Justice Reform Initiative Media Release, 20 October 2022
The Justice Reform Initiative welcomes the ACT Government’s drug decriminalisation laws passed today as an important step towards an evidence-based criminal justice system, calling on other jurisdictions to similarly adopt policies to reduce the number of people coming into contact with the justice system when they need health supports in the community.
Following the Legislative Assembly voting on the Drugs of Dependence Bill to decriminalise small amounts of drugs, Justice Reform Initiative Executive Director Dr Mindy Sotiri said Australia had lagged behind the rest of the world in sticking to a failed ‘tough on crime’ approach to drugs.
“When people get drawn into the criminal justice system, it can kickstart a vicious cycle with severe consequences for their employment, their family, housing, education and health,” Dr Sotiri said. “We need to look at the evidence to find ways to divert people from the system, and low-level drug use is clearly a place to start.
“Australia needs to join the rest of the world in recognizing drug dependency is a health issue. We cannot ‘solve’ drug problems in our society by locking people up at huge expense – it just doesn’t work.
“This Bill removes the need for people caught with small amounts of certain common drugs to be drawn into the criminal justice system, making it a civil offence and allowing police to issue a fine instead.
“Coupled with investment in treatment and support services, this policy can stop drugs becoming an entry point into repeated contact with the criminal justice system. There’s overwhelming evidence that imprisonment is itself 'criminogenic', making it more likely for people to commit crime, and more likely to return to prison again.
“We commend the ACT Government for its leadership on this issue and call on other states and territories to follow the evidence by approaching drug use as a public health issue instead of a matter for the criminal justice system.”
The Justice Reform Initiative is a multi-partisan alliance supported by more than 120 of our most eminent Australians, including two former Governors-General, former Members of Parliament from all sides of politics, academics, respected Aboriginal leaders, senior former judges, including High Court judges, and others who have added their voices to end Australia’s dangerously high reliance on jails.
The Initiative is calling for governments around Australia to move away from an entrenched reliance on incarceration as the mainstay of the criminal justice system and adopt an evidence-based approach to deliver better results for taxpayers, communities and people in the criminal justice system.
For more information and a list of patrons of the Justice Reform Initiative visit https://www.justicereforminitiative.org.au/.
Media contact: Pia Akerman 0412 346 746
The Initiative respectfully acknowledges and supports the current and longstanding efforts of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to reduce the numbers of Indigenous people incarcerated in Australia and, importantly, the leadership role which Indigenous-led organisations continue to play on this issue. We also acknowledge the work of many other individuals and organisations seeking change, such as those focused on the rate of imprisonment for women, people with mental health issues, people with disability and others.