Queensland Productivity Commission summary report into imprisonment and recidivism - AUGUST 2019

SUMMARY REPORT - Imprisonment and Recidivism


Foreword 01

1 What is the inquiry about? 03

Consultation 05

What stakeholders told us 06

2 Imprisonment is a growing problem 07

3 Reform options 17

Build a better decision-making architecture 17

Reduce the scope of criminal offences 20

Deal with offending in better ways 24

Improve rehabilitation and reintegration 28

Target prevention and early intervention 30

Expand diversionary options 32

Addressing Indigenous overrepresentation 34

Recommendations 37

Key points

• The rate of imprisonment—the number of prisoners per head of population—has increased by more than 160 per cent since 1992.

This increase has primarily been driven by policy and system changes and a focus on short-term risk, not crime rates.

The median prison term is short (3.9 months) and most sentences (62 per cent) are for non-violent offences—30 per cent of prisoners are chronic but relatively low harm offenders.

Each month, over 1,000 prisoners are released back into the community. Over 50 per cent will reoffend and return to prison or to a community correction order within two years.

Social and economic disadvantage is strongly associated with imprisonment.  Around 50 per cent of prisoners had a prior hospitalisation for a mental health issue and/or were subject to a child protection order—for female Indigenous prisoners, this figure climbs to 75 per cent.

• At the margin, the costs of imprisonment are likely to outweigh the benefits, with increasing imprisonment working to reduce community safety over time:

It costs around $111,000 per year to accommodate a prisoner, with indirect costs in the order of $48,000 per person, per year.

Prisons are not effective at rehabilitation, and can increase the likelihood of reoffending.

Without action to reduce growth, the government will need to build up to 4,200 additional cells by 2025. This will require investments of around $3.6 billion.

• Given the scale of policy reforms required, an essential first step will be to overhaul the decision-making architecture of the criminal justice system, including establishing an independent Justice Reform Office to provide a greater focus on longer-term outcomes and drive evidence-based policy-making.

• Many offending behaviours can be addressed outside of the criminal justice system through a victim restitution and restoration system, targeted community-level interventions and greater use of diversionary approaches.

• A lack of sentencing options constrains the ability to effectively deal with offending behaviours and makes the system costlier than it needs to be. More sentencing options are required including:

more flexible community corrections orders supported by effective supervision and treatment

supervised residential options that allow treatment to address offending behaviours.

After many decades of operation, illicit drugs policy has failed to curb supply or use. The policy costs around $500 million per year to administer and is a key contributor to rising imprisonment rates (32 per cent since 2012). It also results in significant unintended harms, by incentivising the introduction of more harmful drugs and supporting a large criminal market. Evidence suggests moving away from a criminal approach will reduce harm and is unlikely to increase drug use.

High Indigenous incarceration rates undermine efforts to solve disadvantage—currently an Indigenous male in Queensland has an almost 30 per cent chance of being imprisoned by the age of 25. Long-term structural and economic reforms that devolve responsibility and accountability to Indigenous communities are required. Independent oversight of reforms is essential.

These reforms, if adopted, could reduce the prison population by up to 30 per cent and save around $270 million per year in prison costs, without compromising community safety.

Queensland Productivity Commission 01


In September 2018, the Queensland Government directed the Queensland Productivity Commission

to undertake an inquiry into imprisonment and recidivism. This report summarises our findings and


Despite declining crime rates, imprisonment rates in Queensland are increasing. Imprisonment rates for

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are high and growing, and the rate of imprisonment of

women is also growing. These matters are not unique to Queensland and reflect wider Australian trends.

Imprisonment is an expensive response to crime and directly costs the Queensland community almost

one billion dollars annually. Incarceration has profound impacts on prisoners, their families and the

community. Our findings challenge the notion that community safety is best served by continuing the

current approach. We propose a comprehensive suite of recommendations which we believe will improve

outcomes, reduce costs and keep communities safer.

Our report makes the case for a narrowing of the scope of criminal offences. We argue for some crimes

to be punished with non-custodial options. We propose a greater role for restitution and restorative

justice. We recommend widening the sentencing options available to the courts. We conclude that better

rehabilitation and reintegration would reduce recidivism. We recommend an expansion of diversionary

options. We consider the overrepresentation of Indigenous people and provide recommendations.

We understand that some of the recommendations in this report may not be implemented without wide

community agreement and political will. Further consideration will be necessary for some reforms. This

will take time and should not be rushed. Nevertheless, we believe it is important to present our analysis

and recommendations and hope that this is a catalyst for further debate leading to improved outcomes.

This report would not have been possible without the contributions of some 600 stakeholders, representing

ordinary Queenslanders, government agencies and statutory bodies, victim peak bodies, prisoner

advocates, unions, the judiciary, corrections officers, prisoners, Indigenous peak bodies, advocacy

organisations and academics. We applaud the willingness of stakeholders to seek better outcomes for

victims, offenders, and the community and thank all individuals and organisations who participated in the inquiry.

Finally, we thank the staff of the Commission for their commitment and professionalism in the preparation

of this material. The Commissioners wish to thank inquiry leader Matthew Clark and executive director

Kristy Bogaards, without whose contribution this report would not have been delivered to the level of

quality achieved. A full list of the Queensland Productivity Commission staff who contributed to this

inquiry is listed inside the back cover.

Bronwyn Fredericks


Kim Wood

Principal Commissioner

1 August 2019


Queensland Productivity Commission 03

1 What is the inquiry about?

Across Australia and other developed countries,

governments are contending with rising imprisonment

and high levels of recidivism. In Queensland, the rate

of imprisonment has risen by more than 160 per cent

since 1992 and by around 61 per cent between June

2012 and March 2019.

Infrastructure has not kept up with this growth, with

prisons currently holding around 37 per cent more

prisoners than they are designed to hold.

More than half of prisoners reoffend and are given

a new sentence of imprisonment or community

supervision within two years of their release. The

rate of imprisonment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait

Islander people continues to outstrip the rate for the

rest of the population, and imprisonment rates for

women have been increasing faster than for men.

The growth in prisoner numbers has significant

social and economic implications for the Queensland

community, affected individuals and their families,

and the Queensland Government.

In September 2018, the Queensland Government

asked the Commission to undertake an inquiry into

imprisonment and recidivism in Queensland. The

terms of reference for this inquiry ask us to examine

how government resources and policies can be

best used to reduce imprisonment and recidivism

and improve outcomes for the community over the

medium to longer term. The terms of reference ask

us to consider:

• trends in imprisonment and recidivism and the

causal factors underlying these trends

• factors affecting imprisonment for Aboriginal

and Torres Strait Islander people, women and

young people

• the benefits and costs of imprisonment, including

its social effects, financial costs and effectiveness

in reducing/preventing crime

• the effectiveness of programs and services to

reduce the number of people in prison, including

prevention and early intervention approaches,

non-imprisonment sentencing options, and the

rehabilitation and reintegration of prisoners

• the efficacy of adopting an investment approach,

whereby investments in prevention, early

intervention and rehabilitation deliver benefits and

savings over the longer term.

The terms of reference require that our

recommendations are consistent with the

Queensland Government Policy on the Contractingout

of Services.

Our approach

There are many factors that influence imprisonment

and recidivism. The scope of this inquiry therefore

encompasses a broad set of issues and areas—from

early intervention to post-prison support (Figure 1).

Given the broad scope of this inquiry, it was not

possible for the Commission to conduct a detailed

operational review of the Queensland criminal justice

system (Box 1) or every program, policy or action

that affects imprisonment.

Our approach to this inquiry reflects that at least

10 major reviews have looked at aspects of the

criminal justice system in Queensland over the last

decade. Many of their recommendations are still

being implemented. The inquiry has built on, rather

than revisited, the issues covered by these reviews.

The Commission has concentrated on the key policy

and institutional changes that are likely to provide

the greatest net benefit to the community. The

Commission has taken a community-wide approach

to assessing options—where possible, assessing the

costs and benefits of reform options and examining

whether there were more effective and efficient

ways of doing things.


The terms of reference for this inquiry asked us

to consider ways to reduce the number of people

flowing through the prison system, including for

women, youth and Aboriginal and Torres Strait

Islander people. We have examined and reported on

trends in offending and imprisonment data for each

of these groups wherever this was possible.

In most cases, the reforms proposed in this report

will help reduce offending and imprisonment for

all demographic groups. This is reflected in our

recommendations, which are, generally not targeted

to specific demographic groups.

The Commission has, however, developed specific

recommendations to address the overrepresentation

of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in

Queensland prisons. This approach reflects the

intractability of the underlying causes of Indigenous


Finally, it was not possible for the Commission to

develop conclusive findings and recommendations

across all issues that affect imprisonment and

recidivism. For those issues, we have identified areas

for further review. These should form a body of

priority work for the Queensland Government.




development Diversion Alternative















Exit Exit Exit Exit Exit


Crime prevention Alternatives to prison Preventing recidivism

Figure 1 The scope of the inquiry

Box 1 The Queensland system

Several institutions make up the Queensland criminal justice system, including law enforcement

agencies; courts; agencies responsible for detaining, supervising and rehabilitating offenders

(including prisons); a range of advocacy and oversight bodies; and agencies involved in prevention

and intervention.

There are over 11,000 sworn police officers, 200,000 criminal lodgements dealt with by the courts

each year and 9,000 prisoners managed in custody (11 high security prisons, 6 low security prisons,

and 13 work camps). In 2017–18, the budgetary cost of the criminal justice system in Queensland

(police, the courts and corrections) was around $3.5 billion.

Many other stakeholders play a role in the system—from oversight or advisory bodies like the Crime

and Corruption Commission and the Queensland Sentencing Advisory Council, to legal services,

service providers, representative groups and the media.

Queensland Productivity Commission 05


The Commission operates on a public inquiry model, underpinned by open and transparent consultation.

This final report presents the Commission's findings and recommendations based on its analysis of the

evidence provided by a broad range of stakeholders from across the judiciary, unions, legal advocates,

peak bodies, Indigenous and non-Indigenous advocacy groups, service providers, prisoners, academics,

government and members of the public.

To prepare the final report, we consulted on our issues paper (released September 2018) and draft report

(released February 2019).

The Commission met with over 600 stakeholders

The Commission received 25 PRESENTATIONS through public

hearings in Cairns, Townsville and Brisbane. Public forums were

held in Cairns, Brisbane, Townsville, Rockhampton & Mount Isa.



89 written


(46 on the draft report +

43 on the issues paper)

The Commission received





The Commission held over


stakeholders including

two expert workshops

The Commission

undertook site visits to:

EIGHT correctional facilities—Lotus Glen,

Helena Jones, Borallon, Aurthur Gorrie,

Townsville, Capricornia, Brisbane and

Brisbane Women’s

the Drug and Alcohol, Magistrate

and Murri courts

service providers—seven crisis

accommodation centres


with Aboriginal

and Torres Strait

Islander communities

The Commission held public

forums and additional one on

one meetings in Hope Vale,

Aurukun and Napranum.

Further meetings were

also held in Yarrabah.


Copies of all submissions, and transcripts and recordings of the public hearings can be accessed through the

Commission’s website, www.qpc.qld.gov.au


The system is not

achieving desired


Prison/detention does not prevent

offending. Research consistently

shows that prisons are ineffective

in rehabilitating offenders

and preventing re-offending.

Imprisonment is therefore a poor

use of public money. (Balanced

Justice sub. 1, p. 33)

[W]hen governments talk about

community protection as a

reason, they only focus on the

short term when offenders are

actually in prison, and very little

focus on community protection

in the long term, e.g. post release.

(Erikson, Monash University

sub. 5, p. 5)

We learn nothing of use in prison

and spend our lives in a place

that reinforces how worthless

we are. (Anonymous prisoner

sub. DR40, p. 2)

Despite falling crime rates,

record numbers of our most

marginalised Queenslanders have

been imprisoned. (Sisters Inside

sub. 39, p. 3)

Recidivism rates … for First Nation

people and … for non-First Nation

people point to a system failure in

the important area of rehabilitation.

This failure, as evidenced by the

recidivism rates, is catastrophic

and is a signficant driver of crime.

