In Western Australia, our current criminal justice system is costly, hurting our families, and despite its claims, not effective at keeping our communities safe. Latest data shows that 40-45% of people released from prison return within just two years.
Social reinvestment, on the other hand, is a model that works with prisoners and those who are at-risk of entering the criminal justice system to reduce recidivism and to break the cycle of incarceration in those families affected.
Daniel Morrison, co-chair of Social Reinvestment WA, of which the Uniting Church WA is a member, believes there is a better way for WA’s criminal justice system. Daniel is also the CEO of the Aboriginal Alcohol and Drug Service and sits on many boards and councils in the community services sector. He is a Nyungar/Yamatji man from the south west of WA.
While people from any demographic can and do find themselves in prison for various reasons, Daniel explained that prison justice is largely an Indigenous issue. According to the Department of Corrective Services, 40% of adults and 75% of the children imprisoned in WA are of Aboriginal or Torres Straight Islander descent. This is despite the Australian Bureau of Statistics reporting that Indigenous Australians only make up 3.8% of the wider population in WA.
The affect of removing a parent from a family is huge. Indigenous Australian’s have a long history of removal, from the stolen generations, to now, the cycle of high percentages of incarceration. Daniel explained that the flow-on effects causes major issues for families who are caught up in the system and finding it so hard to get out.
“A big part of the problem is caused by removing the father figure,” Daniel said. “Stats show that a lot of Aboriginal families, the ones that we’re working with in social services, are missing the father figure. And a lot of times it’s because the father figure has been in prison.”
He said that it creates attitudes through the next generations, where it is seen as a ‘rite of passage’ to end up in prison.
“The children end up getting similar type relationships and sharing the same journey at the end of the day,” he said.
Having a parent in prison also puts all kinds of pressures on the family in the community, especially for the single parent left to run the household. It can also become unsettling again when the imprisoned parent is released.
“In some cases they’re released and then due to very limited rehab and very limited support services while they’ve been in prison, they fall back into the same old habits, mix with the same circles and surprise, surprise they end up back in criminal activity and criminal justice services. And then the revolving door process starts,” Daniel said.
Rev Frances Hadfield has been working as a Uniting Church prison chaplain at Bandyup Women’s Prison and the Boronia Prerelease Centre for Women for ten years. She explained that there are many issues which keep women in the system, including around accommodation and safety in the wider community.
Frances said the pre-release centre (Boronia) helps get women prepared for their release from prison, which has been a great thing for some of them. But while there are quite a few good programs
running, overcrowding has created too many challenges.
“Unfortunately, we’ve had huge overcrowding, so some of the programs haven’t been able to be properly run; the overcrowding has just spoiled it all,” Frances said. “The courts are still sending [women] in; one weekend they sent in 24 and the next weekend was another 24.”
Both Daniel and Frances agree that prisons are a necessity in Australia and that some people do need to be incarcerated, but that many people are sent to prison in haste. Frances also believes that more consideration needs to be taken into the situations on which women are convicted. Many people, for example, are incarcerated for unpaid fines – a crime which could be better addressed with support, education and assistance.
“I think more story needs to be heard before women are sentenced,” she said. “And more investigation into their lives, more help before they go to prison.”
Despite the fact that it’s not working, our current criminal justice system is extremely costly, compared to a system which aims to rehabilitate prisoners and prevent people entering the system in the first place through early intervention and rehabilitation programs. While the initial start-up costs of social reinvestment may be high, the ongoing costs are cheaper in the long run and much more effective.
The Healing Foundation is one such program, which Revive has reported on in the past, aiming to bring healing to survivors of the Stolen Generations and their families. The Fairbridge Bindjareb project is another social reinvestment project working with prisoners at Karnet prison. It aims to help prisoners into training and job opportunities in the mining industry, providing them with secure employment and a way out of crime. Alongside this, participants engage in a lifestyle development program, designed to encourage connection, respect and pride with Indigenous culture. The program has been a big success in reducing recidivism. According to Social Reinvestment WA, a preliminary review found that only 18% of participants returned to prison within two years of being released. This is compared to a general recidivism rate of 40%.
The project is aiming to expand and so the recent report, A Cost Benefit Analysis of the Fairbridge Bindjareb Project (February 2016) from Deloitte, investigates its potential. It reports that the project is estimated to save the government $2.9million for the first five intakes. Comparatively, the Social Reinvestment WA: Key Reform and Policy Target document reports that it costs $120 000 to house one adult prisoner for just one year, and $300 000 to house a juvenile for the same time period.
Daniel said that cost is a big factor in their campaign.
“Mainly, the issue that we have with the current criminal justice system is that it’s very expensive, and it’s not very efficient or effective for rehabilitation, healing and making our community stronger and safer,” Daniel said.
“It’s really a waste of money because people are being locked up at a huge cost to the community and there’s no real change to that person or their families. The flow-on effects that it has on the family as a whole and the generations as well; it’s not very smart.
“We can’t just keep doing what we’ve always done and getting what we’ve always got. It’s a hell of a lot cheaper to spend that money wiser and really support the family around early intervention and prevention type programs rather than waiting for families to get to the point where they’ve got nowhere else to go but to steal and do criminal activities just to get by.”
The social reinvestment model aims to provide support to communities to break the cycle of incarceration. It works on the idea of three pillars: building healthy families, safer communities and smart justice.
“From an Aboriginal community controlled organisation’s point of view, we’re really wanting to work with the government to look at better and smart ways to work with Aboriginal people and communities,” Daniel said. “We’re hoping that we can really work with them and get them to understand that it comes down to healthy families, smart justice and safer communities.
“But, bottom line is that we need more preventative type programs, more at the front end rather than putting more and more money at the back-end, getting the same results that we’ve always got.”
To build healthy families, Social Reinvestment WA believes a government commitment to early intervention and prevention programs is vital. These programs would be in a number of different areas. Issues around accommodation; investment in early childhood development, especially for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids; establishing effective programs to keep Indigenous kids in school; drug and alcohol education; increased domestic violence support; increased services for people living with disability or mental illness; and more, could be implemented.
Smart justice would see an improvement in data collection; undertake ongoing mapping analysis to identify communities in need; and incorporating justice targets into Closing the Gap. Social Reinvestment WA also calls for the Government to implement the recommendations of the 25-year-old Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, which Daniel says is long overdue.
“We really need to get back to the amount of reports and resources that have been poured into these issues, where the report recommendations haven’t been enacted, like the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. That’s a massive one,” Daniel said. “I believe only a fraction of the recommendations were enacted, which begs the question: why? And if the recommendations were properly implemented, what would we be looking at now?”
Providing safer communities under the Social Reinvestment WA policy would include alternative options to prison for fine defaulters, investing in programs and services run by and for Indigenous Australians, improvement of access to rehabilitation services for those in custody, and adequate post release services for those who are returning to their families. Daniel said there are examples around Australia, and the world, which WA could learn from – we just need the community to work together to make it happen.
“There’s quite a few models within the country, as well as globally, where we can take examples from. Texas in America, where justice reinvestment has been developed and implemented, has resulted in the closing of prisons. So there’s a model there that could be adapted and looked at for WA.
“And other states within Australia are following suit as well, but WA is, as always, lagging.”
“We need all governments to work together and to be on the same page.”
For more information on Social Reinvestment WA visit http://www.socialreinvestmentwa.org.au.