Towards a justice reinvestment approach for Australia
The committee's inquiry elicited a great deal of interest from many
stakeholders in the justice and community sectors. That interest, and indeed
the large amounts of evidence provided to the committee, shows that justice
reinvestment is a concept which is attracting attention across Australia as a
means of addressing increasing incarceration rates in an evidence-based and community
This chapter draws together the evidence presented in the previous
chapters and provides the committee's conclusions and recommendations on its
inquiry into the value of a justice reinvestment approach for Australia.
The value of a justice reinvestment approach in Australia
While it is acknowledged that the rate of imprisonment in Australia is
substantially less than in some overseas jurisdictions, most notably the United
States, during 2011–12, on average, there were 29,213 people (excluding
periodic detainees) held in Australian prisons. Just over a quarter of these
people were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners. The rate of
imprisonment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners was 15 times
higher than the rate for non-Indigenous prisoners.
The rates of imprisonment in Australia have increased over the last
three decades. At 30 June 2012, the adult imprisonment rate was 168 per
100,000. In 1984, the rate of imprisonment was approximately 86 per 100,000.
The changes to rates of imprisonment have varied between jurisdictions over the
last ten years: in the Northern Territory, the rate has increased 72 per cent,
while in Western Australia the rate increased 37 per cent.
Prisons are a very expensive undertaking: in 2011–12, expenditure on the
corrections system exceeded $3 billion in total across Australia. Added to
the cost of police services and courts (criminal and civil), the total justice
system expenditure was $14.02 billion. The costs borne by government
through welfare, health and other services are significant and the social costs
borne by communities and families are immense.
These figures indicate that jurisdictions across Australia have relied,
and continue to rely, on incarceration as a deterrent to criminal offending at
great cost to the taxpayer and society generally. While governments continue to
support the expensive corrections system, it has not been successful in
addressing offending behaviour – prison is not a deterrent and recidivism rates
continue to hover around 40 per cent.
It appears to the committee that given the significant failures of the
current justice system, it is time to look at where and why crime occurs and to
address the underlying drivers of offending and reoffending. The committee
considers that justice reinvestment has a proven track record in achieving
successful outcomes through both lowering incarceration rates and targeting the
drivers of crime. It is a community-focussed, evidenced-based approach that
provides savings, diverts offenders, addresses the causes of crime, and
The four step methodology of justice reinvestment – demographic/justice
mapping and analysis of data; development of options; implementation; and
evaluation – ensures that limited government resources are effectively targeted
at communities where most offenders come from and return to. The evaluation
mechanisms embedded within the justice reinvestment approach also ensure that
the savings gained are only spent on programs which show positive outcomes in
reducing offending behaviour.
The methodology of justice reinvestment requires an extensive range of
community-level data, sophisticated and robust analysis of data, identification
of policy options and evaluation of programs. One of the challenges of
implementing a justice reinvestment approach in Australia will be the lack, and
the inaccessibility, of the data required. However, the committee considers
that this is not an insurmountable obstacle and indeed, improvements in data
collection and analysis will provide benefits for many sectors of government.
There will need to be both government and community support if a justice
reinvestment approach is to succeed. In addition, trialling of justice
reinvestment will provide valuable insight into how it may be applied in
Australia. The committee considers that the Commonwealth can play a key role in
fostering support for the concept of justice reinvestment as well as trialling
the approach in communities.
The importance of the role of the Commonwealth in supporting justice
reinvestment in Australia was highlighted in evidence. Submitters acknowledged
that the states and territories have the primary responsibility for criminal
justice but argued that increasing incarceration rates are occurring in all
jurisdictions. As such, there appears to be a benefit in a national approach to
tackling this problem through justice reinvestment. It was stated that there are
opportunities for the Commonwealth to encourage and support justice
reinvestment. Indeed, the AHRC commented that 'the success of justice
reinvestment in Australia relies on a cooperative relationship between the
Australian Government and the states and territories'.
It was argued that there are a number of reasons why the Commonwealth
should support a justice reinvestment approach. The successful implementation
of a justice reinvestment approach would provide benefits to the Commonwealth,
particularly economic benefits through a decrease in the need for welfare
services and income support.
