Justice Reform Initiative Media Release, 30 August 2022
Policymakers, business leaders and labour figures gathering at the Jobs and Skills summit this week have been urged to invest in the 50,000-plus Australians who leave prison each year, with training and employment offering an opportunity to address labour shortages and slash recidivism rates.
The Justice Reform Initiative today called upon employers and unions, as well as state and federal governments, to consider the potential of people leaving prison to significantly contribute to the workforce, highlighting the overall economic returns that would flow from increased government investment in community-based transition programs to maximise employment opportunities.
Executive Director of the Justice Reform Initiative Dr Mindy Sotiri said post-release programs that supported people into employment with training and support brought a raft of social and economic benefits.
“Every year thousands of people walk out of prison gates all around Australia and return to their communities,” Dr Sotiri said. “The vast majority of people leaving prison have served short sentences, but fewer than 1 in 4 (22%) have paid employment organised to start within 2 weeks of their release.
“In the United States, Republicans and Democrats have found common ground in working to improve employment prospects for people leaving prison. Large employers are getting behind ‘second chance hiring’ and reporting enormous benefits in employing people who have experienced incarceration including increases in productivity and staff retention.
“With Australia facing a critical shortage of labour in so many areas, there is a clear opportunity to invest in Australians and do more to prepare people leaving prison to participate in the workforce.
“Having a job can be a critical step to breaking cycles of reincarceration – it gives people a sense of purpose and connection, and generates income which helps avoid homelessness.
“There is real need to support people in prison to become job ready. Although there are some focused employment programs in prisons in Australia, most incarcerated people get very little help to prepare them for employment when they walk out the prison gate.
“We urge governments to work with employment service providers and community-based organisations to engage with people in prison so that there are real opportunities for engagement with meaningful work, education and training prior to release.
“Tax incentives for businesses who train and hire people who have been in prison, as occurs in the US, should also be considered.”
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.
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.