(Hamburger sub. 14, p. 13)

Prisons are

overcrowded, and

this is impacting


Double ups are occurring in every

state-run centre (other than the

low security centres), in some

there are insufficient facilities for

all prisoners to sit down to eat at

the one time and access to scarce

industry programs designed to

assist in rehabilitation is further

reduced. (Together Queensland

sub. 29, p. 1)

Issues are broader

than the prison system

Rehabilitation is of little assistance

when gaol offers a more

inviting environment than the

communities to which they must

return. (Families Responsibilities

Commission sub. 23, p. 1)

Addressing Indigenous


requires a long term,

community-led focus

[A]ny real improvements in the

headline imprisonment rates will

forever be elusive unless there is

a clear focus on empowerment

and developing ‘human capital’

so that Indigenous people, over

generations, have the means to lift

themselves out of poverty. (Cape

York Partnerships sub. 6, p. 2)

Offending behaviours

are often the result of

many complex factors

There is a significant body of

evidence documenting the links

between mental health issues and

incarceration, as well as between

childhood trauma and future

psychosocial problems. (The Royal

Australian & New Zealand College

of Psychiatrists, sub. 31, p. 5)

There are no quick fixes

Investing in programs addressing

offending behaviour is not an

easy sell, however, if we are

serious about preventing crime

and increasing the safety of

our children, young people and

communities, we must look into

investing in long term solutions,

not short term perceived ‘fixes’.

(Bravehearts sub. 40, p. 1)

Queensland, like the rest of

Australia, relies heavily on the

criminal justice system to respond

to alcohol and other drug use

despite recognition that alcohol and

other drug use is better framed as a

health issue. (Queensland Network

of Alcohol and Other

Drug Agencies sub. 30, p. 3)

Solutions require

bipartisan support

This cannot be a political issue.

(Queensland Victim's Homicide

Support Group sub. 18, p. 3)

What stakeholders told us

Queensland Productivity Commission 07

2 Imprisonment is a growing problem

Imprisonment rates are increasing, despite falling

crime rates

Imprisonment is growing much faster than the

population—the rate of imprisonment in Queensland

is currently higher than at any time since 1900. The

prison population grew rapidly during two periods.

From 1992 to 1999, the rate of imprisonment roughly

doubled. It increased rapidly again from 2012 to

2018—growing by 44 per cent.

Figure 2 Adult imprisonment per 100,000

population, Queensland


































Source: ABS 2018k, 2019a; OESR 2009.

Similar trends are occurring in the rest of Australia.

Measuring changes in underlying crime rates is

challenging, because the rate at which crimes

are reported change over time. This may reflect

changing community attitudes—for example, in

relation to domestic and sexual violence—but can

also reflect changes in policing effort or focus.

Over the longer term, the most reliable indicator of

crime levels are homicide rates (since most cases are

reported). While homicide rates increased slightly

during the 1970s, they have declined approximately

two-thirds from their peak in the 1980s.

Figure 3 Homicide rate per 100,000 population,






















Source: ABS 2018l; Bricknell 2008; Neill & Leigh 2008.

Queensland data suggest a similar trend. Reported crime

rates—those offences which are reported, or policed—

have trended downward for the past two decades.

Figure 4 Reported offence rate per 100,000

population, Queensland.

Note: The increase in reported offences against the person from 2015

appears to be largely due to additional reporting of offences rather

than an increase in the underlying crime rates.

Source: QPS 2019c.


Box 2 Do public perceptions match the reality?

Crime is a key concern for Australians. This is for a good reason. Victims of serious offences can suffer

trauma that severely reduces their quality of life. For others, fear of crime can limit their participation

in the community.

While Australians' perception of safety has improved on some measuresa, most Australians believe

that crime rates have increased over the last few years, and about a third believe that crime has

increased a lot.b This is similar in other countries, where people commonly believe crime rates are

rising, when in fact the opposite is occurring.c

Similarly, the community often feel the judiciary is ‘out of touch’ or that sentences are too lenient and

inconsistent. However, research shows that when given the full facts about a case, members of the

public typically choose sentences that are on par with, or more lenient than, the imposed sentence.


Public anxiety about crime is what drives state government investment in law enforcement. It is this investment,

not underlying trends in crime, which has played the dominant role in shaping demand for criminal justice

resources over the last ten years. (Weatherburn 1993)

The reported offence rate can be a misleading

indicator of the underlying rate of crime, since it can

be affected by changes in reporting and policing

effort—both of which seem to have increased

significantly. Adjusting for these factors suggests

that actual offending rates may have declined by as

much as 20 per cent over the last decade (Figure 5).1

Despite the decline in underlying crime rates, surveys

show that most Australians believe that crime is

increasing (Box 2).

Figure 5 Reported and proxy actual offending rates.








2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018

Reported offending Proxy actual offending

Rates are presented as indexes to allow comparisons of change

over time. Index: 2009=100.

Source: QPC calculations; ABS 2019d, 2019g.

1 Note: Underlying offending rates are a weighted bundle of four offences: physical assault, theft, property damage and unlawful entry.

Reported offending rates include property and personal offences.

a For example, in 1996, females were almost twice as likely to avoid public transport and one and half times less likely to walk home alone

after dark than they are today. ABS 2017, Personal Safety, Australia, cat. no. 4906.

b Essential Research 2018, The Essential Report, January.

c Davis, B & Dossetor, K 2010, (Mis)perceptions of Crime in Australia, Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice, no. 396, Australian

Institute of Criminology, July.

Queensland Productivity Commission 09

Prison terms tend to be short, and

used for non-violent offending

Most prison sentences are short. The median prison

sentence is only 3.9 months. Often the whole

sentence, or most of it, is served on remand—where

opportunities for rehabilitation are limited. Non

violent offenders accounted for over 60 per cent of

all prisoners in 2017-18.

Figure 6 Prison sentences, Queensland

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander

people are overrepresented...

Indigenous imprisonment rates are around ten times

the non-Indigenous rate. For Indigenous men, the

rate of imprisonment is over 3,000 persons per

100,000 population.

Figure 8 Age-standardised imprisonment rates,

levels, per 100,000 population










Violent Non-violent Violent Non-violent

2011-12 2017-18

Source: ABS 2018k.








Male Female Male Female

Indigenous non-Indigenous

...and rates are growing over time

Indigenous imprisonment rates increased by

45 per cent between 2008 and 2018. This growth

was around 50 per cent faster than for non-

Indigenous people.

Figure 9 Age-standardised imprisonment rates,

indexed growth

Source: ABS 2018k.




















Indigenous non-Indigenous

Source: ABS 2019e.

Women are imprisoned at much

lower rates than men, but rates

are growing

The rate of imprisonment for women is around

ten times lower than it is for men. However, it has

increased by more than 60 per cent over the last


Figure 7 Imprisonment rates, Queensland

















Male Female

Source: ABS 2018k.


Source: Unpublished research by Griffith University's Criminology Institute.

Risk factors are associated with imprisonment

Chronic offending

Although prison is supposed to be an option of last resort (Penalties and Sentencing Act 1992), many

individuals are imprisoned for non-violent or less serious offences. This is usually because the individual has

committed several other offences prior to imprisonment.

The Commission estimates that around 30 per cent of the burden of imprisonment is borne by chronic,

but low harm offenders (Figure 10).

Figure 10 Police contacts, court costs and prisoner days attributable to offender groups, Queensland

Exposure to risk factors

Many risk factors interact with one another and become compounded over time—for example, a cognitive

disability may increase the risk of substance abuse, which in turn further inhibits executive function. These

risk factors are exacerbated by socio-economic disadvantage.

Research shows that almost half of all Queensland prisoners are likely to have been previously

hospitalised for mental health issues and/or have a history of child protection (Figure 11).

Figure 11 Child protection orders and mental health hospitalisations for Queensland prisoners

Source: QPC analysis of a cohort of offenders born in 1990.

Chronic offenders are those who have been found guilty of at least five offences.


Police contacts

Court costs

Prisoner days

Low frequency low harm

Chronic low harm

Low frequency medium harm

Chronic medium harm

Low frequency high harm

Chronic high harm

0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80% 90% 100%

0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80

Child protection order Mental health hospitalisation both


Male Female




Queensland Productivity Commission 11

Figure 12 Risk factors and contact with the criminal justice system, Queensland

Stage of life Risk factors


with the CJS

Before birth

Early childhood

Primary school

High school



• Disorganised schooling

• Inability to keep up with classmates due to disability/disadvantage

• Disproportionate disciplinary action (e.g. expulsion at a young age)

• Cognitive impairment

• Parental absence

• Lack of a stable home environment

• Early exposure to criminal behaviour

• Familial involvement in crime

• Family members in prison

• Abuse or trauma

• Removal from home

• Exposure to drugs, tobacco or alcohol in the womb

• Development of congenital disabilities

• Anti-social peer networks

• Excessive consumption of alcohol or drugs

• Poor academic performance and opportunities

• Leaving school early without moving

into other education or employment

• Mental illness









First police






• Unemployment

• Substance addiction

• Homelessness

• Damage to relationships due to imprisonment

• Loss of housing or employment due to imprisonment

• Contact with other offenders in prison

























Source: QPC analysis.


Rising imprisonment rates are driven by system

changes, not crime rates

It is difficult to precisely break down the changes

in imprisonment rates over the last few decades

into its key components. Nevertheless, the evidence

suggests that the key factors driving the change in

imprisonment are:

• increased reporting of crime—the reporting

rate for physical assault increased 45 per cent

between 2008–09 and 2017–18

• an increase in the use of prison sentences over

other options—the proportion of sentences

involving prison has risen for both violent and

non-violent offences

• an increase in recidivism rates—the proportion of

prisoners returning to prison with a new sentence

within two years increased from 29 per cent in

2006–07 to 43 per cent in 2017–18

• an increase in policing effort—clearance rates

for reported offences against the person and

offences against property have increased since


• an increased propensity for police to use court

action—the proportion of offences (other than

public order) dealt with through court action

increased from 83.7 per cent to 87.5 per cent

between 2008–09 and 2016–17, with police less

likely to use non-court options such as cautions,

conferencing and penalty notices

• a significant increase in the proportion of

unsentenced (remanded) prisoners in the

last five years—while difficult to measure, this

appears to have resulted in a sizeable number of

prisoners serving a longer time in prison than they

otherwise would have.

Changes in sentence lengths have had little impact

on imprisonment rates.

Figure 13 Key drivers of the increase in the imprisonment rate


crime rates


use of prison




of crime




Less use of




in remand



Queensland Productivity Commission 13

The costs of imprisonment are high

Imprisonment is costly, and this cost is borne by the community

On average, it costs $111,000 to keep an adult in prison for a year. In 2017–18, the total cost of running

Queensland's prisons was $960 million. These costs are increasing. From 2011–12 to 2017–18, real net

operating expenditures on prisons increased by around 29 per cent, significantly more than the increase

in general government expenditures.

Queensland prisons are overcrowded—across all prisons, capacity is currently at 130 per cent. Without

efforts to reduce demand, a significant expansion of capacity will be required (Box 3).

Prison imposes additional costs on offenders and their families

Although prison is intended to punish offenders, costs extend beyond the direct effect on the prisoner

during the term they serve. These indirect costs can include forgone employment, as well as higher rates

of unemployment, social exclusion, homelessness and poor mental health following release. Prison disrupts

parent–child relationships, alters the networks of familial support and places new burdens on government

services such as schools and family support services. Studies suggest that the indirect costs of imprisonment

may be in the order of $48,000 per year for each prisoner.

Box 3 The cost of housing Queensland’s growing prison population

In September 2018, the high security prisoner population exceeded the original design capacitya of

prisons by 30 per cent, or nearly 2,000 prisoners.

The Queensland Government has announced new cell capacity of nearly 1,400 prison cells by 2023,

at a total cost of $861 million. Despite this, without further investments or changes to policy, prisons

are likely to remain significantly overcrowded based on their original design capacity.

In the absence of any investments or policy change, the Commission projects the high security prison

population will exceed design capacity by between 3,000 and 4,200 prisoners by 2025. To keep

prisons within their original design capacity will require investments of between $1.9 billion and

$2.7 billion beyond the $861 million already announced.

a To allow for prisoner movement, 'total design capacity' refers to 95 per cent cell occupancy.

Sources: 2018k; Queensland Government sub. 43, p. 72; Ryan 2019c.






































Number of prisoners in Queensland

Actual Estimate using 2008-18 Estimate using 2013-18


There is little evidence that more imprisonment is

beneficial for the community

How prison affects offending

At a general level, prisons do reduce crime. While an offender is in prison, they are unable to commit further

offences. The prospect of prison can also deter others from offending and can deter prisoners from reoffending.

