Building Communities, Not Prisons
While crime rates are going down, incarceration rates are going up. If we can make policing more effective, reduce rates of bail, and address social issues like unemployment, poverty and family trauma, particularly among young offenders, we can begin to turn this trend around.
By building communities, not prisons, we can act to ensure that we support individuals to break the criminal justice cycle, and keep our community safe.
As imprisonment rates rise, the challenges of housing a growing number of detainees are only going to increase, and the Greens don’t believe we can—in good conscience—maintain the status quo. That's where Justice Reinvestment comes in.
World leading justice targets to reduce reoffending rates
In the ACT, as an outcome of our Parliamentary Agreement in 2016, we committed to an ambitious target of reducing recidivism (reoffending) rates by 25% by 2025.
Meeting this target is a challenge. It means thinking differently about how we use imprisonment - is it about punishment, public safety or rehabilitation? - and how we make it safe and supportive for detainees, their families and the community.
We cannot keep building larger and larger prisons in the hope that this will simply deal with the issue of rising imprisonment rates.
That’s where Justice Reinvestment comes in. Our Justice Reinvestment program, 'Building Communities, Not Prisons', includes:
- Channelling funds away from more prison beds and towards reducing the need for those beds.
In taking the decision not to expand the jail, the ACT Government has affirmed the intertwined goals of stemming the flow of people into the prison and reducing the trauma and costs of crime to the whole community.
- Improving rehabilitation options for detainees at the Alexander Maconochie Centre (AMC)
This includes the construction of a purpose built reintegration centre that will support inmates in transitioning back to the community. The centre will provide trauma and relationship counselling, alcohol, tobacco and other drug rehab, skills and job training, and other assistance to detainees in building their connections to community as they exit the criminal justice system. Planning and design for the centre is underway.
- Providing more supported housing options for people on bail and exiting detention
Unstable accommodation is a major factor in reoffending. An average of one in five detainees say they have experienced this in the four weeks leading up to their time in prison. Living without a secure lease, staying temporarily with friends or family or in short-term transitional housing, can contribute to a range of issues that impact offending behaviour.
This lack of stable housing is also directly linked to decisions by courts and releasing authorities to refuse to grant conditional liberty on bail or parole. Lack of safe, stable accommodation is especially challenging for women and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander detainees.
A comprehensive justice housing program is under development, beginning with supported accommodation for men on bail.
- Providing early support for people living with a mental illness or disability
Research indicates that almost 50% of adult detainees have some type of mental illness, acquired brain injury or intellectual disability. Such illness or disability can compromise a person’s understanding of the impacts of their crimes on others, and increase the likelihood that they will come in contact with the justice system.
Our Justice Reinvestment approach provides up to eighteen months of case management support for referred detainees with diagnosed mental illness or disability as they exit detention, helping them with health, resilience and social connection.
The ACT is working to develop a Disability Justice Strategy which will include a range of actions and supports aimed at reducing the contact that people with disability have with the criminal justice system.
- Building more pathways for safe and sustainable bail
We need more options that will allow release on bail with effective conditions for people who do not represent a serious risk of offending and are not a risk to community safety.
While there have been improvements in recent years, there can be significant delays in sentence hearings, at times leading to poor outcomes in the programs and rehabilitation options that can be offered.
As a national average, over one-third of detainees are being held on remand awaiting trial or sentencing.
- Reducing the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the ACT’s prison system
Funding has been put in place for Yarrabi Bamirr, a partnership between Winnunga Community Health Service, the Aboriginal Legal Service and Women’s Legal Centre that provides intensive support to individuals and families with complex needs.
Funding is also in place for new Indigenous Liaison Officers within the Victims of Crime Commission.
Other initiatives include expanded circle sentencing options for juvenile offenders and the introduction of Winnunga’s model of care in the AMC.
- Reducing the growing rates of women in the ACT’s prison system
Too many women in prison are survivors of physical and sexual violence and many struggle with housing insecurity, poverty, mental illness, disability and the effects of trauma. There are ways to respond to women’s offending that are cheaper and more effective than imprisonment, and address the root causes of offending.
The flow-on effects for incarcerated women, their families and particularly their children are immense,not only during the prison sentence, but for lifetime impacts, and we need to reverse the trend of increasing incarceration.
Justice Reinvestment will fund research to identify key drivers and develop programs that meet the needs of female offenders in gender responsive and culturally responsive ways.
- A focus on rehabilitation through ‘real world skills’ development
Skills development has been a focus since 2012, and now includes horticulture programs, a bakery and a waste recycling program. The development of innovative ways to expand these programs will continue, and with the launch of the reintegration centre, an increased number of detainees will become eligible for supervised day-release into gainful employment or traineeships.
- Further initiatives
These include creating further community building capabilities, expanding the ACT Bail Support Program, establishing a world-class research team dedicated to reducing recidivism, and boosting staff capacity at the AMC to strengthen the Centre’s rehabilitation focus.
Alcohol and Drug Court
The ACT’s Drug and Alcohol Court was created as a result of a 2016 Greens initiative and subsequent commitment in the Parliamentary Agreement. The Court commenced hearing cases in December 2019, and sees those with serious drug and alcohol issues who have been charged with some criminal offences undertake treatment for their drug and alcohol use.
By addressing a person's addictions, we're working to keep our community safe by preventing drug-related crime and ending the prison cycle.