They’re low­er­ing the bars

The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - - FRONT PAGE - PETER GLEESON

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.

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