There is no research for Queensland that quantifies how prison deters individuals from committing crime or

prevents offending through incapacitation. The limited Australian evidence suggests that:

• There are diminishing returns from the use of imprisonment—that is, the additional benefit (through a

reduction in crime) declines significantly as more people are imprisoned.

• Increasing policing effort has a much greater impact on crime than increasing the severity of

punishment—increases in sentence length do little to prevent crime.

• Well-designed community corrections can reduce recidivism without compromising community safety.

Research suggests that factors such as rising income has a much greater impact on reducing crime than the

increase in imprisonment.

Beyond those findings, it is also important to consider what happens after prisoners exit from prison, and

the extent to which prison rehabilitates or criminalises prisoners. If prisons simply turn prisoners into more

effective criminals, they are likely to make the community less safe over time (Box 4).

Box 4 Does imprisonment make reoffending more likely?

The relationship between imprisonment, rehabilitation and the criminogenic effects of prison is poorly

understood and likely to vary considerably depending on the prison environment, including the

level of overcrowding. Nevertheless, research suggests that during the first year of a prison term the

criminogenic effects of prison override any benefits arising from rehabilitation or from deterring the

prisoner from offending again.

Figure 14 Possible effects of prison on recidivism

Probability of





Rehabilitation starts

to offset criminogenic



Source: Adapted from Mears et al. 2016.

Queensland Productivity Commission 15

Increasing imprisonment may impose net costs on the community

The Commission has undertaken a preliminary,

illustrative analysis of the costs and benefits

of imprisonment for a range of offences. We

estimate that, at the current rate of imprisonment,

incarcerating an additional prisoner is likely to

prevent (through deterrence and incapacitation)

around 14.3 crimes for property offences, and

around 1.4 crimes for violent offences.

These benefits can be compared against the direct

costs of imprisonment, by assessing the harms

that would be avoided by preventing property and

violent crimes.

Table 1 provides sample results from the

Commission's analysis. It shows that incarcerating

an additional person for a homicide would provide

a large net benefit to the community (since the

harm of offending is high); however, the costs from

incarcerating an additional burglar (where harm is

much lower) would outweigh the benefits.

This result does not suggest that we should never

imprison anyone for burglary, but rather that

increasing the use of prison, particularly for less

serious offences, is likely to impose a net cost on

the community.

Even where there is a net benefit from

imprisonment, it may not be the best option—

evidence suggests that alternatives to prison, for

at least some offences, can provide greater net

benefits to the community.

While this analysis is subject to a number of

important limitations, it suggests that, while it is

beneficial to imprison offenders who impose high

harms on the community, in the case of many other

offences, imprisonment is likely to impose net costs

on the community. Furthermore, it is likely that lower

cost options, such as community corrections orders,

would provide greater benefits to the community.

These conclusions are consistent with emerging

research in other jurisdictions.

Table 1 Illustrative net benefits of imprisonment

Offence Offences avoided Harm avoided Prison cost Net benefit

Homicide 1.4 $4,142,168 $800,978 $3,341,190

Burglary 14.3 $35,396 $111,247 –$75,851

Harm avoided is the average harm associated with the offence (from 2014 Australian Institute of Criminology harm estimates) multiplied by

the offences avoided.

Prison costs are the average sentence length multiplied by $111,200. Sentence length is the average sentence length sourced from ABS,

Prisoners in Australia, cat. no. 4517.0.

The net benefit is the harm avoided less the prison cost.

Note: Estimates exclude costs on offenders or their families.


A plan to reduce imprisonment

Where are we now?

Imprisonment rates are the highest they have been since Federation and have been growing at an

increasing rate. Today, there are 80 per cent more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in prison

than there were 10 years ago. Prisons are more than 30 per cent above their original design capacity, and

the judiciary and probation and parole workers have the highest caseloads in Australia.

What are the benefits?

If implemented, the reforms are likely to result in significant reductions in future prison populations. If reforms

were implemented today, the Commission estimates the prison population would be between 20 to 30 per

cent lower in 2025 than it otherwise would be. This would save between $165 and $270 million in annual

prison costs and avoid $2.1 billion in prison investments.

The reforms are also likely to make the community safer, shift resources away from organised criminal

networks and deliver economic benefits (such as increased employment). These broader benefits are

difficult to estimate, however, proposed drug reforms alone are likely to deliver more than $2 billion in net

benefits to the community.

What is the aim?

A system that has the support of

the community, uses resources

efficiently and effectively, and

works to reduce the harms from

crime over time by:

• addressing the causal factors

behind offending behaviours

• deterring and preventing

criminal activity

• imprisoning only those who

present an unacceptable risk to

the community

• reducing the risks of

future harm by effectively

rehabilitating and reintegrating


How to get there?

Achieving a meaningful reduction in imprisonment will require

reforms across the criminal justice system. This will require:

1 More diversionary and prevention activities that address

offending behaviours and avoid unnecessary and

expensive interactions with the criminal justice system.

2 Reductions in the scope of crime, including through reforms

to illicit drug policy that move away from a reliance

on criminal law to reduce harms.

3 More flexible sentencing options that allow offending

behaviours to be addressed and provide opportunities

for victim restitution and restoration.

4 More effective rehabilitation and reintegration by

increasing accountability for outcomes, building the right

infrastructure, and better equipping prisoners to reintegrate

back into the community.

5 Addressing entrenched social and economic disadvantage

in Indigenous communities by investing in community-led

interventions, including the transfer of decision-making and

accountability to discrete Indigenous communities.

These reforms will need to be underpinned by a better decisionmaking

architecture that provides clear guidance to agencies on

managing risk and enables evidence-based policy-making.

Queensland Productivity Commission 17

3 Reform options

Build a better decision-making architecture

This inquiry has identified ways to improve the

management of offending behaviour, which would

both increase community safety and reduce the

burden that crime imposes on the community,

including the cost of imprisonment.

However, without change to the underlying decisionmaking

architecture that drives the operation of the

criminal justice system, the benefits of reforms are

less likely to be realised, and problems are likely to

re-emerge over time.

The decision-making architecture can be improved

in three key ways:

• Establishing objectives, guidance and

accountabilities to drive how agencies operate,

including how they should balance immediate

risks against activities that would be expected to

improve community safety over time.

• Building the evidence base and mechanisms to

support evidence-based decision-making.

• Embedding a whole-of-system approach, both in

terms of funding and decision-making, and from

the perspective of individuals moving through the

various stages of the criminal system.

Setting the objectives

The overarching objectives of the criminal justice

system help to guide decision-making across the

system—from the way that police officers exercise

discretion on the street, to how corrective services

manage prisoners back into the community after

their sentence has been served.

The Queensland Government has established that

a key objective for the criminal justice system

is to 'keep communities safe'. This objective is

established as one of six priorities under the

'Our Future State' plan.

However, this objective can be interpreted in a

variety of ways. For instance, that the community

safety objective implies that agencies should

prioritise activities that incapacitate or otherwise

prevent those who may present a risk from

interacting with the community.

Over the longer term, however, community safety

may be best achieved by addressing the factors

that lead to offending behaviours. For example,

while prison can be used to mitigate short-term risk

(by incapacitating an offender), it can risk longterm

safety outcomes if it exposes individuals to

criminogenic effects and/or fails to tackle the root

causes of offending.

Individuals on the front-line of service delivery

confront the management of these risks on a dayto-

day basis. For example:

• Police must choose whether to arrest, caution or

divert offenders.

• Judges must decide what sentence to give.

• The Parole Board must decide whether to grant


• Corrections must choose how to reintegrate


Without clear guidance, there will always be a

tendency to shift offenders into the criminal justice

system, give harsher sentences or use imprisonment,

since it is natural for individual agents in the system

to use available options to avoid short-term risks or

to shift risks to others in the system.

Similarly, when viewed through the prism of an

individual agency, the 'keep communities safe'

objective is likely to result in the prioritisation of

effort to deliver immediate requirements without

consideration for effectiveness or impacts on the

rest of the system.


This implies that the overarching objectives for the

criminal justice system need to provide greater

guidance on long-term outcomes.

To this end, the Commission recommends that

the government establish an explicit, overarching

objective for the criminal justice system:

Improve community well-being over time by

reducing the harms from crime.

To provide more specific guidance to those

developing and implementing criminal justice policy,

this overarching objective should be supported by

five operational objectives.

The criminal justice system should efficiently and

effectively aim to:

address the causal factors behind offending

deter criminal activity

incapacitate individuals who present an

unacceptable risk to the community

reduce the risk of future offending through

rehabilitation and reintegration

maintain the legitimacy of the system.

While it is important that the broad ideas behind

these objectives are embedded in legislation, the

government will need to provide more specific

guidance to agencies on how they expect agencies

to manage these objectives.

This guidance should be provided to agencies in

the form of public statements of intent to each of

the core agencies in the criminal justice system.

These statements of intent should set out the

performance expectation of each agency and

how this performance will be assessed against the

government's objectives.

Designing a new approach to


Policy decisions for the criminal justice system cover

some of the most complex and challenging issues

facing government. Over many decades, however,

the decision-making architecture has been based on

a 'siloed', or by function, decision-making process.

The result is that:

• The costs, benefits and potential unintended

impacts of policies are rarely considered fully.

• Decisions made for one part of the system do not

consider impacts on other areas.

• There are few mechanisms or incentives for

reinvesting funds across agencies in ways that

might improve outcomes for the community.

• Evidence and data reside in individual agencies,

making it difficult to assess the impacts of policy


Decision-making could be improved by taking a

system-wide approach and introducing a greater

level of independence and transparency.

This can be achieved by establishing a statutorily

independent body—the Justice Reform Office—with

four key functions:

• Endorsing and approving agency policy and

budget submissions for cabinet and cabinet

committee review.

• Providing independent expert advice on systemwide


• Overseeing justice system reforms and reporting

on those reforms.

• Leading and supporting evidence-based policy


To be effective, the office will need to work with

agencies but remain at arms-length from their day

to day operations. It should have some level of

accountability to agencies but should also be able to

exert influence over them.

Queensland Productivity Commission 19

Figure 15 The proposed Justice Reform Office

To this end, the Commission recommends that

the Justice Reform Office should be responsible

to a board that includes senior executives from

the core criminal justice agencies.2 To ensure

independence, the board should also have

independent members with a majority voting right

(Figure 15). The board should receive advice from

advisory groups of experts on specialist issues.

The Justice Reform Office should largely be

funded by reallocating existing resources to

support its key functions.

To make more informed policy, the Commission

also recommends that the government

establish a formal process for assessing the

costs and benefits—including any unintended

consequences—of policy or legislative changes

that would have sizable impacts on the

community. This process—a justice impact test—

should be undertaken by the Justice Reform

Office and require formal public consultation

and reporting.

2 The proposed structure and operating model would be similar to Building Queensland.

Justice reform office




groups Evidence


Policy and strategic

advice, budget bids

Instructions to


Board is comprised of department representatives and selected independent

members with a majority voting right


Reduce the scope of criminal offences

Reduce the scope of criminal offences

Criminal sanctions are only one option for dealing

with harmful behaviours. Many activities that are

known to be harmful, such as smoking, are dealt

with in other ways including through measures such

as public health campaigns and regulation without

criminal sanctions.

It is difficult to assess the extent to which the

scope of criminal law has expanded, since this is

determined by both the number of offences, which

has increased by almost 70 per cent since 1970, and

how they are enforced.

The criteria for determining whether an activity

should be a criminal offence, or whether an existing

offence should be removed from the reach of the

criminal law, include:

• the extent to which the activity causes harm

to others

• the extent to which criminal sanctions deter

harmful offending or prevent harmful offending

through incapacitation

• the costs that criminal sanctions impose

on offenders, those close to them, and the

community more broadly

• whether these costs are a proportional response

to the harm caused by the offender

• whether criminalisation has unintended

consequences that create harm

• whether criminalisation undermines public

perception of the legitimacy of the law

• whether there are alternative regulatory or

other measures that can address the behaviour

(including a criminal law of lesser scope), and that

provide greater net benefits than criminalisation.

Offences with the strongest rationale for

criminalisation tend to be the traditional common

law crimes of murder, rape, assault and theft. These

offences involve direct harm to another person in a

way that violates that person's rights. They also tend

to be relatively high-harm offences as ranked by both

public opinion and judicial sentencing decisions.