Mr Hunyor, NAAJA, added this comment in relation to Indigenous communities:
...the Commonwealth invests masses of money in the Territory,
and I guess in some respects subsidises the Territory because of issues like
remoteness, because of the large Indigenous communities and because of its
strategic placement in Australia and the region. So the Commonwealth is
currently spending many billions of dollars every year on Territory and
Aboriginal communities, and it has a real interest in seeing that that is not
In addition, it was noted that the principles of justice reinvestment
align with the aims of policies such as Closing the Gap. Mission Australia
The significant over-representation of Aboriginal Australians
within the justice system also provides a logical point of involvement for the
federal government. This is consistent with a number of the recommendations in Doing
Time – Time for Doing as well as the social inclusion agenda. The
Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner has stated
that 'In effect, justice reinvestment could become a very powerful tool for
ensuring that Indigenous Australians are socially included. It meets the
concerns of policy makers 'mindful of the costs and benefits and evidence of
returns for investment', the need for holistic early intervention and evidence
The compatibility of justice reinvestment with respect for human rights
was also raised by the HRLC. The HRLC noted that 'in its recommendations to
Australia in 2010, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination
specifically recommended that Australia "adopt a justice reinvestment
strategy, continuing and increasing the use of Indigenous courts and
conciliation mechanisms, diversionary and prevention programs and restorative
There were various suggestions about the role the Commonwealth could
undertake within a justice reinvestment approach. Principally, that role was
seen as one of leadership.
Mr Rodney Astbury, WAAMH, commented that:
The role of the Commonwealth in providing leadership around
that is really critical, because there is a history of attempts to address this
complex issue across government agencies that have had very limited success.
NATSILS saw the Commonwealth leadership role as significant in 'securing
the necessary buy in from state and territory governments'.
The AHRC submitted that the Commonwealth could set a policy landscape, together
with the states and territories, that moves away from imprisonment and towards
diversion and crime prevention.
There were other areas where it was considered that the Commonwealth
could provide leadership. The South Australian Justice Reinvestment Working
Group suggested that the starting point would be for the Commonwealth to recognise
the benefits of justice reinvestment as a 'concept'.
It was also suggested that the Commonwealth could use the COAG process to
influence state government, particularly around justice targets.
Mission Australia added that 'any commitment at the COAG level would also
ensure that there was cooperation across all levels of government and all
departments; substantially reshaping how we deal with over-representation'.
Mission Australia went on to state:
Supporting Closing the Gap is the National Indigenous Law and
Justice Framework which aims to eliminate Indigenous disadvantage in law and
justice by providing a national approach to addressing interactions between
Aboriginal Australians and the justice systems in Australia. This too could be
a mechanism for the federal government action as the framework is intended to
support Closing the Gap in relation to community safety. It is considered the
framework will be instrumental in achieving COAG objectives so could provide a
suitable mechanism by which to incorporate justice reinvestment into policy.
The Attorney-General's Department responded to calls for the
Commonwealth to play a role in the implementation of justice reinvestment. Mr
Duggan emphasised that the states and territories have primary responsibility for
the justice system:
The Commonwealth can play in important role in encouraging
the adoption of such approaches, bring the states and territories together to
share approaches and experiences, and disseminate information about approaches
overseas. Those are all roles that we have attempted to take in the recent
past. The decision to adopt the justice reinvestment approach—and the extent to
which the approach is adopted—is ultimately a question for each state and
territory in consultation with the Commonwealth.
Mr Duggan went on to comment that there was a much greater debate on
justice issues and some signs of change:
I have to indicate to you that we believe that there is much
greater debate and discussion now that we can have with states and territories
on these issues, not least because the cost of constantly incarcerating more
people is causing a rethink. We think there is at least bipartisan support at
the Commonwealth level for a consideration of these issues. This is purely a
personal point of view, of course, if you will excuse that, but we think there
is a real opportunity emerging at the moment for there to be a debate almost
across party lines on this issue. We are quite encouraged by some of the
contacts we have with our counterparts in states and territories where you have
coalition governments. So it is not quite as simplistic as perhaps it once
was—that we have a law and order debate every time there is an election. I
think there is a much more nuanced discussion capable of being had at the
moment. And, indeed, it is happening.
It was also suggested that the Commonwealth could support the
establishment of the justice reinvestment structures needed in the states and
In addition, it was argued that the Commonwealth should support the improvement
of data collection and analysis.
For example, consistent data collection, or aggregation of consistent data from
state agencies, as a means to provide a national framework for justice
reinvestment. In this regard, Commonwealth action would be on a scale beyond
that possible by any single jurisdiction. Mission Australia suggested that the Commonwealth
could commit to making its own data available from any Commonwealth agencies
that align with justice reinvestment initiatives.
