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Justice Reform Group believes new prisons are costly, not effective and unnecessary

By Isabel Bird, The Examiner, 24 April 2021

According to a report by the newly formed Justice Reform Initiative, the millions of dollars being spent on prisons in Tasmania could be redirected to mental health programs and housing initiatives to help keep people out of prison.

The report states that every prisoner in Tasmania costs the state $122,000 every year, which is the second highest prisoner spend in Australia, and finds that $93 million is spent on the prison system annually.

Speaking on behalf of leading Tasmanian academics and several other state-based multi partisan members of the Initiative, former Labor Premier Lara Giddings, said it was disappointing to see that the solution to crime in Tasmania was to build more prison walls.

She said instead of investing in a new northern prison and then having all the recurrent costs associated with such infrastructure, the answer was to reallocate those funds into services that make a difference.

"We are urging all political parties to look at the work of the Justice Reform Initiative," Ms Giddings said.

"Don't build more bricks and mortar, put it into programs, reinvest that $122,000 we are spending on every prisoner, every year, and invest that, for example, into a probational service officer who can rehabilitate that person in the community," she said.

"Let's invest that into mental health services that can help that person not deteriorate so that they don't commit crimes, let's invest in drug and alcohol services."

Former Greens senator Christine Milne said there was a lack of understanding that mental health and homelessness were the drivers of people going to prison, and they were the drivers of people going back to prison.

Up to 87 per cent of prisoners had existing mental health conditions and 82 per cent had a disability.

The report said "jailing is failing", that prison is expensive, and increases the likelihood of continued links to the criminal justice system.

"Investing in housing, social support, access to drug and alcohol treatment, mental health and disability support would be a much smarter way to reduce crime.

"There are significant long-term savings to be made by pursuing approaches which do not rely on prison, and and are much more likely to reduce recidivism."

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