The benefits of a justice reinvestment approach for Australia
Despite some concerns with the implementation of justice reinvestment in
the US, the great majority of submitters supported a justice reinvestment
approach for Australia. In particular, it was noted that a justice reinvestment
approach could benefit Indigenous communities as a way of containing and
reversing the very high incarceration and recidivism rates of Indigenous
As outlined in the committee's discussion on imprisonment in Australia,
over the last 30 years there has been substantial growth in rates of
incarceration. Drivers to that growth are well identified and include poor
educational attainment, high unemployment, homelessness, and changes to justice
policies and practices such as sentencing and remand. Australia has also seen
an increase in the over-representation of disadvantaged groups in the justice
As a consequence of the growth in imprisonment rates, both economic and
social costs have increased. Governments across Australia are now facing
significant expenditure for building new prison facilities and to provide
services to prisons, courts and the police. The operating cost of the prison
system alone is approximately $3 billion per year. Greater reliance on
welfare services adds to these costs. The community also endures significant
economic costs through crime and loss of income for those imprisoned. The
social costs of imprisonment in Australia are difficult to estimate but arise
from the disintegration of families, victim trauma and the undermining of
communities. Mr Robert Tickner, Australian Red Cross, commented:
...the most important thing about this investment in communities,
in the causes of crime and in the underlying issues which are the dominant
shaping of the coterie of our prison population is the lost lives of those
people, who really are almost statistically doomed from the time they are born
to interact with the criminal law. I think all of us as Australians understand
there is a place for prisons—of course, there is—but there are massive numbers
in those prison populations who should never have been there and whose lives
are irredeemably damaged by that process, particularly in the case of young
offenders. It is economic lunacy; but, more importantly, it is a tremendous
loss of human potential. People die young. They are...irredeemably damaged by the
interaction with the prison processes in too many cases. Some lucky ones make
it through but the evidence shows that the level of reoffending is as high as
55 per cent. Something like 39 per cent of people who are released are back
there within two years.
Submitters commented that Australia's justice system and its reliance on
imprisonment as a deterrent has failed. The Prisoners' Legal Service Inc., for
example, stated that '[i]t is hard to imagine a solution to crime that is more
expensive and more likely to fail than the prison system'.
Other submitters pointed to high recidivism rates as an example of the failure
of the justice system: in the Northern Territory, very high numbers of incarcerated
offenders return to the prison system within two years of being released.
The Anglican Diocese of Brisbane submitted:
The current approach arguably fails to acknowledge our
complex world, in which public safety is not assured by incarceration alone. In
this respect, the rehabilitative function of the criminal justice system has
become secondary, the impacts on families and communities obscured and
preventative measures barely considered.
Other jurisdictions have recognised not only the failure of imprisonment
to address rising crime rates but also that governments can no longer continue
to support a highly expensive and ultimately ineffective penal system.
Professor Clear commented that 'over the past decade, a combination of
political shifts, accumulating empirical evidence, and fiscal pressures has
come together to make downsizing prisons a feasible idea, politically and tactically'.
The justice reinvestment approach has emerged as one solution.
The following discussion canvasses the benefits of a justice
reinvestment approach in Australia, particularly for Indigenous communities and
the emergence of support for justice reinvestment. The introduction of a
justice reinvestment approach in Australian would not be without its
challenges. These are discussed in the following chapter.
Benefits of a justice reinvestment approach
The overwhelming majority of submitters supported the implementation of
a justice reinvestment approach in Australia.
The Anti-Discrimination Commission Queensland, for example, commented that:
Justice reinvestment presents an opportunity to interrupt the
cycle of migration of communities to prison and back again, and to arrest the
ripple effects of imprisonments that are felt throughout a community.
The support for justice reinvestment centred around the development of
measures and policies directed at both the individual and at communities that
produce significant numbers of offenders. Benefits accrue to an individual but
also to communities through the identification of the drivers of crime in the targeted,
communities. This serves to both prevent offending in the first place as well
as reoffending once an individual returns to the community from a period of
imprisonment. In this way, justice reinvestment isn't just about individual
offenders but is also about providing a benefit to the wider community that
they come from.
