Sunday, January 22, 2017 2:00pm
This article by Tony Rossi was published on the Law Society of South Australia website and in Points Of Law in the Adelaide Advertiser on the 16th January, 2017
The Government has committed to a plan to reduce reoffending by 10 per cent by 2020.
But why 10 per cent? And why by 2020?
This has yet to be explained, as it was only after Correctional Services Minister Peter Malinauskas announced this “ambitious new strategy” that a Strategic Policy Panel was convened to provide a report detailing how to achieve that specific target.
The report produced by the Panel contains some sobering statistics. Over the past 12 years the prisoner population has swollen by some 67 per cent. The prisons in this State are currently accommodating around 3,000 prisoners. Almost half of all offenders in South Australia return to correctional services, either through community corrections or prisons, within two years. Clearly, imprisonment alone is not a sufficient deterrent, in many cases, to prevent reoffending.
In a paper produced by the Minister at the time of launching his strategy, he acknowledged the reality that all but a few prisoners will be released back into the community and there needed to be greater emphasis on measures that will reduce the risk of that prisoner offending again.
The Minister also acknowledged that the previous policy to simply “rack, pack and stack” prisoners has had adverse social and economic consequences.
The Panel has advanced six strategies to achieve the pre-set target. The strategies confirm what we have known to be needed for many years but has simply not been implemented. That is, developing and putting in place appropriate rehabilitation programs, both within and without prison and having regard to the individual needs of each prisoner, with an emphasis upon reintegrating the prisoner into the family and general community. Importantly, this should include prison industries, social ventures and partnerships with the local business sector.
Significantly, the Panel report does not identify specifically how these strategies are to be put into effect and nor does the Panel consider, in its report, the cost of implementing what is needed.
There is no indication of the budget or allocation of funds. To properly implement the strategies there needs to be an appropriate financial commitment. That is the real challenge for the Minister and the Government.
Whilst the implementation of the strategies will involve substantial expense, the Minster acknowledges that it costs nearly $100,000 per year to keep a prisoner incarcerated in a secure facility.
Too often we see governments announce an “ambitious new strategy”, or commission a report, and then fail to effectively implement recommendations.
The Commonwealth Government recently announced a Law Reform Commission Inquiry into the incarceration rate of indigenous Australians. This follows numerous reports on the indigenous offending and imprisonment dating back to at least the 1970s, where consistent recommendations have failed to be implemented.
Just commissioning a report does not address the problem. Reports only identify issues and strategies to address them.
The Government’s commitment to reducing re-offending is welcomed. We will watch with interest its implementation of the strategies and their outcome.
Tony Rossi - PRESIDENT, LSSA