However, many behaviours that are criminalised do

not have such a strong rationale, particularly those

that do not involve a victim, result in indirect or

unintended harm, or are simply seen as offensive.

These include illicit drugs possession offences,

motor vehicle and some driving offences,

regulatory offences and public nuisance offences. In

total, these offences contribute around 30 per cent

of the prison population.

Illicit drug offences have the most scope for reform

and are discussed in the next section. For other

offences the reform options are not so clear.

Imprisonment for these offences is less likely to

provide net benefits (although this will not be true

in all cases). Further, removing these offences from

criminal law may reduce pathways to prison.

However, it is possible that removing some offences

would remove an important discretionary tool for

police that allows them to avoid charging individuals

with more serious offences (including those that

might result in imprisonment).

The Commission has insufficient information to

assess whether there are offences, other than drug

related offences, that should be removed from

criminal law. Nevertheless, there is enough evidence

to suggest that further action is warranted.

For this reason, the Commission recommends

that a suitable body, such as the Queensland Law

Reform Commission, be tasked with assessing

whether there are opportunities to reduce the

scope of criminal offences.

This assessment should focus on reviewing the

benefits and costs of removing regulatory and public

nuisance offences from legislation that defines

these acts as criminal. In reviewing these offences,

consideration should be given to alternative

approaches for minimising the social harms caused

by these offences.

Queensland Productivity Commission 21

Figure 16 Prohibition encourages supply of more harmful and addictive substances

Source: Modified from the Global Commission on Drug Policy 2018.

3 A recent global drug survey found that home delivery of illicit drugs sourced online was growing, with users citing they could ‘get

cocaine delivered faster than pizza’. A 2018 survey by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reported that 94 per cent of users

said methamphetamine was ‘very easy’ or ‘easy’ to obtain.

4 The best evidence comes from Portugal, which decriminalised all drug use. There is no evidence that the reforms led to increased drug

use, while drug-related harms and criminal justice system costs seem to have declined.

Illicit drug reform

Drug use, both illicit and legal, is associated with

significant harm, such as:

• impacts on users and their families

• drug-related property theft and violence.

Currently, the main approach to minimising

harms from illicit drugs is through a policy of


All available evidence suggests that the policy has

not been effective in restricting use and supply.

Despite this, the Queensland Government spends

around $500 million enforcing drug laws and

imprisons around 1,840 people per year.

Today, drugs are prevalent and easy to source. As

noted by Mick Palmer, former AFP Commissioner:

'Despite our best endeavours over many years,

drugs are as readily available now as they have

ever been. [There is] an ever-widening array of,

increasingly dangerous, drugs available for use.'

(sub. DR023, p. 3)

In Queensland, around 1 in every 6 people have

recently used an illicit drug—and usage has

increased over the last decade. The price of illicit

drugs has fallen relative to income, and obtaining

drugs is easier than ever.3

Where other jurisdictions have relaxed the

criminalisation of drug usage, there has been little

effect on usage rates.4 Even in those jurisdictions

where supply has been legalised, most evidence

suggests there has been no long-term increase in

usage or drug-related harms.

The criminalisation of drug use has also resulted

in unintentional harms. These harms arise largely

because criminalisation encourages the creation of

more harmful and dangerous drugs (Figure 16).


Harms also arise because the profitability of illicit

drugs5 creates enormous incentives for organised

crime to enter into illegal markets.

In an illegal market, unregulated criminal operations

are unlikely to be concerned with the harms they

cause to users or the broader community and are

most likely to focus on distribution methods that will

generate the most profits—that is, drugs which cost

little to manufacture and for which a market can be

created (by encouraging addiction if necessary).

Currently, the most profitable and growing market

appears to be methamphetamine (commonly known

as ice), a drug associated with very high levels of

community harm.

The criminalisation of drug usage also appears to

inhibit health-based responses. This is evident in the

statistics, which show that the rate of drug-related

accidental deaths has increased (by 144 per cent

since 1997), with illicit drugs now responsible for

more deaths than road accidents in Queensland.

Drug reform options need to be assessed by

considering the potential costs and benefits to the

Queensland community. To this end, the Commission

has conducted a cost–benefit analysis of a range of

reform options, which found:

• There are large net benefits (around $850 million)

from decriminalising the use and possession of


• These benefits would be higher (around

$1.2 billion) if the government chose to fully

legalise and regulate the supply of lower harm

drugs such as cannabis and MDMA.

• Legalisation of lower harm drugs would also

move around $4.0 billion out of illegal markets,

significantly curtailing criminal activity (Box 5).

• Decriminalising other illicit drugs, while more

uncertain6, is also likely to generate net benefits

(around $700 million).

Box 5 Benefits from legalisation of cannabis and MDMA

One of the key benefits from legalisation of illicit

drugs is that it moves production from illegal

markets to legal ones. Rather than money being

channelled into profits from criminal activity,

surpluses from production (profits) can be taxed

and used for public good.

Under a legalisation scenario for cannabis and

MDMA, the Commission estimates that around

$4.3 billion of funds currently being channelled

through criminal markets could be made

available to fund legitimate activities.

Figure 17 Changes to producer surplus, cannabis

and MDMA, net present values

Source: QPC estimates.











Criminal surplus Legal surplus Tax revenues

5 Research from the Australian Bureau of Statistics suggests that wholesale and retail margins to operators in the drug market range from 46

per cent for cocaine to 91 per cent for amphetamines—direct wholesale and retail margins are less than 2 per cent for beer, wine and spirits.

6 Mainly because there is less of evidence on how consumption of higher harm drugs such as heroin and methamphetamine would be

affected as fewer jurisdictions have embarked on reforms to decriminalise or legalise higher harm drugs.

Queensland Productivity Commission 23

The Queensland Government should adopt a more

effective approach for managing the supply and use

of illicit drugs. This approach should aim to:

• reduce harms from drug use

• substantially reduce organised crime in Queensland

• establish strong regulatory approaches to

manage drug use and supply

• reduce costs that drug use places on the criminal

justice system, including through imprisonment.

While the ultimate destination for reform is clear,

the design, implementation and sequencing of

changes will be critical. Based on the available

evidence, the Commission has developed a staged

process for reform.

The first stage should be to decriminalise the use and

possession of lower harm illicit drugs, such as cannabis

and MDMA. Consideration will need to be given to

the regulatory framework around use, including, for

example, the regulation of use in public places.

At the same time, the government should expand

the provision of health support and drug treatment

services to reduce drug harms.

The next stage should establish a regulatory

framework for the supply of low harm drugs.

As for other potentially harmful activities (such

as liquor and gaming), the framework should

establish the arrangements for supply, including

licensing for production and retail, and regulation of

licenced premises, with a regulator, to oversee this


The final stage of the reforms should be to legalise

the use and regulated supply of cannabis and MDMA.

The government should also move to adopt a

regulatory approach to other illicit drugs. However,

given the complexities in approaches to managing

higher harm drug use, a reform pathway will need to

be developed. This should consider:

• removing imprisonment as an option for use and


• implementing health-based approaches to

minimise harmful drug use

• reducing supply from illicit markets

• developing options for regulating use and


The government should establish a taskforce

to oversee the implementation of reforms. This

taskforce should monitor and assess the impacts at

each stage of reform and report to parliament on

their effects.

Box 6 Growing support for drug reform

There is a growing international trend towards

drug liberalisation. Canada and Uruguay

have recently legalised cannabis, and in the

United States half of states have legalised

or decriminalised cannabis. Cocaine has

been decriminalised in several countries and

prescription opiate treatments adopted in others.

Many jurisdictions are reconsidering prohibition—

Luxembourg announced legalising cannabis and

New Zealand will hold a referendum on the issue

in the 2020 general election.

Data from the National Drug Strategy

Household Survey 2016 show that over 50 per

cent of the population of each state, including

Queensland, supports the decriminalisation of

cannabis and ecstasy.

Figure 18 Support for drug decriminalisation

Source: AIHW 2017c.











Cannabis Ecstasy Heroin


Deal with offending in better ways

Focus more on victims

The criminal justice system mainly focuses on

criminals, not on the victims of crime.

In criminal matters, the state is currently the litigant

and victims largely play a passive role in the process.

The offender’s ‘debt’ is paid to the state, often in the

form of a prison sentence. The victim plays no role in

the setting of the sentence and typically receives no

compensation from the offender for the harm done

and there is little opportunity for restoration.

Beyond the direct impact on victims, the indirect

impact has been to entrench a high-cost approach

to community safety, with ongoing pressure for

further legislative and other interventions in an

attempt to address community concerns. The result,

at least anecdotally, is that such interventions have

not always met the needs of victims and more

offenders are in prison than is necessary.

Under a victim-focused system, victims can be

provided with an option to choose a sentencing

pathway that focuses on victim restitution and

restorative justice, rather than the standard

sentencing process. Where the victim chooses

direct involvement in the process, the offender’s

debt is in effect paid to the victim prior to any state

consideration. This could involve both financial and

non-financial assistance to victims.

These approaches are typically associated with a

reduction in the use of imprisonment because they

provide acceptable alternatives to prison (through

compensation, rehabilitation requirements and

victim–offender restoration). For low harm offences,

restorative justice can substitute for court sanctions,

including imprisonment. For more serious offences,

the court may need to consider any residual state

interest. That is, final sentencing should consider

genuine attempts toward victim restoration, as well

as any residual need to protect the community,

including by deterring others. In other words, the

offender’s ‘punishment’ is the sum of her or his

efforts towards victim restoration plus the residual

sanction imposed by the courts.

Figure 19 A victim-focused sentencing process

Victim selects pathway

Victim justice, encompassing:

Direct and mediated victim-offender agreements

Restitution through to true restorative justice agreements

Agreement reached

Agreement presented to magistrates court –

residual public interest test

No further court action

(except rehabilitation

program referral)

Further court action

Offender does not

agree, or victim not


Existing court



Queensland Productivity Commission 25

Where victims and offenders are suited to

restorative justice practices, there is solid evidence

that these practices can reduce recidivism. Evidence

also indicates that victims are more satisfied

with outcomes under restorative justice practices

compared to normal court sentencing.

The victim-focused approach to sentencing is perhaps

most advanced in New Zealand, where the requirement

to provide for the interest of victims is enshrined in

legislation—for example, sentencing purposes include

both restoration and reparation to victims.

The Commission recommends that a victim

restitution and restoration system be adopted

in Queensland, including that a victim-focused

approach be included in the Penalties and

Sentencing Act 1992.

The Commission estimates that this reform,

if implemented fully, could reduce the prison

population by around 450 persons by 2030–31, with

net savings of around $40 million annually with

further benefits to victims.

Use more cost-effective

sentencing options

The judiciary has a range of restrictions on the

types of sentences they can give to offenders.

These restrictions include limitations on the types

of penalties available (such as limitations on home

detention), the length of probation and the flexibility

with which penalties can be combined.

These restrictions mean that a prison sentence is

often the only satisfactory option available to the

judiciary, even though it may not be the best option

for protecting the community or rehabilitating the

offender. As a result, sentencing outcomes can make

the system more expensive than it needs to be and

makes the community less safe over time.

For the judiciary to apply sentences that are the most

effective and efficient, they must have access to:

• options that allow sentencing to be matched to

actions that will remedy an individual’s offending


• information on the availability and suitability of

these options.

This will require a wider set of sentencing options

than currently available.

To provide a greater range of sentencing options,

a new community corrections order should

be introduced. This order should allow for a

combination of community-based options including:

• home detention and other community-based


• monetary fines, community service, and options

for victim restoration and restitution

• referral to treatment or other options to address

offending behaviours.

To make these community-based sentences a viable

alternative to imprisonment, restrictions on their

duration and combination with other penalties

should be removed.

The new community corrections orders should also

be supplemented by greater supervision, including

through technological measures, such as electronic


Community corrections orders like this have been

implemented in other jurisdictions. The emerging

evidence shows they can often substitute for prison

terms without compromising community safety, and

when complemented with rehabilitation programs, are

associated with significant reductions in recidivism.7

For many offenders requiring greater supervision—

such as those with mental health issues, cognitive

impairments or drug dependence, or where remoteness

makes it difficult to restrict offender movements—in the

absence of other alternatives, prison will remain the goto

option even if even it is not suitable for addressing

the causal factors driving offending.8

To address this gap, the Commission recommends

that a residential supervision order be introduced

into the sentencing mix. A residential supervision

order should only be used for those offenders who

would otherwise have received a short prison term

and are likely to benefit from residential supervision.