It is a move away from a punitive approach to criminal justice for
certain crimes with an evidence-based approach to the provision of alternative
programs. Ms Priday, AHRC, stated:
...we know there is a lot of research around deterrence, and
things that are very strict, draconian punishments do not tend to be a
deterrent for people. They might take people off the streets for a short period
of time, but they are not necessarily going to get back and address those root
causes of offending. That is where I see justice reinvestment coming in. It is
going to address those things at the front end through building stronger
communities and working with the community to find out what they think needs to
occur to address offending and reoffending.
In addition, it was highlighted that strengths of the justice
reinvestment approach are the collection and analysis of data to inform
decisions about how and where best to allocate public funds to reduce crime and
its strong emphasis on evaluation.
Such an approach was seen as providing major benefits to local communities and
individuals as well as appealing to a wide range of political constituents.
Sisters Inside commented:
Sisters Inside believes that justice reinvestment would have
a significant positive effect on our wider Australian social fabric. It would
redirect expenditure to areas that help, rather than harm, individuals,
families, communities and society – in both the short and long term. The
challenge will be to move beyond aspirational strategies and targets alone, and
achieve allocation of resources for service delivery.
A further benefit of a justice reinvestment approach was noted by the
Public Advocate for Queensland who commented that it aligns with the national
social inclusion agenda:
The Australian Social Inclusion Board acknowledges the
destructive effect of social inequality and exclusion on the Australian
community. Through its early intervention approach, justice reinvestment
provides the opportunity to make fundamental changes within communities and
provide a pathway out of disadvantage for many vulnerable people.
Mr Jonathon Huynor, NAAJA, commented that justice reinvestment focusses
The value of the justice reinvestment approach and model is
that it really encourages us to get real about what the solutions are and to
recognise that they are systemic ones. It is not going to be a matter of simply
spending a million dollars here and a million dollars there on youth programs
or on alcohol rehabilitation programs or the like. Those things are important
parts of it but the underlying social disadvantage and community issues are
always going to be complex and hard to solve.
In the US, cost savings have been seen as a major benefit of the justice
reinvestment approach. Some submitters, for example, the National Association
of Community Legal Centres argued that while the benefits other than cost
savings are the primary reasons for implementing a justice reinvestment
approach, there is also an economic argument. First, justice reinvestment is
cost effective: it does not require additional funding, merely a reallocation
of money that has been already assigned to corrections. Because of its
evidence-based approach, it ensures that funding is spent where it will have
the greatest impact for potential offenders.
In addition, it was argued that savings arise from the implementation of community
programs which are more cost effective than imprisonment.
NATSILS concluded that utilising a justice reinvestment approach ensures that
taxpayers receive a better 'bang for their buck' in regard to government
spending on the justice system. It would ensure a cost-effective, fiscally
sound approach to justice spending that prevents wastage on ineffective
Submitters pointed to significant savings that can be made in Australia across
both state and Commonwealth budgets.
For example, it was noted that the new prison for the Northern Territory was
expected to cost some $495 million. On current projections the new prison will
be 83 beds short when it opens in 2014 and the Northern Territory will require
another 1000 bed prison by December 2016.
Any decrease in future demand for prison beds in the Northern Territory would
lead to significant savings.
Smart Justice for Young People also noted that prison expansion is
underway in Victoria to cope with unprecedented population increases. It is
predicted that Victoria's prison system will still fall 1,400 beds short of the
required capacity by 2016. Smart Justice for Young People went on to comment
that this will result in a significant cost for the corrections system and have
detrimental effects on other areas of the economy. It concluded that 'implementing
a justice reinvestment scheme in Victoria and halting any further prison construction
would release hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue'.
In South Australia, the South Australian Justice Reinvestment Working
Group noted that plans for a $750 million new super prison have been shelved
because of a lack of funding. However, a benefit of a successful justice
reinvestment program would be that the new facility would not be required, or
not to the extent previously contemplated as offending rates decrease.
While it was acknowledged that most of the benefits accrued from justice
reinvestment would go to the states and territories which are responsible for
corrections and law and order, submitters pointed to the longer term benefits
for the Commonwealth. The Noetic Group, for example, pointed to the increased
participation and productivity of individuals who are diverted from the justice
system through effective rehabilitation.
This not only improves people's lives but also increases their productivity and
contribution to society and the economy.
A further significant benefit for the Commonwealth is through the
reduction of Indigenous over-representation in the justice system. Noetic Group
noted that according to the Productivity Commission, governments spend some
5.83 times more on Indigenous people for public order and safety. Reducing the
need for services related to family dysfunction and the consequences of
incarceration will assist in reducing government expenditure spent on
Indigenous people annually. This was $25.4 billion in 2012 of which the
Commonwealth provides 45 per cent.
