The Uniting Church in Australia, Synod of Western Australia, has agreed at its annual meeting to support a change in WA’s approach to criminal justice, asking to move towards a more holistic, prevention-based approach that prioritises cultural, social and emotional wellbeing for people at risk of incarceration.
The Uniting Church WA will write to the West Australian Premier and Opposition Leader requesting their support.
The persistent and growing over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the justice system, particularly among young people in Western Australia, necessitates an urgent overhaul of West Australia’s policies relating to the criminal justice system.
The Uniting Church WA is a member of the Social Reinvestment WA working group along with leading agencies and organisations.
Social Reinvestment is a holistic and evidence based approach to improving community safety, the wellbeing of families and individuals, and reducing the number of people ending up in prison. The approach is based on the three complementary pillars of Smart Justice, Safe Communities and Healthy Families.
Social Reinvestment WA reported that approximately 40-45% of adults and 58% of children who are released from prison return there within two years. By comparison, just 12.8% of people sentenced to programs in the community have further contact with corrections within the following two-year period.
Rev Steve Francis, moderator of the Uniting Church WA, said that it is time for a new approach.
“There are states around the world that are already using the social reinvestment model and achieving great results for their people. The evidence is clear that the ‘tough on crime’ approach is not creating safer communities. It’s time that WA moved towards policies which supported those who are vulnerable to entering and re-entering the justice system, to break this cycle now,” Steve said.
Rev Sealin Garlett, chair of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (Congress) WA Regional Committee affirms the decision.
“The Uniting Church and Congress stand together in dealing with this injustice, for the wholeness of our community. We need to harness the work for justice for all. We need to invest our time for the richness of our community,” Sealin said.
The Uniting Church WA has advocated for improvements to the West Australian justice system, including calls for an end to mandatory sentencing, addressing prison overcrowding and reforms to the processing of women, people with disabilities, mental illness and drug-related problems who enter the justice system, for more than 15 years.