Mr Bonig also commented on data issues and the Commonwealth's role
following the South Australian working group's difficulties in trying to
establish whether sufficient data exists to support a trial of justice
reinvestment. Mr Bonig stated:
One of the things the South Australian working group has been
trying to do is get to the bottom of some data and look at whether or not a
pilot program is feasible. It does not appear that there is a consistent
recording of data and it appears that different departments record data differently.
There is no central database where we can go to get some of the data that we
need. The federal government could coordinate the bringing together of existing
programs. There appears to be what is colloquially known as a silo mentality,
which means that some programs are being delivered by some departments without
consultation with other departments. The federal government could assist in
bringing together existing programs. A lot of this could be driven through COAG
adopting justice reinvestment and working with the states, as is done with the
mental health project and some of the other national projects which still have
a state focus. Obviously the Standing Council on Law and Justice would also be
able to have some input.
A further avenue for the Commonwealth to assist in improved data
collection suggested by WACOSS was through grants and service agreements to
encourage and support the collection of relevant and comparable data relating
to justice and service delivery outcomes. A similar arrangement could also be
negotiated into National Partnership Agreements and other joint funding
Funding was one area where submitters suggested that the Commonwealth
would have a key role.
The Victorian Alcohol and Drug Association supported the use of incentives by
the Commonwealth to influence state and territory governments to implement
In addition, the National Association of Community Legal Centres suggested that
the Commonwealth support justice reinvestment through directly funding
programs, much as occurs in the US where federal grants are provided to
government agencies and non-profit organisations for justice reinvestment
Trials of justice reinvestment
It was noted that currently there is limited evidence to shape the way
in which justice reinvestment might be realised in Australia. Submitters
therefore recommended that pilot justice reinvestment projects be conducted to
prove the concept.
This would help to inform the implementation of future projects
and allow the states and territories to fund justice reinvestment with the
confidence that it will deliver future benefits.
Ms Graham, Just Reinvest NSW, stated:
I believe even more strongly that, if a justice reinvestment
trial site happened in Australia then...there would be an evaluation in place
that allowed the field to grow. Service providers and governments would learn
from a demonstration site more quickly to get greater outcomes and policy
change than if we tried to retrospectively mine all of the programs that are
being funded and find out what works.
It was recommended to the committee by many submitters, including the
AHRC, that the Commonwealth, in partnership with the states and territories,
support trials in selected Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities
where there is a high level of offending.
The South Australian Justice Reinvestment Working Group also advocated Commonwealth
The issue that will face some of the States and Territories
is how to fund any pilot studies. As this justice reinvestment is not just
about incarceration but seeks to address a number of underlying socio economic
problems which underpin the cause for offending such as, health, welfare and
education there is a Federal responsibility to assist in the implementation of
a justice reinvestment programme. Therefore consideration could and should be
given to some national funding.
The AHRC stated that trial sites should be communities with high
concentrations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander imprisonment and any
trials should be accompanied by a research and evaluation strategy to ensure
any lessons around design, process and implementation can be used in other
The National Congress of Australia's First Peoples suggested that some
trials should be undertaken in remote communities:
Once you look at remote communities, the feasibility starts [to]
go down, but that does not mean it should not be attempted or trialled. We
would suggest that we should at least attempt some trials in some remote
communities first. One of the core things of justice reinvestment is that all
the programs that are funded are really thoroughly evaluated to see what is
working and what is not.
However, the AHRC commented that care should be taken to ensure that
there is capacity and a good local governance structure within the community to
support a trial. Ms Priday, AHRC, stated that 'there is no point in us going
into the community with the most challenging problems in the first instance and
asking them to do something that is quite complex without having the capacity
A further matter raised in relation to conducting a trial was the need
to ensure that appropriate cooperation and support is provided by the relevant
state or territory government. The AHRC commented that in some states,
particularly NSW, justice reinvestment groups had been working to gain support
of the government and the community for justice reinvestment so that there are
areas that would be receptive to a trial.
There was much support from submitters from the establishment of a
central body to provide coordination, support and research services for justice
reinvestment. Submitters pointed to the experience in the US where bodies such
as the Council of State Government Justice Center have played a pivotal role in
the success of justice reinvestment.
The creation of a central body was seen as an essential step in the
implementation of justice reinvestment in Australia. Ms Graham, Just Reinvest
This strategic body would be absolutely, as we see it,
central to and essential in helping that community, and then in helping many
others replicate that for their own needs. And we do not see it as being a lot
of money invested. It really would be an aggregator of best practice, a support
to community capacity-building and an evaluation support. Those would be its
Ms Schwartz provided the Australian Justice Reinvestment Project view on
the role of the body in guiding justice reinvestment:
The body would have responsibility for coordinating the
various stakeholders; developing choices for initiatives to initially reduce
levels of incarceration or make initial savings to the corrections budgets;
broker agreements as to the policy initiatives to be put into effect; and
conduct independent evaluation.