Benefits for communities
The emphasis on strengthening communities was supported by submitters as
a significant step in decreasing incarceration rates.
The Anti-Discrimination Commission Queensland noted the comments in the Social
Justice Report 2009 that the process of decarceration through community
capacity building 'becomes mutually reinforcing; crime prevention decreases
imprisonment; and community engagement strengthens the community so the preconditions
for crime are reduced'.
Justice reinvestment programs direct funding at services and strategies
that combat crime, violence, health problems, homelessness, drug and alcohol
abuse and disadvantage in communities. It was noted that by addressing the
causes which perpetuate disadvantage, this approach builds social capital and
contributes to making communities safer and more secure.
The Australian Justice Reinvestment Project stated:
...the impact of a successful translation of JR into the
Australian context would provide welcome benefits to the high stakes
communities which it targets.
JR is ultimately concerned with increasing functionality and
capacity in disadvantaged communities, through the rationalisation and
reinvestment of corrections spending, and thus understanding the potential for
the adoption of JR strategies will assist directly with strengthening both the
social and economic fabric in Australia.
Effectively implemented, JR may improve prospects for young
people through early intervention, (a healthy start to life) and help families
and individuals live healthy, productive and fulfilling lives particularly in
the disadvantaged, high crime focus communities on which JR focuses.
A significant benefit seen by supporters of a justice reinvestment
approach is that it focussed on local solutions and community-led initiatives. It
is not a one-size-fits all approach. As Professor Cunneen noted, the issues in Papunya,
Northern Territory, will not be the same as Blacktown in Sydney: 'It really is
a more precise approach to it'.
A community focussed approach also means that decision makers can draw
on the infrastructure in local communities and utilise the knowledge and
resources of existing organisations and services. It will also assist in building
service capacity in rural and regional Australia as well the capacity of NGOs to
meet the needs of young people, families and communities with complex needs.
The National Association of Community Legal Centres noted that
community-supported solutions have a greater chance of success and community ownership
helps to avoid the stigma often associated with outside providers. This will also
generally improve attendance at, or uptake of, programs.
The benefits of justice reinvestment to address the over-representation
of Indigenous people in prisons was highlighted by many submitters. Mission Australia
commented that justice reinvestment 'provides a practical, meaningful and
effective way to address the extreme yet increasing over-representation of
Aboriginal Australians in custody, particularly young Aboriginal Australians'.
The AHRC also noted that 'to date the thinking around justice
reinvestment in Australia has been in relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander communities'. The AHRC commented that there are 'persuasive arguments'
for trialling justice reinvestment in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
communities given the high levels of Indigenous over-representation in prison and
the disadvantage faced by these communities.
Ms Emilie Priday, AHRC, reminded the committee that Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander young people are 35 times more likely to be in detention, and
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are 14 times more likely to be in
prison. The Indigenous reimprisonment rate, 66 per cent within 10 years, is
much higher than the retention rate for Indigenous students from years 7 to 12
of high school, at 46.5 per cent, and higher than the university retention rate
for Indigenous students, which is below 50 per cent. Ms Priday concluded '[i]n
other words, Indigenous people are more likely to be returned to prison than
they are to be retained at either high school or university'.
When there are high crime rates and a high proportion of community
members in prison at any one time, a 'tipping point' is reached where
communities are weakened, creating the conditions for further crime. Professor
The argument in relation to justice reinvestment is that you
can pour as much money as you like into health or education but, while you are
pulling out of that community large numbers of men and women, the destructive
effect of imprisonment undermines any other positive aspects that may be
achieved through the funding of health or education services. So that is a very
strong argument that has been put underpinning justice reinvestment—that the
large numbers of imprisonment from relatively small communities is actually
highly destructive of those communities.
The ALRC commented that in the future, this is only going to get worse,
with the Indigenous population being amongst the youngest and fastest growing
in our country. As a consequence, 'efforts to close the gap will be undermined
if we continue to ignore the impact of imprisonment and fail to create safe
It was noted that, within Indigenous communities, there was 'a real
appetite' for a justice reinvestment approach.