Under this option, offenders would be

accommodated in small, low security facilities that

provide treatment or other services to address

offending behaviours. Although offender supervision

may need to be undertaken by QCS, the operations

of residential facilities should be managed outside of

the corrections system.

Although these facilities should form part of the

'correction's estate', there should be opportunities

for these facilities to be initiated from outside of the

corrections system, including by community and

non-government entities.

7 While prison is effective in preventing crime in the community by physically incapacitating offenders, there is little evidence that community

corrections, used appropriately, are less effective at deterring offending behaviour (Sydes et al. 2018; Trevena & Poynton 2016; Trevena &

Weatherburn 2015). There is also emerging evidence that they are more effective than prison terms at breaking the cycle of reoffending.

8 Under current sentencing arrangements, the only way an offender with a mental health issue or a cognitive impairment can avoid prison is to

receive a forensic health order. This is generally only used in exceptional circumstances and is rarely lifted.


Currently, limited resourcing is provided to support

the supervision of offenders in the community—

although 70 per cent of individuals being supervised

by QCS are under a form of community-based order,

this cohort attracts only 10 per cent of the corrections

budget (the remainder is spent on prisons).9

Redirecting funding to community-based

supervision options is likely to result in lower overall

spending, since it would encourage substitution

of expensive prison sentences for less costly

community-based orders.

It is difficult to assess the extent to which

community-based sentencing could substitute for

imprisonment, since every prisoner has a unique set

of circumstances, which would make them more or

less suitable for a community corrections order.

Nevertheless, the Commission estimates that in

the order of 20–30 per cent of the current prison

population may be suitable for a community

corrections order.

The benefits of these reforms (Figure 20) include:

• making available a wider array of sentencing

options that will allow courts to better fit

sentences to the offence and the circumstances,

to better meet the sentencing purposes

• delivering better rehabilitation and reintegration

outcomes and helping offenders to avoid the

criminogenic effects associated with prison, such

as the loss of housing and employment. This

will assist in reducing the current high rates of


• lowering the current costs of the criminal justice

system by facilitating the greater substitution

of lower cost non-custodial options for


• reducing the future costs of the criminal justice

system by stopping offenders from cycling in and

out of the system.

Figure 20 Reduce reoffending by better matching sentencing outcomes to offenders


Prison Treatment


In prison but

better options








Better rehabilitation • Reduced recidivism • Less imprisonment











Reinvest in better options

9 Queensland has the lowest expenditures on community supervision in Australia, and the highest ratio of offenders to community corrections staff.

Queensland Productivity Commission 27

To maintain community confidence in these changes,

the community needs to be assured that sentencing

is being used in the most appropriate way. The

Queensland Sentencing Advisory Council (QSAC)

should continue to strengthen the community’s

confidence in sentencing outcomes, by producing

and communicating evidence on sentencing and

assessing this against community expectations.

Improve monetary fines

In theory, monetary fines are the most efficient

sentencing option10 and are widely used. In practice,

however, the effectiveness of monetary fines is

constrained by their design and the ability of an

individual to pay.

This limitation could be addressed in two ways:

• Backing fines with non-monetary options (such as

community service).

• Setting fines to an effective level (for example, as

a proportion of income).

The State Penalties and Enforcement Register

(SPER) has introduced a system of work and

development orders11 to provide non-monetary

options for fines—it should continue to develop costeffective

options to allow offenders to repay debts

to society.

Income-based monetary fines have been introduced

in several countries, including Germany, which

successfully used income-based fines to reduce their

reliance on imprisonment.12 Similar proposals have

been examined in New South Wales but have been

rejected because of concerns about the complexity

and potential administrative costs.

Given the complexity of the issues, the Commission

has not been able to arrive at a firm conclusion on

income-based fines. Nevertheless, this is an issue

worthy of further investigation, as are other options

to make monetary fines more effective. To this end,

the Sentencing Advisory Council or another suitable

body should be appointed to investigate further, and

report back to the government.

Reduce remand

Remanded prisoners are those who have been

refused bail but are yet to be convicted of a crime.

The number of remanded prisoners held in custody

has more than doubled since 2012. Currently, around

30 per cent of all prisoners are on remand.

There is no single factor behind the growth in

remand. Rather, there appears to be a combination

of legislative changes, policy and practices which,

together, reduce the chance of bail being granted,

or if it is granted, increases the chance of it being


Remand in custody has negative impacts on the

defendant—such as loss of accommodation and

employment and exposure to hardened criminals—

that can increase the probability of reoffending.

Typically, remanded prisoners do not have access

to rehabilitation programs, further exacerbating the

criminogenic effects of imprisonment.

There are opportunities to reduce the use of remand

in custody by:

• making bail decision-making more robust,

through the use of a more evidence-based and

transparent risk management framework

• facilitating the defendant staying in the

community through the greater use of noncustodial

options, addressing accommodation

needs and providing rehabilitation opportunities

• reducing court delays—implementing other

recommendations in this report, such as

decriminalising certain offences, and supporting

restitution, restorative justice and diversion

options, would assist in reducing court workloads.

The negative, often criminogenic, effects of

remand in custody should also be mitigated by

giving defendants greater access to rehabilitation


10 In theory, a system of deterrence based on monetary fines will be more efficient than imprisonment, since imprisonment is a costly form

of punishment and consumes resources, while monetary fines transfers resources between the offender and the victim or the state. In

practice, fines only act as a deterrent when set at a level that has a meaningful impact on the offender. For instance, if individuals do not

have the ability to pay, it is unlikely to work as a deterrent to offending.

11 Under a work development order, an offender can perform community service or undertake treatment to pay down their SPER debt.

12 Restricting short sentences and introducing day fines reduced the number of short prison terms in Germany by 80 per cent.


Improve rehabilitation and reintegration

Over 1,000 prisoners are released back into the

community every month—over half of these will return

to prison or corrective services within two years.

Although the Queensland system provides for a

rehabilitation and reintegration throughcare approach

‘on paper’, evidence presented to this and previous

inquiries suggests many prisoners receive limited

rehabilitation, and many are released back into the

community with minimal support. This makes the

community less safe than it otherwise could be.

There are many different options for improving

rehabilitation and reintegration, including increasing

resources for programs, or reforming the way services

are delivered. However, these options are unlikely to

be effective without first reforming the foundational

governance arrangements that incentivise performance

and provide accountabilities for outcomes.

Improve accountability

arrangements for QCS

Under the current arrangements, Queensland

Corrective Services (QCS) has few incentives for

providing effective throughcare to prisoners. QCS

does not suffer consequences if an offender is not

rehabilitated and has few responsibilities beyond the

prison gate. They do, however, pay a high price if

prisoners escape.

These incentives tend to focus correctional

activities on containment, with the result that there

is an undersupply of effective rehabilitation and


To overcome these problems, new governance

arrangements need to be introduced to give QCS

clearer guidance for prioritising rehabilitation

and reintegration (relative to its containment and

supervision objectives) and to provide the right

incentives to achieve those outcomes.

To this end, the government should improve

performance indicators on rehabilitation and

reintegration. It should publicly report against these

indicators, which should also be introduced into

performance frameworks for individual prisons and

contracts for senior executive employment.

An Office of the Chief Inspector was established

to monitor prison conditions and respond to

complaints. This inspectorate sits in QCS and has

not publicly reported since 2012.

Greater transparency and accountability would be

achieved through the establishment of a properly

resourced independent Inspectorate of Prisons. It

should have information-gathering powers and be

required to publish its reports.

Better rehabilitation

Prisons are currently more than 30 per cent over their

original design capacity. This impedes the effectiveness

of prisons in achieving rehabilitation outcomes.

While overcrowding is largely outside QCS's

control, work practices could be improved to better

utilise existing infrastructure in providing prisoners

with greater access to work and educational

opportunities that prepare them for release.

There are also opportunities to improve case

management, widen eligibility for in-prison

programs, ensure prisoners are assessed for NDIS

eligibility and better tailor rehabilitation programs

and services to address the needs of prisoners.

QCS is reviewing its approach to these issues

following previous reviews. This review process

needs to be more transparent, with public reporting

on progress and outcomes.

Better reintegration services

The period immediately following release from prison

is a difficult and challenging period for many prisoners.

Many prisoners (including those paroled) are

released with little notice, and without the basic

tools for release into the community. Further, a

large proportion of prisoners appear unprepared for

release, even when release dates are known.

To lower offending immediately after release, QCS

should be assigned responsibility for the provision

of a minimum standard of post-release support. This

standard should include:

• short-term housing for prisoners who do not have

accommodation on release

• adequate documentation for proof of identity to

open bank accounts and apply for other services,

and a Medicare card to access health services

• assistance to establish an email account and

procure a mobile phone

• information on support services available to assist

with their reintegration

• financial supports for the first week of release

• appropriate transport to their accommodation.

Queensland Productivity Commission 29

The Queensland Government should require QCS to

regularly report against this standard.

QCS also provides reintegration services through

contracted arrangements with NGO providers. These

services provide access to case managed support to

prisoners assessed to have a high risk of reoffending.

To ensure value for money, and to assess whether

reintegration support is adequate, QCS should

commission an independent public evaluation of its

contracted reintegration services.

Increase support for parole

Most prisoners are released on parole so that their

reintegration into the community can be supervised.

This is an important component of a prisoner's

sentence, since it provides the community with a small

window in which an ex-prisoner is still under some

form of coercive power. It is likely that the outcomes

during this window can be significantly improved.

The expenditures on supervising prisoners in the

community are small. Queensland probation and

parole workers have the highest caseloads of

any state. This means the focus of these workers

must be on basic compliance, including technical

breaches. To improve matters, the Queensland

Government should:

• reassign expenditures to community supervision

• ensure directions on technical breaches of parole

are consistent with objectives in relation to

reintegration and rehabilitation.

Introduce work release options

Improvements can be made to allow QCS to provide

opportunities for prisoners to engage in real-world

activities that would assist their reintegration.

Work, education and other release arrangements

have been used successfully in the past in

Queensland and are used in many jurisdictions

around the world. These arrangements should be

reintroduced in Queensland. To support their use,

the relevant Minister should provide direction to

QCS on how, and under what circumstances, these

arrangements should be used.

Improve the capital portfolio

Correctional infrastructure is Queensland is

predominantly designed for incapacitation.

Queensland has the lowest proportion of prisoners

held in low security settings than any other

jurisdiction (Figure 21).

Figure 21 Prisoners held in open custody









NSW VIC QLD All other

The capacity, composition and design of correctional

facilities shape the outcomes of the prison system.

Given their long lives, the composition of prison

assets changes slowly, and needs to be formed and

evolved through a long-term strategy.

A different infrastructure strategy is necessary if

the government wants to focus on constraining the

growth in the number of prisoners and pay more

attention to rehabilitation and reintegration.

This strategy would require less capacity expansion,

more investment in prison design and a change to

the composition of infrastructure, to manage all the

factors that drive offending behaviour.

The recommendations in this report provide ways

for reducing future prisoner numbers and should

allow government to consider more innovative

options for future investments (such as facilities for

residential supervision by non-government entities).

Regardless of whether the government accepts

the recommendations in this report, or stays with

the status quo, it needs to set out a long-term

infrastructure strategy that supports its overall

approach to the corrections system.

This strategy needs to:

• align infrastructure objectives with the objectives

of the broader criminal justice system

• ensure infrastructure keeps up with demand

• consider a broad range of options and be open to


• provide opportunities for the community sector to

be involved in managing low security correctional

assets, particularly those with a rehabilitation focus.

Source: SCRGSP 2019d.


Target prevention and early intervention

As noted by many stakeholders, getting the right

social and economic conditions in place in the

longer term (many of which are broader than this

inquiry) are likely to provide the most long-lasting

and effective outcomes.

Within this, however, is a more direct consideration

of whether and how prevention and early

intervention can be used to address the causal

factors that may lead to imprisonment.

The causal factors behind offending are complicated

and include a range of factors, such as cognitive

impairments, mental health issues, exposure to

trauma and childhood maltreatment—all of which

are more prevalent in the prison population than in

the general population.

There is strong evidence that addressing these

risk factors can reduce crime and deliver future

savings through avoided prison expenditure and

justice system costs. However, it does not follow

that early intervention and prevention programs will

necessarily deliver these results. They can be risky

investments, because they can involve large costs

with uncertain outcomes.

