Rethinking the justice system
What’s prison for?
Prisons are full of people whose circumstances have led them to make bad decisions and bad choices. But if you look into the background of many of the people who end up in prison, you will find people who have mental illness, drug and alcohol addiction, low levels of education and unsettled childhoods. You’ll also find people who, before becoming offenders, were victims of crime themselves. Yes, there are some people who don’t have any of these things in their background… but not many.
We know that by far the majority of people who end up in prison come from disadvantaged backgrounds. We know that by far the majority of people who commit crimes have themselves been victims of crime. So we are calling on the Government to make a change: to work with us to build our communities, so we don’t need to build more prisons.
Does our prison system make us safer?
In WA’s currently overcrowded prison system, prisoners have only limited access to rehabilitative programs — drug and alcohol rehabilitation, education and training, anger and domestic violence programs. This means that people whose behaviour has shown they clearly need help and support, aren’t getting help or support. Sure, they’re being kept away from people they may have harmed… but at some point, almost all prisoners get released.
We need to shift our thinking.
Prison must only be used as a last resort.
The Uniting Church Synod of WA is a participant in a new venture called Social Reinvestment WA. This is a coalition of community and indigenous organisations which are working for a new vision of justice for WA. These are their priorities:
We need to work for Healthy Families:
The well-being of individuals, families and communities must be at the centre of an effective approach to law and justice issues in Western Australia. We know that disadvantage is one of the main drivers of contact with the criminal justice system, for victims and offenders. By supporting families and addressing disadvantage, we can improve community safety and well-being.
We need to put into practice Smart Justice:
Our current approach is failing all Western Australians. It is economically and socially costly, outdated and flawed. The evidence shows that there is a smarter way. Other states and countries have achieved a dramatic decrease in crime and in the amount of people being sent to prison by adopting a new approach. Instead of choosing to spend more and more of our money on cramming people into prisons, we too can become smarter. If we redirect investment into addressing local issues that lead to crime we will get results.
We need to create Safe Communities:
Social Investment is a win-win. The current ‘tough on crime’ approach is failing to make communities safer. By getting smarter and focusing on supporting families and communities, and supporting members of our community who are returning from prison, we will increase community safety.
Building Communities: A prison justice study guide
To assist people in continuing this coversation about prisons, crime and community safety, the Social Justice Board has put together a comprehensive study guide. The study guide has been designed to give people an insight into some of the issues around prison justice in Western Australia, and to help them think through some of the alternatives ways of doing things.
The study guide has been designed for use with Christian groups, but we are currently adapting them for use in a non-Christian setting. Similarly, the resource outlines the structure/materials for four (1.5 hour) sessions, but if you don’t have this much time, you could instead pick and choose which elements – videos/stories/activities – you wanted to focus on instead.
We’d love it if you continued this conversation with others – family members, workmates or friends.
Please note the latest statistics
A Prison snapshot-(from the Australian Bureau of Statistics)
- At 30 June 2016 there were 38845 prisoners (sentenced and unsentenced) in Australia prisons, an increase of 6% (2711 Prisoners) from 30 June 2015.This represents a national imprisonment rate of 208 prisoners per 100,000 adult population.
- The median aggregate sentence length for all sentenced prisoners was 3.3 years.
- Unsentenced prisoners comprised 27% of the total prisoner population. At least half) of all prisoners had served a sentence in an adult prison prior to the current episode. The most serious offence/charge category of acts intended to cause injury accounted for the highest proportion of all prisoners (20%) Of the total prisoner population 8% were female and approximately eight in ten (80%) were born in Australia. The median age of all prisoners was 34 years.
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island prisoners comprised just over a quarter (27%) of the total prisoner population. The age standard imprisonment rate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners was 2346 per 100,000 adult Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population.
- This was 14 times higher than non-Indigenous prisoners at 30 June 2016