Ms Kerry Graham, Just Reinvest NSW, added that Indigenous leaders have been
calling for a justice reinvestment approach for some time and noted the
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Social
Justice Report 2009. The Just Reinvest NSW campaign found that it had an 'incredible
response—an engaged and informed response—from communities and their leaders
about this policy being something they want to step into, that they choose to
The principles of justice reinvestment that make it attractive to
supporters of its trialling in Indigenous communities include:
- community control, with ownership and leadership within the
- focus on addressing disadvantage;
- better cooperation between local services; and
- community working in partnership with government.
As justice reinvestment focusses on locations that produce high numbers
of prisoners, submitters argued that is it particularly suited for Indigenous
people and communities. Submitters pointed to the high concentration of
offenders in Indigenous communities. For example, in 2007–08, 72 adults from
the remote Central Australian community of Papunya were serving time in
Northern Territory prisons, of a total population of 379 (including 71 people who
were under the age of 14).
The AHRC also commented that 'the reality is that if we were to map the
locations with the highest concentrations of offenders, many of these locations
also have very high Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities'.
While Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders remain so over-represented
any meaningful action to reduce overall imprisonment and reduce spending should
be targeted at these communities.
It was noted that Indigenous communities are extremely diverse. A
justice reinvestment approach, with its emphasis on data gathering and analysis
of the drivers of crime to develop appropriate options, can take into account
this diversity. Through community consultation, programs responsive to community
can be identified.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Mr
Mick Gooda, has supported a justice reinvestment approach as it 'provides
opportunities for some communities to take back local control...to not only
take some ownership of the problem but also own the solution'.
Other submitters also pointed to benefits of a community focussed
approach where services are owned, controlled and operated by the local
Indigenous community. The characteristics of justice reinvestment align well
with notions of self-determination and principles for working with Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander peoples. In addition, the goals and principles of
key policies including the National Indigenous Law and Justice Framework and
the Closing the Gap Initiative also have a community focus. It was also noted
that these policies emphasise community ownership and responsibility as well as
responsiveness to local need.
Focus on disadvantage
A characteristic of many Indigenous communities is the high level of
disadvantage. Disadvantage is a key issue which justice reinvestment strategies
can attempt to address. Strategies aim to alleviate community disadvantage and
strengthen community capacity by investing in housing, education, health
services and prevention programs.
The savings and value for money in justice expenditure provide funding for
Submitters saw particular benefits for children and women in Indigenous
communities of a justice reinvestment approach. By reducing offending and
imprisonment justice reinvestment would reduce the number of children with an
incarcerated parent and thus prevent the harm associated having a parent in
prison. It would create healthier families and children if both parents were available
to provide care. This has potential not only to reduce the number of children
who enter the child protection system but also to disrupt the intergenerational
cycle of offending.
The Central Australian Aboriginal Family Legal Unit Aboriginal Corporation
also argued that a justice reinvestment approach is particularly suited to
tackling the issue of Indigenous family violence because of its focus on
community-based initiatives, community disadvantage, preventative and
therapeutic programs, and its potential benefit to victims of family violence.
Benefits for individuals
For the individual, the benefits of justice reinvestment can be
profound. In the first instance, it aims to take offenders who do not pose a
risk to society out of the corrections system. There is ample evidence that
time spent in prison often has a harmful effect on those who are imprisoned and
prisoners returning to society often find it difficult to reintegrate into the
communities they left.
The National Association of Community Legal Centres also commented that the use
of community-based programs has the potential to discourage recidivism and
reduce the prison population, particularly of overrepresented groups in the
criminal justice system including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
and people experiencing mental ill-health or cognitive disability.
It was noted that there will be improved long term outcomes for
individuals who are diverted from initial, or ongoing, involvement in crime.
These outcomes include improved employment prospects, maintenance of social
connections, increased housing stability and a reduction in the crime-producing
effect that prison can have.
Greater assistance to victims of crime was seen as a further benefit of
justice reinvestment with Mission Australia noting that 'one of the strengths
of justice reinvestment is the ability to divert funding to victim support
People with mental illness and
NATSILS commented that justice reinvestment would also be an effective
means of addressing the over-representation of people with a mental illness or
cognitive/intellectual disability. Savings can be generated through a justice
reinvestment approach by treating people with a mental illness or cognitive/intellectual
disability outside of the prison system. These savings can be reinvested in
further community support and treatment facilities. NATSILS noted that there
would be options other than the police arrest for assisting people with
behaviour that is the result of a mental ill-health or cognitive/intellectual disabilities.