The auspicing body would also ensure that an agreed
proportion of the money saved from the corrections budget is actually
reinvested in high-stakes communities, and in this way the body will have a
crucial role in ensuring that JR is not in fact used as a foil for
disinvestment in communities where money saved is channelled elsewhere and not
into the high-stakes communities. We would submit that this is a possible role
that the federal government can play in supporting and resourcing this type of
NATSILS also supported the creation of a central body, arguing that a
central independent coordinating body would provide non-partisan advice on
effective, evidenced-based justice reinvestment initiatives; collect data and
identify communities for justice reinvestment initiatives; assist in strategic
development of justice reinvestment plans; and assist with building community
capacity, monitoring selected policy options and ongoing evaluation of social
and economic outcomes.
Submitters commented that the Commonwealth could provide support to such
a body, including financial support.
NATSILS went further and provided recommendations in relation to the
establishment of a central body:
That the Commonwealth Government work with the Standing
Council on Law and Justice to secure agreement with State and Territory
governments to commit to jointly establishing an independent central
coordinating agency for justice reinvestment.
In securing agreement with State and Territory governments,
that the Commonwealth Government consider the potential for attaching relevant
conditions to the funding it provides to State and Territory governments.
In the event that agreement is not secured, that the
Commonwealth Government itself establish an independent central coordinating
agency for justice reinvestment.
That the central coordinating agency focus on building the
evidence base that will inform justice reinvestment initiatives. Such will not
only assist in identifying locations for justice reinvestment initiatives but
will also provide the necessary data to inform modelling as to the fiscal
benefits that could be achieved which could serve to convince any State and
Territory governments which have not yet signed on.
The National Centre for Indigenous Studies recommended that an authority
be established through Commonwealth and state and territory uniform legislation
and that the authority have a mandate to comprehensively implement and evaluate
justice reinvestment policy. The Centre submitted that a legislative basis for
the authority would ensure that the justice reinvestment agenda would be
progressed. Further, that the Commonwealth should provide adequate start-up
funding for the authority.
Mr McDonald, Productivity Commission, sounded a note of caution in
relation to the establishment of a central body. He stated:
I am just not sure of what the current level of knowledge is
within government and what the government policymakers already have and whether
you are running the risk of setting up a body to tell governments their core
business, which is running the justice system. Potentially, you would hope that
they know about the interactions between the justice system and their social
and economic policies. More information is always good, but I would just need
to be convinced that there was gap to be filled.
Submitters supported the implementation of justice targets.
The Australian Human Rights Commission recommended that the Commonwealth and
state and territory governments commit to justice targets:
Beyond this the commission recommends that the Australian
government set up the policy landscape so that we move from imprisonment
towards diversion and crime prevention. Justice targets should be set to reduce
the imprisonment rate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Targets
should be implemented as part of a properly funded community [Safe Communities]
National Partnerships program as part of the Closing the Gap strategy.
The Commissioner for Children and Young People WA noted that measuring
the achievement in any areas requires the establishment of a baseline and
effective targets to ensure progress is measurable. The Commissioner has called
for the integration of criminal justice targets into the COAG Closing the Gap
Initiative. The Commissioner went on to state that:
It is essential in aiming for targets in health, early
childhood, education and employment that the rate of Aboriginal
over-representation is addressed as part of the effort to close the gap on
The National Congress of Australia's First Peoples commented that the
lack of a justice target is a 'gaping hole' in the Closing the Gap framework.
While there are COAG targets in other areas, such as educational attainment,
there is no justice target. Congress stated that the target should be aimed at
reducing the incarceration rate by 50 per cent. Ms Solenec commented:
We believe that, if justice reinvestment is implemented on a
national level with the standardised data collection, they are going to be able
to meet these targets. It has been quite difficult for state governments,
particularly governments like [the Western Australian Government], to commit to
justice targets. Every time it has come up at the committee on law and justice,
governments such as this one say: 'We can't do that. We're not going to admit
to these targets.' But we think that, if justice reinvestment were in tandem
with the targets so that both things happened at the same time and they are
both going to go down, we are going to be able to meet the targets and have all
the benefits from justice reinvestment.
