They’re lowering the bars
CONVICTED criminals will be allowed to walk free under a radical Labor plan aimed at reducing the soaring number of prisoners in Queensland jails.
Deputy Premier Jackie Trad has tasked the Productivity Commission with providing options that would reduce imprisonment and recidivism rates and improve community outcomes.
In a move criticised by crime victim advocates, the commission will look at whether greater use of community supervision is an alternative to prison.
The report into “recidivism and benefits of jail’’ comes as the prison population soared by 50 per cent in Queensland over the past five years.
It costs Queensland taxpayers $107,000 a year to keep a person in jail, and the Corrective Services Commission budget topped $1 billion for the first time last year.
The Productivity Commission report, to be presented to Cabinet next year, will look at whether greater use of community supervision is a better alternative to prison, particularly for nonviolent offenders.
Between 2011 and 2016, imprisonment for nonviolent of- fences rose by 50 per cent in Queensland, compared to 39 per cent for violent offences.
The paper says academics from Swinburne and Deakin universities propose that technological incarceration (realtime monitoring and remote immobilisation) could result in the total closure of all but a fraction of existing prisons.
It says even with rapidly growing expenditure, prison capacity had not kept pace with the prison population.
On judicial sentencing, Labor will look at broadening options such as home detention and “restorative justice’’, where a safe and structured encounter occurs between the victim and the offender, “providing an opportunity to repair the harm caused by the offending”.
The terms of reference open the door for significant reform.
“The growth of prisoner numbers has major social and economic implications,’’ the terms of reference say. “It also has significant financial implications for government. Change is necessary, however, the problem is complex’’
In 2016-17, prisons across the state were 12 per cent above their design capacity.
“Increased overcrowding has coincided with a significant increase in prison assaults,’’ the report says.
Queensland Homicide Victims’ Support Group chief executive Brett Thompson had little sympathy for the comfort of prisoners.
“The safety of the community is a far greater issue than the possible overcrowding of prisons,” Mr Thompson said.
“It certainly won’t help the offenders, but let’s face it, there’s probably not a great deal of sympathy for those who make selfish choices … we would rather have prisoners feeling uncomfortable than people who are an unacceptable risk walking among us.”
Deputy Premier Jackie Trad said: “I look forward to the QPC undertaking an ex- tensive, independent and robust economic analysis over the coming months and providing government with recommendations to ensure we continue to reduce recidivism, tackle overcrowding in our prisons and, most importantly, improve community safety.”
Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington said Labor had always been soft on crime “but this is ridiculous. This inquiry sends a terrible message … Labor has basically given up and said we have lost control of our prisons but don’t worry, our solution is to let more people out or not put them behind bars in the first place.’’
The terms of reference will look at factors driving recidivism among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, and women. It says the cost of jail goes beyond the direct financial cost of keeping an offender in jail and can include:
• Costs to offenders of loss of liberty and income;
• Economic losses from reduced labour-market participation during imprisonment;
• Long-term costs, such as social stigma that affects future employment prospects and makes an ex-prisoner more likely to be reliant on welfare;
• The possibility that prison institutionalises prisoners and further hardens criminal behaviour.