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Media Release: Productivity Commission should expand its scope for smarter criminal justice and stronger communities

Justice Reform Initiative Media Release, 18 October 2021

The Justice Reform Initiative has welcomed the Productivity Commission’s announcement of its work examining alternatives to prison policy, while urging the respected body to go further and consider the benefits of community-led interventions to stop people becoming trapped in the “revolving door” of the criminal justice system.

With Australia’s imprisonment rate at record levels, research soon to be released by the Commission will explore alternatives to incarceration which would deliver better value for taxpayers.

Justice Reform Initiative executive director Mindy Sotiri said the work of the Commission in outlining the costs of incarceration, the ineffectiveness of incarceration, and the need to look at alternatives to incarceration for the majority of people we lock up was critical.

However, she also noted the importance of looking at alternatives to imprisonment that exist outside of the justice system. This includes community led programs that are focused on housing, employment, mental health, disabilities, social connection, and culturally safe programs that are led by First Nations communities. Dr Sotiri pointed out that these kinds of programs provide genuine opportunities for people to re-build lives in the community.

“There is strong evidence showing high imprisonment rates do not reduce crime levels, and we are pleased the Productivity Commission has noted that today,” Dr Sotiri said. “Putting more people in prison does not make communities safer – the more time someone spends in prison, the more likely it is that they will return to prison.

“There is a need however to ensure we broaden our exploration beyond alternatives like home-detention that are part of the existing Correctional system. Too often people are 'managed' in justice system settings, rather than being supported in the community.

“We need to draw on the evidence about 'what works' in community-led programs that address the real social and economic drivers of imprisonment.  And we need to stop people entering the ‘revolving door’ of our criminal justice system by making real investments in community programs and targeted supports in areas like mental health, housing and employment.

“As the Productivity Commission notes, prisons are expensive, costing Australian taxpayers $5.2 billion in 2019‑20 - more than $330 per prisoner per day. This is money which could be better spent on community-based interventions which work to prevent justice system involvement, by strengthening families and communities.” 

The Justice Reform Initiative is a multi-partisan alliance supported by more than 100 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.

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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 such as Change the Record 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.

Media contact: Pia Akerman 0412 346 746




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