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‘University for crime’: Lara Giddings joins push for prison reform in Tasmania

The Mercury 16 September 2020, Amber Wilson

Former premier Lara Giddings, who has joined a national push to reduce incarceration rates, says Risdon Prison is overflowing because the system is failing.

LARA Giddings says she’s infuriated by plans to build a brand new prison in Tasmania’s north, which she says will divert funds into yet another “university for crime”.

The former Premier and Attorney-General said Risdon Prison was overflowing not because the Tasmanian community had become “rotten or bad”, but because a lack of rehabilitation meant the state was condemning criminals “to a life of crime forevermore”.

Ms Giddings, prisoner advocate Greg Barns SC and former Legislative Council president Jim Wilkinson have signed on as Tasmanians patrons to the newly created, national Justice Reform Initiative.

The initiative encourages governments to end their “dangerously high reliance on jails” given the nation’s incarceration rates have nearly tripled since 1984 and have swollen to their highest levels since 1900.

“A lot of our system is about getting retribution for victims. But once you put someone in prison, it’s like a university for crime. You can guarantee they will come back again,” Ms Giddings said.

“It costs us about $110,000 per prisoner to keep them in prison.

“That money could be so much better spent than on a security guard and bricks and mortar.”

Ms Giddings, who supports investment in the northern remand centre, said the statistics showed “we’ve got to look at things differently”.

“I’m just infuriated at the thought of a northern prison,” she said.

“The more we’re locking them up, the more we’re getting them back.

“For what benefit at the end, are we taking money out of our education system and health system?”

Mr Barns said recidivism was high because prisons weren’t resourced to provide proper help for mental health, addiction and behavioural issues.

He said that meant jail was the most expensive of all sentencing options.

“The economics of this don’t make sense. We’re pursuing an alternative that is expensive and has a monumentally-high failure rate.”

Mr Barns also bemoaned campaigns for public sex offender registers and plans to monitor offenders post-release, instead of supporting criminals and helping them safely reintegrate into society.

Mr Wilkinson said a change of focus was needed from punitive to remedial sentencing.

“Punitive sentencing is obviously needed for some, but for a lot you’ve got to question whether going to prison really assists them,” he said.

He also said a northern prison might be helpful because family members could more easily visit inmates, and “that might be a calming influence in itself”.

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