven approach to improve public safety, reduce corrections and related criminal justice spending, and reinvest savings in strategies that can reduce crime and strengthen communities.

Justice reinvestment begins with data

Where is crime occurring? Research tell us that a large proportion of offenders come from a small number of disadvantaged communities. Justice reinvestment uses data to identify communities with a high concentration of offenders.

Why crime is occurring? The underlying causes of crime are varied and complex. Research demonstrates that individuals who come into contact with the criminal justice system are highly likely to experience multiple and severe social and economic disadvantage including poverty and inter-generational trauma. Justice reinvestment provides communities with the power and resources to support people tackling challenging circumstances through long-term measures tailored to local needs that address the underlying drivers of crime.

What data needs to be collected? Justice reinvestment maps entire communities where crime is occurring to understand the local cost of incarceration, how much money is being spent across sectors in service provision, and what outcomes are being achieved. Data is collected and assessed to identify the particular problems facing those communities.

Justice reinvestment is place based

Place-based initiatives involve all levels of government and the local community in genuine partnerships characterised by networks, collaboration, community engagement and flexibility. Local community partnerships devise, implement and evaluate justice reinvestment initiatives, supported by community engagement and participation mechanisms, and local community capacity is enhanced to identify and tackle their own challenges with sufficient time and resources being allocated over the long term.

In Australia, justice reinvestment to date is being driven at a grassroots level by local communities, and centralised governments are being challenged to better coordinate their responses to local community needs and priorities, and to take advantage of community strengths and capacity.

Justice reinvestment is supported by a centralised strategic body

An independent centralised bipartisan not-for-profit body is critical to the success of justice reinvestment. A centralised body with a clear mandate works across departments and monitors and quantifies social and economic outcomes of justice reinvestment initiatives. The centralised body also supports local governing structures by collecting data, assisting in strategy development and building community capacity.

Justice reinvestment is fiscally sound

Justice reinvestment initiatives must offer long-term costs efficiency. A fiscally sound approach quantifies the current costs at different stages in the criminal justice system, particularly incarceration costs but also the costs of human services that support the system. Cost benefit ratios and economic modelling is then conducted for alternative service and program models to ensure the lowest risk and highest benefit programs are identified. Community consultation builds trust and ensures the right programs are implemented. Spending is tracked and there is a commitment to long term funding. The fiscal framework incentivises communities to make a commitment to divert people from the criminal justice system and attract government reinvestment.

Justice reinvestment is targeted to reducing offending and imprisonment
Justice reinvestment is targeted to increasing community safety

Justice reinvestment diverts a portion of the funds spent on incarceration to communities where there is a high concentration of young offenders. The money that would have been spent on custodial services is diverted into early intervention, crime prevention and diversionary programs that address the causes of crime in these communities, creating savings in the criminal justice system which can be tracked and reinvested in communities. Justice reinvestment realigns taxpayers’ dollars from incarceration to investment in communities, benefiting entire communities, not just individuals.

What are the challenges of adopting justice reinvestment?

Requires a whole of government approach

Justice reinvestment necessitates that multiple government departments work together in a whole of government approach. Joint key performance indicators and budget governance would need to be considered. Memorandums of Understanding will need to be created across departments.

Requires whole of community support

Successful justice reinvestment approaches need the backing and support of the whole community, including the media. The clear facts of justice reinvestment should be highlighted, including reduced victim rates and the consequent cost effectiveness and benefits to the economy.

Trust needs to be built with communities

Justice reinvestment applies a strength-based approach to communities and recognises communities understand their problems and have solutions to those problems. Governments will need to honour and strengthen existing local governing structures, hear local priorities, and allow time for trust to build. Networking, collaboration, community engagement and flexibility will demonstrate the desire for a genuine partnership. It is vital that trust between government and communities is built prior to any consultation to ensure communities engage with justice reinvestment consultation. Governments need to also be aware of consultation fatigue.

Access to data

There will be data collection and recording deficits, and the need for information sharing. The benefits of adopting justice reinvestment to address current data deficits include:

  • Understanding the size and scope of the challenge in a justice reinvestment appropriate community
  • Evaluating fiscal and social benefits
  • Breaking down information silos resulting from data held by individual government line agencies
  • Improving and identifying localised data collection.

Geographical considerations

The unique geographical landscape of NSW must be considered when designing and implementing justice reinvestment strategies. Many populated areas are located in regional and remote regions with scarce service provision and hundreds of kilometres between services. In these regions it is essential that sufficient funding for travel is built into justice reinvestment budgets and that communities are equipped with transportation in order to access services.

Evidence based programs

Implemented programs and services need to be developed using an evidence base with the consultation of criminologists, forensic mental health clinicians and academics, or others with training or experience in the area.

Bipartisan agreement ensuring long-term commitment

To ensure that trust can be built with communities long-term commitment to the implementation of programs and services is required. Due to the implementation of programs in coloration with the electoral cycle at best many programs receive between only one and four years of funding. These funding cycles inhibit the building of trust with communities, increase the program staff attrition rate and ultimately reduce the efficiency of the programs resulting in poor cost efficiency.

What are the benefits of adopting justice reinvestment?

  • Increased cost effectiveness and benefits to the economy
  • Reduced levels of crime (severity and occurrence)
  • Reduced number of victims
  • Reduced number of people in prison
  • Reduced pattern of child prisoners progressing to become adult prisoners
  • Reduction in the negative impacts of imprisonment in the lives of young people, families and communities
  • Strengthened community governing and decision making
  • Increased community capacity to solve social challenges
  • Increased focus on evidence-based practice
  • Safer communities

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 more than $815 million per year in NSW alone.

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 and young people in prison are Aboriginal.

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

In fact, Aboriginal young people are 21 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 $1,344 each day.

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

Just Reinvest NSW believes locking up children and young people 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 and young people 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 and young people in our prisons.

A long-term, whole of government justice reinvestment approach can address the disproportionate number of Aboriginal children and 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.