The National Centre for Indigenous Studies also supported the
development of justice targets commenting that, without a target in Australia,
there will be little imperative for change. The Centre stated that 'ultimately,
national incarceration rates should reflect, at the very most, no
more than the 2.5% Indigenous population rate'. An indicative incarceration
rate target for Australia should be set by the proposed justice reinvestment
body. It was stated that an associated indicative task could be that the proposed
body works with all jurisdictions to determine an agreed level by which the
incarceration levels in each will be reduced and the commensurate savings would
be diverted from the corrections sector for reinvestment to justice reinvestment
initiatives in those jurisdictions.
The committee notes that the Standing Committee on Attorneys-General its
Communique of 12 and 22 July 2011 stated:
Ministers discussed the unacceptable rates of incarceration
of Indigenous Australians, including the House of Representatives Standing
Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs’ Doing Time – Time
for Doing Report and agreed:
(a) to significantly reduce the gap in Indigenous offending
and victimisation and to accurately track and review progress with a view to
reviewing the level of effort required to achieve outcomes
(b) to ask First Ministers to refer to COAG the possible
adoption of justice specific Indigenous closing the gap targets, acknowledging
that in many instances their relative occurrence are due to variable factors
outside the justice system.
The committee acknowledges that incarceration is a necessary option
within the sentencing regime. However, incarceration should be seen as a last
resort and only for serious offenders. Incarceration should also not be used
because of the absence of adequate alternative solutions. The committee is
particularly concerned that people with mental health issues, cognitive
disability and alcohol and drug problems are sent to prison because there are
no other options available for courts to consider.
The committee considers that the present approach to justice does not
adequately address the determinants of crime with the result that Australia is
facing ever increasing incarceration rates. This provides compelling reasons to
explore other options.
Justice reinvestment provides a mechanism to address these issues,
particularly Indigenous incarceration. Any move toward a justice reinvestment
approach will require the support of all governments. The committee considers
that the Commonwealth should take the lead in this regard and place the
implementation of justice reinvestment on the COAG agenda.
The committee further considers that given the challenges of
implementing a justice reinvestment approach in Australia identified in the
evidence, comprehensive trialling is necessary. The use of trials will allow
for an evaluation as to whether justice reinvestment is in fact a viable option
In order to conduct a trial, the data issues must be addressed and
coordination, support, evaluation and research services would be necessary. The
committee believes that a central, independent body would be best placed to provide
these services for the benefit of any State or Territory willing to undertake
such a trial. The benefits of an independent body are well established by the
experience in the United States where organisations such as the Council of State
Governments Justice Center have played an important facilitative, non-partisan
role in assisting the implementation of a justice reinvestment approach.
In addition, the committee notes the current research work being
undertaken by the Australian Justice Reinvestment Project, University of New
South Wales. The committee considers that the development of a trial should
have regard to the work of the Project.
The committee considers that the establishment of a central body should
be supported by the Commonwealth but will also require support and commitment
from state and territory governments.
The committee recommends that the Commonwealth adopt a leadership role
in supporting the implementation of justice reinvestment, through the Council
of Australian Governments.
The committee recommends that the Commonwealth commit to the
establishment of a trial of justice reinvestment in Australia in conjunction
with the relevant states and territories, using a place-based approach, and
that at least one remote Indigenous community be included as a site.
Further, the committee recommends that any trial actively involve local
communities in the process, is conducted on the basis of rigorous justice
mapping over a minimum time frame beyond the electoral cycle and be subject to
a robust evaluation process.
The committee recommends that the Commonwealth provide funding for the
trial of justice reinvestment in Australia.
The committee recommends that the Commonwealth, through the Standing
Committee on Law and Justice, promote the establishment of an independent
central coordinating body for justice reinvestment with the following roles:
- provision of advice as to methodology regarding justice
identification of the national, consistent data required for
effective implementation of justice reinvestment;
- development of options for policy and initiatives to reduce
levels of incarceration and identify potential savings for corrections budgets;
- assistance with justice mapping for identification of place-based
communities and identification of existing services and gaps in services
required to reduce crime;
- brokering agreements between stakeholders;
independent evaluation of programs and savings; and
- monitoring reinvestment of savings in high stakes communities.
The final matter which the committee wishes to address is the issue of
justice targets. The committee considers that there are sound reasons to
establish a target to reduce the imprisonment rate for Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander people.
The committee recommends that the Commonwealth refer to the Council of
Australian Government the establishment of justice targets for Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander people as part of the Closing the Gap initiative,
directed to reducing the imprisonment rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Senator Penny Wright
Navigation: Previous Page | Contents | Next Page