Courts would also be able to divert people to appropriate options where
The AHRC also commented on this aspect of justice reinvestment:
There is a neat flow on effect here. If there is money to
reinvest in better alcohol and drug treatment, housing options and general
community support services, judges can be more confident about sentencing
offenders to community based options.
Aside from a criminal justice issue, such investment should also be seen
as a basic investment in the health system that would dramatically improve the
quality of many people's lives.
Juvenile justice was another area where a justice reinvestment approach
was seen as being particularly beneficial. As noted in chapter 3, there has
been a substantial increase in the remand of young people and a steady increase
in the incarceration of young people. This comes at a huge cost for governments
and the community. Incarceration costs are high: the cost of keeping a young
person in custody in NSW was $652 per day in 2011. In contrast, the cost of
community-based supervision in Victoria was just $52 per day.
The social costs include loss of employment, low educational attainment, family
breakdown and homelessness.
Submitters commented that justice reinvestment can provide significant
benefits for young people and for governments. The savings to government will
include reduced incarceration costs and long term reduction in demand for social
and welfare services.
In some states, for example, Victoria, the low numbers of juveniles sent to
prison may not generate the level of savings that will allow investment of the scale
required to truly address the causes of offending in local settings. However, Smart
Justice for Young People argued that there are opportunities to realise savings
in the youth justice system through changes to bail and remand practices. It
was noted that there are high numbers of young people on remand in some
jurisdictions, particularly Western Australia and Northern Territory. This provides
scope for at least re-assessing the extensive use of detention as a substitute
for services or temporary accommodation in Australia.
The Commissioner for Children and Young People WA commented that there
are 'underlying social determinants that make it far more likely that a child
or young person will come into regular contact with the criminal justice
system. For these young people, justice and welfare issues are inextricably
Submitters noted the benefit of investing in early intervention and targeted
prevention strategies aimed at young people as well as provision of family
support, a focus on health and social responses, and strategies tailored to the
needs of the individual.
The Commissioner for Children and Young People WA observed that these 'mirror
the approaches required to sustain a justice reinvestment approach'.
Juvenile Justice NSW for example, commented that the justice reinvestment
approach through early intervention does not wait for antisocial behaviour to
escalate to criminal justice involvement. Rather, young people and their
families have access to the services they need outside the justice system.
Juvenile Justice NSW pointed to immediate benefits of desistance, reduced
incarceration and better post release support services in the community. If family-based
interventions are implemented, longer term outcomes will include better
functioning families, prevention of young siblings engaging in crime, and
enhanced educational and employment outcomes.
Longer term outcomes will arise through investing in the communities
that young offenders return to following time in custody. This may shape longer
term outcomes and support desistance. Juvenile Justice NSW also noted that health,
education and therapeutic gains achieved while in custody can often be eroded
after returning to 'toxic' environments. Juvenile Justice NSW stated that data
suggests that young people are at highest risk of offending in the six months
following their release from custody. Therefore, building community
infrastructure and delivering support services to families of young offenders
or children may reduce the risk of reoffending behaviour by building resilience
across the community.
Just Reinvest NSW argued that the benefit of justice reinvestment arose not
only from reducing the number of young people incarcerated but also from breaking
the pattern of young offenders becoming adult prisoners.
A further benefit was seen in a change to the public perception that the
only way to deal with crime, especially crime committed by young people, is
through long and harsh periods of detention.
Emergence of support for a justice reinvestment approach in Australia
Examination of justice reinvestment in Australia has been undertaken in
a number of reports since 2009. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
Social Justice Commissioner Social Justice Report 2009 examined justice
reinvestment as a solution to the problem of over-representation of Indigenous
people in the criminal justice system. It was concluded that:
Justice reinvestment is a pragmatic solution to the problem
of Indigenous imprisonment but it is based on some sound principles that meld
with Indigenous perspectives and approaches.
It takes the role of community seriously, recognising the
damage for the individual and community each time a person is imprisoned.
It recognises that there are 'high stakes' communities where
is it imperative that preventative resources and systemic change is put in
place to address imprisonment.
Most importantly, it provides a real role for the community
to have a say in what is causing offending in their communities and what needs
to be done to fix it. All of these principles would guide a partnership
approach to addressing Indigenous imprisonment.
