My convict ancestor would be chucking a wry grin at the current contest in NSW to see which party is willing to jail the most people. Last night’s Four Corners, The Road to Return, certainly took the debate into more thoughtful territory.
MATTHEW CARNEY: Australia is undergoing a prison boom – one fuelled by the public’s fear of crime, and politicians’ pledges to get tougher.
CLARE MARTIN, NT CHIEF MINISTER: The Territory needs a new direction – a new direction that’s tough.
MIKE RANN, SA PREMIER: If people on the parole board resign because they think our policies are too tough, then we’ll replace them with someone tougher.
PETER BEATTIE, QLD PREMIER: These are not only the toughest laws in Australia.
PETER DEBNAM, NSW OPPOSITION LEADER: People stop me in the streets, and they say, “Please, get the Government to be tougher on these thugs.”
MORRIS PREMIER [sic: ==> IEMMA], NSW PREMIER: A tough, uncompromising approach to cracking down on illegal activity.
MATTHEW CARNEY: In the last decade, Australia’s prison population has nearly doubled. Each year, more than 44,000 people churn through the nation’s prisons – that’s 800 people a week released back onto the streets.
ROBERT MERCIECA: Where are you releasing these people back to? The drugs, the drink, the hopelessness.
SCOTT: You get to the stage where you just throw your paperwork up in the air, and you go off your head, and eventually they go, “Oh, lock him up.”
MATTHEW CARNEY: Tonight, Four Corners investigates what’s being done to stop prisoners returning to crime – a cycle that’s costing millions, and traumatising communities…
A side interest here in Surry Hills was to see so many places I am familiar with, and to see people, one or two of whom I recognised, from our very own mean streets. It appears that these things are better ordered in Victoria.
MATTHEW CARNEY: New South Wales has the biggest prison population in the country, and it costs $63,000 a year to keep a person inside. Corrective Services says it does spend some of that money on rehabilitation. No-one from Corrective Services would appear on this program to explain their position. But a damning Auditor-General’s report last May criticised how few prisoners were doing rehabilitation programs inside jail. The report concluded New South Wales Corrective Services was doing very little to rehabilitate and reintegrate prisoners back into the community.
Victoria takes a different approach. Per capita, it has about half the prison population of New South Wales, and this is partly because the government funds more post-release programs for prisoners.
KELVIN ANDERSON, COMMISSIONER, CORRECTIONS VICTORIA: What we’ve got is about three or four layers of security, including the outside wall, which really is a pretty impressive barrier.
MATTHEW CARNEY: Kelvin Anderson is in charge of prisons in Victoria, and believes post-release support has reduced crime rates.
KELVIN ANDERSON, COMMISSIONER, CORRECTIONS VICTORIA: There is the issue of institutionalisation. People simply lose hope, and develop this idea that imprisonment will become part of their life. And indeed, that’s our research. Our research says the deeper you get into the criminal justice system, and the more frequently you get into that criminal justice system, the more likely you are to come back to it. So it’s about breaking that cycle. You know, if you want to reduce offending, then you’ve got to break that cycle, and hence the importance of transitional programs.
MATTHEW CARNEY: About five years ago, the Victorian Government concluded more investment in post-release programs would save public money and make communities safer. The approach has paid off. For the last four years, Victoria’s recidivism rates have been falling.
KELVIN ANDERSON, COMMISSIONER, CORRECTIONS VICTORIA: We can show a net benefit. In Victoria, the average cost of imprisonment is about $75,000 per prisoner per year. So that’s a terrific amount of money. The programs we’re running in transition run somewhere between 5,000 to 10,000 per placement per year. Now, that – just on a straight cost benefit analysis, that’s good value. However, when you add to that the community isn’t traumatised by further offending, so reduced offending rates, reduced drain on courts et cetera, I think there’s a tremendous benefit to be had by this relatively small investment up front.