For this reason, evidence-based programs targeting

high-risk individuals and communities are likely to be

the most cost-effective.

Although interventions can occur at any time, the

evidence suggests that earlier interventions (whether

early in life or early in pathways to adult offending)

can provide high returns when they are effective.

The Commission notes there have been several

recent inquiries and recommendations that focused

efforts on prevention and early intervention in a

range of various areas, including youth justice and

child safety.13

The Commission has not revisited areas covered by

these inquiries and has instead focused its analysis on

a small number of areas identified by stakeholders.

Target community level


Queensland data show that a small number of

chronic offenders who begin offending early in

life account for a large proportion of all offending

and imprisonment. Identifying these individuals

prospectively, however, has proven challenging.

Data show that chronic offenders tend to be

concentrated in a small number of geographic

areas. These tend to be communities where there

are high levels of entrenched social and economic

disadvantage. In Queensland, this includes

Indigenous communities predominantly located in

regional, remote and very remote locations.

Effective interventions in these locations are likely to

generate large benefits.

Interest in early intervention investment strategies,

such as justice reinvestment that empowers

community development, is growing and early

results are promising. Evaluations of the Maranguka

Justice Reinvestment Project in Bourke suggest

crime reductions can be achieved through evidencebased,

community-led approaches.

However, the government must ensure frameworks

are in place to drive evidence-based policy-making

and program selection, improve coordination across

government and non-government agencies, and

deliver robust program evaluations.

The government should prioritise investments in

community-led prevention and early intervention

in communities with high levels of entrenched


Given the levels of offending in many Indigenous

communities, the initial focus should be to establish

projects that aim to reduce Indigenous offending.

13 Several recent inquiries that have recommended reforms to youth justice and child protection, and many of their recommendations are

still being implemented or evaluated. These include the Queensland Child Protection Commission of Inquiry, the Atkinson Report on

Youth Justice, and the Independent Review of Youth Detention.

Queensland Productivity Commission 31

Improve incentives for educational


Stakeholders raised concerns that disconnection

from the school system is a key risk factor for

offending behaviours. This is evident in data that

show that educational attainment for prisoners is far

below the population average.14

While the government is focusing efforts to address

student engagement, the rising incidence of

school disciplinary absences (Figure 22) suggests

a significant number of students are at risk of

disengagement from the school system.15

14 Only 17 per cent of Queensland prisoners completed Year 12, compared to 62 per cent for the general population.

15 In 2018, more than 3,700 student disciplinary absences were issued to children in the first two years of primary school,

and more than 27,000 were issued to students in the first two years of high school.

Figure 22 Student disciplinary absences in

Queensland state schools, 2014–2018










2014 2015 2016 2017 2018

Source: Department of Education 2019.

It is important that perverse incentives, such as

might arise from school performance reporting,

do not encourage excessive use of student

disciplinary absences. To this end, the Commission

recommends improving transparency around

school-level efforts to promote student

engagement and re-engagement.

Schools should also receive more tools to help

manage problem behaviours. As a first step,

the Department of Education should work with

universities to improve behavioural management

training for pre-service teachers, focusing on the

identification and management of students at risk

of disengaging from education. Other opportunities

to improve the identification and support of at-risk

children through the school system should also be

explored, including opportunities for improving

referrals to the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Address barriers to access

Stakeholders raised concerns about barriers that

prevent some individuals from accessing services

to help prevent offending behaviours. These focus

around the absence of support for services that aim

to prevent child sex offences. Given the high costs

these offences impose on the community, and the

high level of stigma around them, the government

should consider supporting services that prove to

be effective at preventing child sexual offending.

This should be a priority of the government's

Sexual Violence Prevention Framework.

Improve support for children of


Children and young people with incarcerated

family members are known to be at greater risk

of engaging in antisocial behaviour; effective

intervention may prevent intergenerational

transmission of criminal behaviour. To improve

matters, the government should amend prisoner

admission processes to better identify these children

and ensure that supports are available for them.

Further, the government should explore ways in

which the operation of correctional facilities can

better help maintain family relationships.


Expand diversionary options

Diversion is underutilised

For many low harm or minor offences, police

enforcement and court proceedings impose

costs on offenders that exceed the harm of their

offending. Further, this initial interaction can result

in an escalation of interactions with the criminal

justice system.

De-escalating these interactions or diverting these

offenders can avoid unnecessary impacts for the

individual and save costs across the criminal justice

system—each diversion is likely to save around

$9,200 in criminal justice costs.

Options for police to divert adult offenders away

from the criminal justice system are limited and,

aside from a caution/diversion for minor cannabis

possession, there is limited scope for adult

cautioning in Queensland.

This is reflected in proceedings. Queensland makes

the least use of non-court proceedings (17 per cent),

compared to New South Wales, Victoria and South

Australia (59, 29, and 55 per cent respectively),

particularly for illicit drugs and public order offences

(Table 2).

Table 2 Non-court proceedings, 2016–17


Illicit drugs 20% 28% 34% 80%

Public order


42% 84% 90% 78%

Source: ABS 2019g.

Queensland's low use of diversion reflects limited legal

and police flexibility, diversion options (for treatments),

and police expertise and incentives in the use of

diversion and de-escalation. Underlying this ‘aversion

to diversion’ is a perceived high risk from adverse

publicity for errors in the use of police discretion.

Expand cautioning options

Existing police cautions are used infrequently

because they can only be applied in limited

circumstances and there are administrative hurdles

that limit their use.

To improve matters, two new cautioning approaches

should be adopted.

The first is a more usable adult caution, with fewer

administrative hurdles.

The second is an expansion of cautioning for drug

offences. Subject to the illicit drug reforms discussed

earlier, a three-stage caution should be introduced

for all illicit drugs.

This new drug caution should include:

• a simple caution

• a caution with educational material provided

• a caution with mandatory referral to face-to-face


Introduce an option for deferred


Under a deferred prosecution agreement, the

police or prosecutor consents not to prosecute an

offender for an agreed period, providing they do

not reoffend and adhere to any other terms (such as

receiving treatment). If the offender completes their

agreement, the prosecution is cancelled, avoiding

court and any penalties. If the offender reoffends,

proceedings are commenced for both the deferred

and new offence.

Deferred prosecution provides benefits over simple

cautions because it provides an offender with an

incentive not to reoffend (or to seek treatment).

It has advantages over court-based diversions

because it avoids complex court processes and

provides more certainty to the offender.16

Deferred prosecution has been used successfully

in the United States, where it has been shown

to substantially reduce adverse reoffending and

employment outcomes.17

16 Under court-based diversions, the judge retains discretion to take into account any actions an offender has taken.

17 A natural experiment in Harris County in the United States showed a 56–76 per cent reduction in reoffending over

ten years and a 16–20 percentage point increase in employment.

Queensland Productivity Commission 33

The Commission proposes that three forms of

deferred prosecution be adopted:

• a simple deferred prosecution agreement that

is conditional on no repeat offence within a

specified period—which could be offered on the

spot by police

• a deferred prosecution agreement with additional

conditions/actions that relate to assessment/

treatment/restoration—which would usually be

negotiated by the prosecutor

• a community-deferred prosecution agreement

with additional conditions/actions that relate

to assessment/treatment/restoration—where

the conditions are developed and agreed with a

community group, such as a community justice

group, who would also monitor those requirements.

Encourage the use of diversion

Effective use of diversion can be encouraged by:

• clear direction from the Minister through a

statement of intent

• an expression of support for the appropriate use of

diversion, through the Queensland Police Service’s

operational plan and performance indicators

• training and practice manuals that support the

use of diversion and de-escalation, including a

simplified public interest test.

To maintain community confidence in diversion, a

monitoring and evaluation framework should be

established to ensure that the use of these

diversion options contributes to community wellbeing.

Evaluate the approach to family

and domestic violence

Several stakeholders raised concerns about the

policing and prosecution of domestic and family

violence issues.

The current approach to domestic and family

violence is enacted through the government's

Not Now, Not Ever strategy, and assumes there is

a perpetrator and a victim. This is very often the

case, but stakeholders have raised concerns that

situations are not always so clear-cut.18

In these cases, the approach may force individuals into

contact with the criminal justice system where there

are few benefits or where better approaches exist.

Given the potential for unintended consequences,

and the number of domestic and family violence

offences (and breaches) that result in imprisonment,

the Commission recommends that the government's

Not Now, Not Ever evaluation strategy include an

assessment of:

• whether current policing and enforcement

strategies, including the use of imprisonment, are

working to reduce the incidence of domestic and

family violence

• the extent to which the strategy has resulted in

unintended consequences

• whether there are opportunities for greater use

of diversion to treatment, restoration or other

approaches that would reduce harms.

18 For example, where both parties to a dispute had been prosecuted under domestic violence laws.


19 Age-adjusted rates of imprisonment.

20 Based on an analysis of a cohort of the population born in 1990. Rates of prior hospitalisations were more than five times higher for

Indigenous prisoners than for the general population, and child protection orders were more than eight times higher.

Address Indigenous overrepresentation

Indigenous incarceration is one the most pressing

problems that Queensland faces:

• Indigenous incarceration rates are more than 10

times the non-Indigenous rate19 and are amongst

the highest rates of any group in the world.

• Indigenous prisoners make up around 31 per cent

of the total number of people incarcerated in

Queensland, despite making up only 4.6 per cent

of the population.

• An Indigenous male has almost a 30 per cent

chance of being imprisoned by the age of 25.

• 80 per cent of Indigenous prisoners have been to

prison before.

During consultation, several stakeholders indicated

that in some communities, imprisonment is no longer

a deterrent—detention has simply become a rite of

passage for some young people. For some, life is so

difficult that time in prison may seem an attractive

alternative, and an experience that they can share

with already imprisoned friends and relatives.

Essentially, the rate of imprisonment has risen so

high in some communities that it has become a

risk factor in itself. When prison is normalised to

this extent, it acts to reinforce dysfunction and

disempowerment, continuing the cycle of offending

and imprisonment.

Making life in the community more desirable than

life in prison must be a basic objective of reform if

imprisonment is to act as a real deterrent.

Address entrenched social and

economic disadvantage

The main reason Indigenous people experience

higher levels of incarceration than non-Indigenous

people is that they are, on average, significantly

more exposed to the risk factors that lead to

elevated rates of offending. These factors include

high rates of unemployment, exposure to alcohol

abuse and family dysfunction.

The risk factors reflect entrenched social and

economic disadvantage that has its roots in

historical policies.

The statistical evidence is stark. For example,

research by Griffith University's Criminology Institute

found that around 60 per cent of all Indigenous

prisoners had previously been subject to a child

protection order, hospitalised for a mental health

episode or both—for female Indigenous prisoners

this number rises to 76 per cent.20

Although there is a general recognition that

solutions need to be developed with and by

Indigenous communities, governments have not

found mechanisms to put this into practice.

The Commission's previous inquiry Service delivery

in Queensland’s remote and discrete Indigenous

communities provides these mechanisms. It

proposed three key reforms:

• structural reforms that transfer accountability and

decision-making to regions and communities

• service delivery reforms that focus more on the

needs of individuals and communities, such as

user-driven services and place-based models

• economic reforms that support community

development, enable economic activity and make

communities more sustainable.

These reforms require significant changes to the

way things are done, but the principles behind these

reform elements could be applied more broadly

than to just the remote and discrete Indigenous

communities and should underpin any plan to

address Indigenous incarceration.

Stakeholders reiterated support for these reforms, and

the Queensland Government provided in-principle

support in 2018. However, there are emerging concerns

that the reforms are not being implemented.

As a priority, the Queensland Government should

implement the recommendations of the Service

delivery to Queensland’s remote and discrete

Indigenous communities report. A suitable

independent body should be authorised to report on

progress against each of these recommendations.

A report on progress should be made public within

twelve months.

Queensland Productivity Commission 35

Support changes to accountability

and decision-making

Rather than directing service delivery, the

government should seek to set outcomes and

accountabilities through formal arrangements with

communities. To put the reforms into practice, the

government should negotiate local Indigenous

justice agreements with those remote and discrete

Indigenous communities that indicate they are ready

to do so.

These agreements should include:

• the outcomes to be achieved

• the resourcing that will be transferred to

communities for the commissioning of services to

reduce offending and imprisonment

• the nature and delivery of government-provided

services that contribute to reducing offending

and imprisonment, such as policing actions and

prisoner reintegration services

• opportunities for a local authority to be

established, for example through the operation of

community-based residential supervision facilities

• incentives for the achievement of milestones or


• rigorous monitoring and evaluation, including

agreed reporting arrangements.