It was recommended 'that the Standing Committee of Attorneys General
Working Party identify justice reinvestment as a priority issue under the
National Indigenous Law and Justice Framework, with the aim of conducting pilot
projects in targeted communities in the short term' and 'that the Australian
Social Inclusion Board, supported by the Social Inclusion Unit, add justice
reinvestment as a key strategy in the social inclusion agenda'.
In recent years there have been a number of Commonwealth Parliament
committees that have supported the adoption of justice reinvestment, or have
considered that a justice reinvestment approach should at least be explored.
The Final Report of the Senate Select Committee on Regional and Remote
Indigenous Communities suggested that further work be undertaken on the 'potential
for justice reinvestment in regional and remote Indigenous communities'.
In 2009, this committee's report on its inquiry into access to justice
recommended that 'the federal, state and territory governments recognise the
potential benefits of justice reinvestment, and develop and fund a justice
reinvestment pilot program for the criminal justice system'.
In 2011, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, in its report Doing Time – Time for
Doing: Indigenous Youth in the Criminal Justice System, supported the
justice reinvestment approach for Indigenous communities. The committee
recommended (recommendation 40) that 'governments focus their efforts on early
intervention and diversionary programs and that further research be conducted
to investigate the justice reinvestment approach in Australia'.
In its response to the report, the Commonwealth Government noted:
A justice reinvestment approach, as proposed under
Recommendation 40, has the potential to significantly improve rates of
offending behaviour and victimisation in the long term and is likely to be
examined in the context of the Safe Communities Strategy. Place based
approaches to address offending and reoffending, diversion and early
intervention are an opportunity to identify where significant outcomes may be
achieved through redirecting resources across a broader range of activities.
The Government went on to state that a Working Group had been
established under the NJCEOs to specifically consider justice reinvestment, or
criminal justice approaches which focus on addressing the causes of crime in
particular locations. The Working Group was to investigate options and
strategies for implementing a justice reinvestment approach and addressing
drivers of crime in the Australian context. The response also noted that the
primary responsibility for implementation of justice reinvestment strategies
will fall to state and territory governments but the Commonwealth would seek to
work bilaterally with interested jurisdictions to implement agreed approaches.
The NJCEOs Working Group report was provided to the committee by the
At the state level, New South Wales, Western Australia and Queensland
have considered justice reinvestment. The New South Wales Government
commissioned a strategic review of that state's Juvenile Justice System in July
2009. In review's April 2010 report, three different options were considered
but the review explicitly recommended a justice reinvestment approach:
...because it provides the greatest long term return on
investment through tangible benefits such as reduced crime, reduced
re-offending and cost savings....Justice Reinvestment...seeks to address the causes
of crime through investing resources in social programs that would otherwise
have been spent on dealing with the consequences of crime – most notably the
construction of prisons and detention centres. (Noetic Solution 2010 ix)
Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation noted that 'unfortunately,
while the response from the New South Wales government took on board some of the
issues and suggestions in the report, it did not commit to adopting the justice
In 2010, the Western Australia Legislative Assembly Standing Committee
on Community Development and Justice tabled its report, Making our Prisons
Work. The committee found that the current criminal justice response to
crime, which has its sole focus on the offending individual, is failing where
the individual comes from a highly dysfunctional community. It noted that
justice reinvestment had achieved demonstrable success in some jurisdictions as
it responds both to the individual and to the causes of crime. The committee recommended
that the Western Australia Government:
...at the highest level charge a lead agency to establish the
proposed pilot Justice Reinvestment strategy to:
- have an overarching responsibility for each of the agencies
collaborating in the strategy insofar as their deliverable to the strategy are
- have control and be accountable for the pooled Justice
The Youth Affairs Council of Western Australia commented that the
Western Australian Government responded 'rather negatively' to this
recommendation by stating that:
Justice reinvestment is founded on the premise that there is
appropriate infrastructure for the current requirements (i.e. sufficient design
capacity) prior to consideration of reinvestment of future funds to
alternatives to imprisonment. The Department is a considerable way from this point.
However, in May 2013, it was reported that the Western Australian
Government was pursuing justice reinvestment as a way of addressing the
increases in incarceration rates. The Corrective Services Minister, Mr Joe
Francis, is reported as stating 'Call it justice reinvestment or prevention
programs or whatever it might be, the principle of spending money to try to get
people on the right track to stop them breaking the law and ending up in jail
The Anti-Discrimination Commission Queensland noted that the Queensland
Government is recognising the benefits of a justice reinvestment approach.
Queensland Corrective Services in its recent report, Pathways to Reducing
Crime, has developed a plan to 'reduce re-offending by strengthening the
focus on tackling the causes of crime and correcting offending behaviour.' The
report went on to comment that 'broad, multi-modal approaches to preventing
re-offending over the course of an offender’s sentence, and beyond, are often
more effective than point-in-time interventions such as a standalone program'. The
report proposes to direct efforts and resources into maximising crime
prevention outcomes for offenders, their families and the community.
There a number of major research projects into justice reinvestment
currently underway in Australia. At the University of NSW, the Australian
Justice Reinvestment Project is an Australia Research Council funded project
which aims to examine the characteristics of justice reinvestment in other
jurisdictions, and analyse whether such programs can be developed in the
At the Australian National University, the National Centre for
Indigenous Studies and Indigenous Offender Health Capacity Building Group is
undertaking a three year research project entitled 'Reducing Indigenous
incarceration using Justice Reinvestment: an exploratory case study'. The
project will use justice reinvestment methodology to explore the conditions,
governance and cultural appropriateness of reinvesting resources otherwise
spent on incarceration, into services to enhance juvenile offenders' ability to
remain in their community.
Concerns about a justice reinvestment approach for Australia
The committee received evidence of general support for a justice
reinvestment approach although it was acknowledged that there would be
challenges for its implementation in Australia (these are discussed chapter 7).
However, some submitters sounded a note of caution or did not support the
approach at all, particularly in relation to its application to Indigenous
The Indigenous Social Justice Association was unconvinced about the
benefits of justice reinvestment and argued that the 'whole underpinning
premise is wrong'. Rather than a starting point of addressing social disadvantage
and genuinely assisting those in need, justice reinvestment is primarily
focussed on 'saving money for tax payers and increasing public safety by
investing resources in keeping the worst offenders incarcerated for longer'.
The Association concluded that, based on the US experience, 'justice
reinvestment is not a model to emulate' and that adequate resourcing of public
housing, health and education is required in Australia.
The Freedom Socialist Party commented that to genuinely address the issues of disadvantaged
groups, much more funding is required than what can be saved through reducing
the number of people in prison.
The lack, as yet, of demonstrated benefits of justice reinvestment in
Australia was raised by Professor Michael Levy. He noted that there are clues
to the potential benefits from the UK and US. However, 'when laid against the
certainty that the current custodial enterprise projects, the challenges faced
to the creation of an Australian body of evidence supporting (or otherwise)
justice reinvestment, is stark'.
CIS raised a range of issues including that justice reinvestment appears
to be very similar to programs already in place. For example, the Aboriginal
Community Justice Groups are described as being 'based on the idea that local
Aboriginal people know their own communities and problems. Therefore, the
groups can solve local community problems better by developing local community
solutions'; a very similar approach to justice reinvestment.
In addition, CIS stated that successive governments have, for more than
30 years, run community-based programs in Indigenous communities and,
barring a few exceptions, such initiatives have not led to real social change.
CIS commented that the belief justice reinvestment's localised community focus
approach will reduce offending ignores the history of support for Indigenous
communities. CIS went on to state that 'the focus on community involvement as a
precursor to improving remote Indigenous people's lives disregards the fact
that most Indigenous communities exist only because of passive service delivery
by outside suppliers'.
CIS argued that to address the underlying causes of Indigenous offending,
the focus must be on education and employment as evidence shows that education
and employment play a critical role in the high Indigenous incarceration rate.
Sara Hudson commented further 'justice reinvestment threatens to become a
distraction from focussing on these fundamentals'.
This view was supported by Flat Out which concluded:
Reducing systemic poverty, racism, and gendered violence and discrimination,
needs to be a basic budgetary and policy commitment of all governments, rather than
a criminal justice approach to reducing crime. Ensuring access to mental health
care, drug and alcohol programs, education and employment may lead to reduced prison
numbers as a side-effect, but is primarily about ensuring human rights.