The lessons from this inquiry are relevant for

other Indigenous communities. For Indigenous

communities outside of remote and discrete

areas, the Queensland Government should seek to

support similar arrangements that would encourage

and foster the establishment of local Indigenous


Figure 23 Funding and resourcing arrangements to support the devolution of decision-making

and accountability


Support service delivery reforms

that create opportunities for

community control

Many of the reforms proposed in this report will also

help to reduce the levels of Indigenous incarceration.

These reforms should be supported through justice

agreements. Where possible, the reforms should

form the basis for transferring responsibility and

accountability to Aboriginal and Torres Strait

Islander communities.

Proposed reforms that would facilitate opportunities

for greater community control over service delivery


• deferred prosecution agreements to allow

communities greater opportunity to be directly

involved in the rehabilitation of offenders

• a greater focus on community-orientated policing,

which allows communities to be involved in the

way their communities are policed

• restitution and restoration processes that allow

communities to hold offenders to account for

their actions

• residential supervision facilities that can be

operated by Indigenous-controlled entities.

Introduce economic reforms

Priority should be given to reforms that seek to

address the entrenched social disadvantage that is

a causal factor behind offending in many Indigenous

communities. Priority actions should include:

• removing barriers to local economic activity,

including ensuring that procurement and

job requirements do not exclude Indigenous


• developing a land tenure reform plan that better

supports economic development in remote


• reforming policies that facilitate the growth of the

Indigenous private sector

• investigating ways to develop community and

market initiatives in Indigenous communities,

including through the use of arms-length funding

arrangements that devolve authority

to communities.

Reduce interactions with the

criminal justice system

Indigenous communities have made significant

efforts to reduce offending. This is evident in the

statistics, which suggests that Indigenous offending

rates may have fallen by as much as 25 per cent over

the last decade.

Despite this, the level of Indigenous incarceration

continues to rise (Figure 24).

Figure 24 Indices of Indigenous imprisonment, and

estimated offending rates

Source: ABS 2018k, QPC.

While the factors behind this rise are similar to

those affecting the broader community, Indigenous

communities are most likely to be affected by a

'one-size-fits-all' approach to policy making. Further,

an increasing tendency to use imprisonment is

likely to compound existing problems in Indigenous

communities and undermine efforts to reduce

offending rates.

For this reason, it is vital that decision-makers

understand the implications for Indigenous

incarceration of changes to the law, policy

and practice.

To help inform decision-makers, justice impact tests

should include an explicit requirement to assess the

impact of any proposal on Indigenous people

and communities.

To improve accountability, justice targets should be

included in the Closing the Gap framework. These

should be supported by regular public reporting on

criminal justice outcomes (such as offending rates,

breaches of orders and imprisonment rates) at a

suitable level of regional disaggregation.

Queensland Productivity Commission 37


Improve the decision-making architecture

Recommendation 1

The Queensland Government should adopt a common overarching objective for the criminal justice system.

This objective should be to ‘improve community well-being over time by reducing harms from crime’.

To provide guidance to those developing and implementing criminal justice policy, this overarching objective should be supported by five operational objectives.

The criminal justice system should aim to efficiently and effectively:

Address the factors behind offending.

Deter criminal activity.

Incapacitate individuals who present an unacceptable risk to the community.

Reduce the risk of future offending through effective rehabilitation and reintegration.

Maintain the legitimacy of the system.

The government should provide specific guidance to each agency through public statements of intent, setting out the performance expectations and how this performance will be assessed against the objective.

The government should also develop and release a strategy document that outlines how the criminal justice system will achieve its objectives. This strategy should be consistent with any guidance to agencies.

Recommendation 2

The Queensland Government should establish an independent statutory body (the Justice Reform Office) to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the criminal justice system. Its key responsibilities should be to:

• approve policy and budget submissions from the core criminal justice sector agencies prior to submission to Cabinet and Cabinet committees

• oversee justice system reforms

• provide advice to government on priority criminal justice policy issues

• lead and support evidence-based policy-making.

The office should be responsible to a board that includes representation from each of the core criminal justice agencies and independent members. The independent members on the board should have a voting majority.

Recommendation 3

The Queensland Government should require the Justice Reform Office to undertake the following specific tasks within 24 months of its establishment:

• develop common performance objectives and indicators across the core criminal justice agencies, including targets for

–– reducing offending and reoffending rates

–– reducing Indigenous incarceration

• develop mechanisms for allocating resources to support system objectives

• develop systems to provide accurate and timely data to support decision-making, and improve transparency and accountability

• develop modelling that promotes understanding of how policy and other proposals are likely to impact across the system

• develop a framework to ensure criminal justice related programs and activities are adequately and consistently evaluated.

Recommendation 4

The Queensland Government should introduce a justice impact test to ensure that decision-makers are informed of the full impacts of policy proposals. This test should assess:

• all costs and benefits of the proposal

• impacts on key stakeholders, including community members, government and community agencies

• alternative options.

The justice impact test should be undertaken by the Justice Reform Office and should involve public consultation and reporting.

Reduce the scope of criminal offences

Recommendation 5

The Queensland Government should seek to remove those activities from the Criminal Code Act 1889 and other relevant legislation for which the benefits of being included do not outweigh the costs.

When assessing whether an activity should be redefined, consideration should be given to:

• the extent to which the activity causes harm to others and the nature and level of that harm

• whether the use of criminal sanctions imposes costs on offenders that are proportionate to the harm caused to others

• whether the act of criminalisation creates more positive effects for society than negative ones—this should include an assessment of deterrence and any unintended consequences that might cause harm

• whether there are other, non-criminal options that might better prevent harm

• whether criminalisation undermines public perception of the legitimacy of the law.

The government should assign a suitable body, such as the Queensland Law Reform Commission, the task of reviewing the stock of criminal offences. The review should also recommend removing those offences where an alternative approach to the criminal law is likely to provide better outcomes.

Queensland Productivity Commission 39

Reform drug laws

Recommendation 6

The Queensland Government should adopt a more effective approach for managing the supply and use of

illicit drugs. This approach should aim to:

• reduce harms from drug use

• substantially reduce organised crime in Queensland

• establish effective regulatory approaches to manage drug use and supply

• reduce costs that drug use places on the criminal justice system, including through imprisonment.

The government should establish a reform taskforce as soon as practical to progress reforms. This taskforce should monitor and assess the impacts at each stage of reform and report to parliament on their effects.

Recommendation 7

Under an overarching policy of legalised and regulated supply and possession, the Queensland Government should:

• For lower harm drugs, introduce a staged approach to reform:

–– Stage 1: Decriminalise the use and possession of lower harm drugs

–– Stage 2: Expand health support and drug treatment services to reduce drug harm

–– Stage 3: Design a regulatory framework for the supply of cannabis and MDMA

–– Stage 4: Legalise use and regulated supply of cannabis and MDMA

–– Stage 5: Subject to evaluation of evidence, extend reform to other lower harm drugs.

• For higher harm drugs, investigate and develop the optimal sequencing of further reforms to move from a criminal approach to a health-based and regulatory approach. As an initial step, imprisonment should be removed as a sentencing option for the use or possession of higher harm drugs.

Expand the use of restitution and restorative justice

Recommendation 8

The Queensland Government should introduce victim-focused restitution and restoration into the sentencing process. This system should:

• give victims the option of engaging in a process of restitution and restoration with the offender prior to sentencing

• provide victims and offenders with sufficient options for achieving restoration for harms inflicted, including financial and non-financial compensation

• take into account, through charging and/or the sentencing process, agreements that are reached between the victim and offender

• provide mechanisms to ensure that courts consider any residual public interest in final sentencing

• allow normal court processes to proceed where victims choose not to pursue restitution or restoration, or where victims and offenders cannot reach agreement

• include appropriate protections for victims and offenders

• be supported by inclusion of restorative justice principles in the Penalties and Sentences Act 1992.

Victim-focused restitution and restoration should be made available for any offence where a victim is identifiable.


Increase sentencing options

Recommendation 9

The Queensland Government should establish a community corrections order that:

• provides options for home detention

• removes restrictions on the use of community-based orders, or on the combination of these orders with other sentences, including monetary fines, community service, and options for victim restoration and restitution

• is supported by appropriate services to address the causes of offending behaviours and to minimise breaches of these orders.

To encourage the appropriate use of non-custodial sentencing, the government should:

• establish mechanisms to ensure that resources are reallocated to community corrections to support changing court sentencing practices

• amend section 9(2) of the Penalties and Sentences Act 1992 to include a consideration of the costs of sentencing options, including the financial costs imposed on the community.

To ensure sentencing options support community safety and rehabilitation, the government should create a presumption in favour of courts seeking pre-sentence assessment, including psychological assessment, where there is reason to believe the offender is suffering from a mental illness or intellectual disability and the court is considering imposing a prison sentence.

Recommendation 10

To provide better rehabilitation options for offenders with cognitive impairment, mental illness, drug problems or other relevant circumstances, the Queensland Government should introduce a community corrections order with a residential supervision option. This option should be enabled by facilities that:

• have an emphasis on therapeutic treatment of offenders who would otherwise be given a term of imprisonment

• allow for the supervision of offenders by non-government providers.

Queensland Corrective Services should seek business cases from interested parties to support this proposal. These business cases should be assessed in the context of a broader infrastructure strategy

(Recommendation 25).

Recommendation 11

The Queensland Government should make monetary penalties more effective by:

• removing restrictions on the use of monetary penalties by courts

• creating more opportunities for offenders to pay down fines through community service or other work and development orders.

The Queensland Sentencing Advisory Council or another suitable body should investigate options for the introduction of income-based fines, and report back to the government.

Recommendation 12

The Queensland Government should review legislated restrictions on judicial discretion, to ensure they are serving their intended purpose. The review should be undertaken by an independent body, such as the

Queensland Sentencing Advisory Council, and be completed within 24 months.

Queensland Productivity Commission 41

Recommendation 13

To strengthen community confidence in sentencing, the Queensland Government should:

• expand the role of the Queensland Sentencing Advisory Council in producing and communicating an evidence base for sentencing and assessing sentencing in Queensland against this evidence

• introduce judicial self-monitoring, independent external review or other appropriate mechanisms to improve the consistency of sentencing outcomes for lower-level offences, for which appeal mechanisms are infrequently used.

Improve the use of remand

Recommendation 14

To encourage confidence in bail, and its efficient use, the Queensland Government should:

• develop evidence-based risk assessment tools to assist police and courts when considering bail applications

• make available, through legislative amendment, a greater range of non-custodial options to courts, including electronic monitoring and home detention

• establish a mechanism to allocate resources to support any changes in the use of community-based supervision

• trial remand accommodation options for homeless offenders, including bail hostels and low security custodial facilities

• consider extending the operations of Court Link to more locations.

Recommendation 15

To provide greater guidance to courts, the Queensland Government should insert guiding principles into the Bail Act 1980, based on the following principles:

• Preserving the integrity of the court process.

• Preserving the safety of the community and persons affected by crime.

• Taking account of the presumption of innocence and the right to liberty.

• Taking account of the cost of imprisonment to the community, including the defendant.

• Promoting transparency and consistency in bail decision-making.

Further, the government should amend section 16 of the Bail Act 1980 to ensure that this section is

consistent with these guiding principles.

Recommendation 16

To reduce remand levels, the Queensland Government should investigate opportunities for reducing delays between bail hearings and sentencing.

Recommendation 17

To assist the rehabilitation of prisoners, the Queensland Government should ensure that prisoners on remand

are able to access suitable programs and other activities likely to aid their rehabilitation.


Improve rehabilitation and reintegration

Recommendation 18

Queensland Corrective Services should publish a statement of intent, certified by the Minister for Corrective Services as a report to parliament, which sets out ways in which it will contribute to, and be accountable for,

government objectives, including ways to reduce imprisonment by improving rehabilitation and reintegration.

Recommendation 19

Queensland Corrective Services should, within 12 months:

• establish and report against performance indicators in the statement of intent to increase accountability and report on performance

• extend its performance framework to individual prisons and negotiate service agreements with them

• include performance indicators for reducing recidivism in senior executives' performance agreements

• assist the government to establish its priorities for throughcare by ensuring that policy options are assessed within an effective risk management framework

• align its strategic and operational priorities more closely to actions that would make through-care more effective

• publish information on its strategies for achieving its objectives including the progress and results of any reviews it is undertaking.