Other submitters responded to these arguments. Mr Bonig, South
Australian Justice Reinvestment Working Group, noted that investment in
education and employment is part of a justice reinvestment program:
One of the submissions the committee received from an
organisation was in fact saying, 'We don't need justice reinvestment; we need
money spent on housing, education and the like.' But ultimately that is the
thrust of a proper justice reinvestment program—looking at the socioeconomic
needs of people so that they are not incarcerated. We also have for adults an
inability in some circumstances to properly supervise them in the community and
therefore they are forced to be on remand.
Mr Ian Coverdale, from the Australian Red Cross, commented:
There is enough evidence around the world, particularly in
the US and emerging in the UK, to say that there is something around justice reinvestment.
I think it is important that we try and work out what it means in Australia.
The US system is very different to Australia's. We are functioning much better
than that, and I think we need not just to be guided by what happens in the US
but to know what is happening here and see what is going to happen in
Australian conditions. So we need to go into those areas that people are coming
from, and demonstrably people are coming from certain communities. We need to
go into place-based approaches to build communities and make them more
resilient and safer. That is why we think that some well-researched pilot
projects are necessary. That allows us to understand this in the Australian
NAAJA acknowledged that justice reinvestment was not a 'silver bullet'
as the problems of Indigenous incarceration are complex and are deeply connected
to social disadvantage and to marginalisation.
However, the committee notes the comments from Mr Huynor that the advantage and
the benefit of justice reinvestment is that 'it helps shift the conversation,
helps shift the focus, and gets our politicians to be leaders and recognise
that the answers do not lie in doing work at the bottom of the cliff in locking
more people up'.
It is acknowledged that imprisonment has failed as an effective way of
addressing crime in Australia and that prisons are essentially a failed
institution as they do not rehabilitate and tend to breed more criminality.
While very serious offenders need to be incarcerated to protect the
public, for other offenders, imprisonment may not be the most effective way to
address criminal behaviour.
The consequences of the failure to effectively address criminal
behaviour and the underlying causes of crime can be seen in the continued increase
of incarceration rates and the failure to improve public safety. High levels of
incarceration result in economic costs for governments and communities as well
as social costs. The consequences are particularly severe in Indigenous
communities where the very fabric of the community can be undermined through
high levels of incarceration; where early and repeated interactions between
juveniles and the justice system lead to dysfunction and intergenerational
incarceration; and where great disadvantage fosters crime.
There is little doubt that there is support within justice and community
organisations and the community itself for a justice reinvestment approach for
Australia. The support arises from its community-focussed, evidenced-based
approach to providing savings, diverting offenders, addressing the causes of
crime, and strengthening communities.
There also appears to be support emerging within some governments for a
justice reinvestment approach. In part, this is driven by concerns about the
sustainability of the criminal justice system. States and territories are
facing decisions about funding for new prisons as well as how to curb the
growth of expenditure in policing and the court system. At the same time,
government budgets are under pressure through the current changes to economic
The committee considers that the time is right for governments to
consider more effective solutions to tackling crime: solutions that not only
provide a significant economic advantage in the short term but perhaps also an
even greater economic advantage in the long term. The committee considers that
justice reinvestment provides economic benefits in the long term through shifting
resources away from incarceration towards prevention, early intervention and
rehabilitation. Benefits will accrue to government through improved economic
participation of offenders and potential offenders, decreased use of the
welfare system and improved health outcomes.
While there will be economic benefits to government, the committee
considers that the benefits through a justice reinvestment for individuals and
communities will be more important. By addressing the social determinants of
crime – unemployment, homelessness, health and education issues – justice
reinvestment has the potential to improve the life outcomes of individuals and
build strong, safe and cohesive communities.
Although there is much support for a justice reinvestment approach, the
committee acknowledges that there will be challenges to its adoption in
Australia. However, the committee considers that justice reinvestment deserves
serious consideration and examination of how it might work in Australia. In
this regard, the committee notes the comments of Professor Andrew Coyle:
There is no suggestion that Justice Reinvestment is a single
panacea which will solve the problem of overuse of imprisonment in Australia
and especially the disproportionate overuse of imprisonment for aboriginal and
first nation people. However, it does have some potential as a tool to achieve
this aim. Its importance lies in the fact that it is a mechanism which allows
us to redefine the problem of safety and security in our communities. None of
the [overseas justice reinvestment] models...can be lifted off the shelf and used
to resolve the problems of Australia. But they do offer a number of principles
which can be translated into the Australian context.
The challenges for implementing a justice reinvestment approach are described
in chapter 7.
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