Recommendation 20

Queensland Corrective Services should develop policies and procedures to minimise the impacts of overcrowding on rehabilitation outcomes. These should include changes to work practices that:

• allow prisoners greater access to work and educational opportunities

• improve infrastructure utilisation.

Recommendation 21

To improve rehabilitation outcomes, Queensland Corrective Services should:

• ensure that prisoners have incentives to participate successfully in rehabilitation activities

• improve the measurement and reporting of in-prison rehabilitation, including performance indicators for individual prisons. It should review the impact of these indicators on incentives within two years of implementation

• work with the State Penalties Enforcement Registry, to determine within six months, whether there is a cost-effective option to make work and development orders available in prisons

• publish its implementation plan for moving individuals under its care onto the National Insurance Disability Scheme, and report regularly on its progress in implementing it

• undertake public reviews of its assessment, case management and mental health programs and publish review reports and outcomes

• develop initiatives for reducing recidivism among remand and short-sentence prisoners, by commissioning research, drawing on expert advice and developing an implementation plan

• consider a process that will help prisoners to deal with the barriers they face in addressing financial

matters, particularly debt, due to their imprisonment, where that would help to reduce reoffending.

Recommendation 22

The Queensland Government should establish a properly resourced, independent Inspectorate of Prisons. It should have information-gathering powers and be required to publish its reports.

Queensland Productivity Commission 43

Recommendation 23

To improve reintegration of prisoners, Queensland Corrective Services should:

• remove regulatory impediments to reintegration, including those that impede the use of work release and day release options

• introduce measures to ensure that parole worker caseloads support effective community supervision

• investigate options for a prisoner housing program similar to the Corrections Victoria Housing Program, and report on housing outcomes for released prisoners

• establish a panel of providers who can deliver reintegration services.

To support these changes the Queensland Government should amend the Corrective Services Act 2006 to include work release as a reason for granting a prisoner leave from prison.

Recommendation 24

To ensure prisoners have access to mental health and substance addiction treatment services after their release, Queensland Corrective Services should be assigned the responsibility for arranging and funding treatment to ensure continuity of in-prison and post-prison treatment. The responsibility should exist until a prisoner's sentence is completed.

Recommendation 25

To lower the risk of an offender reoffending immediately following release, Queensland Corrective Services should be assigned the responsibility for the provision of a minimum standard of post-release support. This should include:

• short-term housing for prisoners who do not have accommodation on release

• adequate documentation for proof of identity to open bank accounts and apply for other services and a Medicare card to access health services

• assistance to establish an email account and to procure a mobile phone

• copies of educational qualifications attained in prison (or obtained before prison)

• information on support services available to assist with reintegration including employment agencies and social welfare support

• financial supports for the first week of release

• appropriate transport to accommodation.

The government should require Queensland Corrective Services to regularly report against this standard.

Recommendation 26

To ensure value for money, Queensland Corrective Services should commission an independent evaluation of its contracted reintegration services. This evaluation should assess:

• the outcomes of the services in terms of recidivism

• the value of the services from the prisoners' perspective

• benchmarking the services against similar programs interstate

• the reporting framework

• the appropriate length of time to provide reintegration services.

Queensland Corrective Services should complete this evaluation and make it publicly available by June 2021.

Recommendation 27

The Queensland Government should provide clearer direction to Queensland Corrective Services on how it expects the service to manage technical breaches of parole. This guidance should be provided through the statement of intent.


Develop an infrastructure plan

Recommendation 28

Queensland Corrective Services should develop and implement a long-term correctional infrastructure strategy in partnership with the Justice Reform Office that:

• describes how the correctional infrastructure portfolio will evolve to meet the objectives of the criminal justice system

• is based on robust forecasts of the future numbers and composition of both offenders and prisoners

• uses the best available evidence on the effect of infrastructure on rehabilitation

• considers all feasible infrastructure options

• allows for the involvement of non-government entities in developing innovative solutions to supervise and rehabilitate offenders

• sets out deliverables, timetables and accountabilities.

The Queensland Government should review and revise the correctional infrastructure strategy periodically to ensure it remains consistent with the objectives of the criminal justice system.

Recommendation 29

Queensland Corrective Services should:

• ensure that its planning for infrastructure is closely integrated with planning across the department, which in turn needs be integrated with planning for the criminal justice system as a whole.

• develop and publish guiding principles for infrastructure decisions, with reference to principles developed by Infrastructure Australia

• publish its forecasting model and commission regular independent reviews of it.

Target prevention and early intervention

Recommendation 30

The Queensland Government should prioritise investments in community-led prevention and early

intervention in communities with high levels of offending. To this end, the government should:

• identify projects that would be suitable for a justice reinvestment approach

• establish funding arrangements to support justice reinvestment projects

• facilitate access to data and establish monitoring and evaluation frameworks

• facilitate coordination and collaboration between government and non-government service providers

(including police, courts and corrections) and communities

• prioritise projects aimed at reducing Indigenous offending. As a first step, the government should outline

its plan for justice reinvestment in Cherbourg.

Recommendation 31

To prevent disengagement from the education system, the Queensland Government should:

• commission an independent assessment of student disciplinary absences (SDAs) in Queensland state schools to determine:

–– the underlying reasons for the increased incidence of SDAs, and whether SDAs are applied consistently within and between schools

–– the impacts of SDAs on student outcomes, including their impact on future criminal justice system involvement

–– whether there are opportunities to improve transparency, accountability and outcomes through

governance, reporting and support arrangements .

• identify schools and regions with concentrations of at-risk and disengaged children and develop multiagency

approaches for assessing and responding to these children's needs

• prioritise the assessment of at-risk children for cognitive impairments and other disabilities and ensure

there are sufficient resources in the school system to support referrals to the National Disability Insurance

Scheme where appropriate

• work with universities to improve the behavioural management training for pre-service teachers with a

focus on identifying and managing students at risk of disengaging from education.

Recommendation 32

To prioritise the prevention of child sexual abuse, the Queensland Government should assess the availability and effectiveness of preventative services for individuals who are at risk of committing child sexual abuse as it develops its Sexual Violence Prevention Framework.

Recommendation 33

To reduce the intergenerational impacts of imprisonment, the Queensland Government should:

• ensure prisoner admission processes identify children of prisoners and other high-risk family members

• provide information to prisoners' families and carers of their children about available support services and

facilitate referrals to service providers

• assess the availability and effectiveness of existing support services that target children of prisoners and

their parents/carers and address service gaps

• facilitate prisoner access to parenting support programs where appropriate

• examine options for maintaining parent–child relationships while a parent is imprisoned.


Expand diversionary options

Recommendation 34

To reduce interaction with the criminal justice system, the Queensland Government should expand

diversionary options by establishing:

• an adult caution for use in situations where it is a first or infrequent offence and the police are satisfied

that such a caution provides sufficient action

• a multi-stage caution and diversion scheme for all drug possession that allows for a staged response and

supports further reform to the legal framework for drugs

• a three-tier deferred prosecution arrangement that provides:

–– a simple agreement conditional on the offender desisting from further offending for a specified period

–– an agreement for additional conditions relating to assessment, referral and treatment to address

offending behaviours

–– an agreement where additional conditions are developed and monitored by approved community

groups, such as community justice groups

• local policing plans based on problem- and community-oriented policing practices, developed in

partnership with community groups such as the community justice groups, for communities with high

levels of offending and imprisonment.

In implementing these diversionary responses, the government should consider administrative savings for

the police and courts, protections for persons from unfair agreements and net-widening.

Recommendation 35

To incentivise the effective use of these diversion responses, the government should:

• provide clear direction to the Queensland Police Service, though a ministerial statement of intent, to

encourage the effective use of diversionary options and de-escalation consistent with high-performance

policing practices

• establish high-level goals and key performance measures that encourage the Queensland Police Service

to implement local policing plans, diversion and de-escalation, and ensure the Queensland Police Service

develop police training and practices in the use of de-escalation, discretion and diversion—including a

simplified public interest test/assessment tool

• implement a monitoring and evaluation framework to ensure that the use and development of these

diversion responses contribute to community safety and maintains the confidence of the community

• build and support local community capacity to engage in local policing plans and administer deferred

prosecution agreements

• give police and local justice groups access to the assessment and referral network being developed for

work and development orders and Court Link.

Recommendation 36

The Queensland Government should ensure that its evaluation of the Domestic and Family Violence

Prevention Strategy includes an assessment of:

• whether current policing and enforcement strategies are working to reduce the incidence of family and

domestic violence in communities with high levels of economic and social disadvantage

• the extent to which the strategy has had unintended consequences

• whether there are opportunities for greater use of diversion to treatment, restoration or other approaches

that would reduce harms.

Queensland Productivity Commission 47

Addressing indigenous overrepresentation

Recommendation 37

As a priority, the Queensland Government should implement the recommendations of the Commission's Service delivery in Queensland’s remote and discrete Indigenous communities report.

Implementation should prioritise:

• structural reform to transfer decision-making and accountability for service delivery to remote and discrete communities

• economic and land tenure reform to address economic and social disadvantage that contributes to offending in these communities.

A suitable independent body should be authorised to report on progress against each of these recommendations. A report on progress should be made public within twelve months.

Where appropriate, the government should extend the reforms to other Indigenous communities, with a priority focus on those communities with high levels of offending or imprisonment.

Recommendation 38

To progress the transfer of decision-making and accountability to communities, the Queensland Government

should negotiate local Indigenous justice agreements with those Indigenous communities that are ready to do so.

These agreements should include:

• the outcomes to be achieved

• the resourcing that will be transferred to communities to commission services to reduce offending and imprisonment

• the nature and delivery of government-provided services, such as policing actions and prisoner reintegration services

• opportunities for local authority to be established, for example through the operation of residential supervision facilities

• incentives for the achievement of milestones or outcomes

• rigorous monitoring and evaluation, including agreed reporting arrangements.

The Justice Reform Office should be given responsibility for negotiating agreements with local Indigenous communities. The independent body should oversee implementation of agreements and report on progress and achievement of outcomes.

The government should progressively foster decision-making capacity and negotiate local justice

agreements with other Indigenous communities with high offending and imprisonment rates.

Recommendation 39

To ensure that policy-makers are fully informed of all potential policy impacts, the Queensland Government should require that all legislative and policy changes are assessed against their impacts on Indigenous communities in remote and regional areas. This should form part of the justice impact test in Recommendation 4.

Recommendation 40

To improve accountability and inform policy development, the Queensland Government should provide:

• justice-related statistics at a suitable level of regional disaggregation, to monitor local progress and support local Indigenous justice agreements (reported at least biannually)

• an annual report on progress in meeting state Indigenous justice targets, including Closing the Gap justice targets

• regular independent assessment of progress in implementing Indigenous justice reforms

• results of evaluations, where available, of the impact of state and local reforms on Indigenous offending and imprisonment.

Recommendation 41

In implementing the recommendations of the Commission's Service delivery to Queensland’s remote

and discrete Indigenous communities report, the Queensland Government should prioritise those recommendations that seek to address the entrenched economic disadvantage that is a causal factor behind offending, including:

• removing barriers to local economic activity, including ensuring that procurement and job requirements do not exclude local participation

• developing a land tenure reform plan that better supports economic development in remote communities

• reforming policies that facilitate the growth of the Indigenous private sector

• investigating ways to develop community and market initiatives in Indigenous communities, including

through the use of arm's length funding arrangements that devolve authority to communities.

Recommendation 42

The Queensland Government should finalise the review of alcohol management plans (AMPs), with a focus on:

• the overall effectiveness and efficiency of AMPs (including whether their costs outweigh their benefits)

• devolving control of AMPs to communities

• supporting community decision-making with timely information through which communities can measure

the effectiveness of their strategies

• alternative strategies, such as the use of community-controlled alcohol permits.

To ensure that communities and other stakeholders are well informed, the government should publicly

release the independent review of the overall effectiveness of alcohol management plans.

Queensland Productivity Commission 49

The Commission would like to acknowledge the following

staff who contributed to the production of this report:

Brian Johnson, Frank Ravalli, Jeff Lassen, Maire Ingram,

Matt Geck, Nicholas Monroe, Peter Coombes, Rebecca

Valenzuela, Richard Clarke, Sid Shanks and Susan Towne