Defined Terms

Solutions To Reduce Prison Populations - in different countries' jurisdictions


Recognised Punishment Historians documented views and experiences.


The small town trying to shift spending from punishment to prevention - Marie McInerney

Now, in the spirit of that healing, a three-year research project led by Dr Jill Guthrie at the Australian National University’s centre for Indigenous studies has been exploring justice reinvestment, a social concept that aims to shift spending from punishment to prevention.

Cowra’s mayor, Bill West, describes the results of Guthrie’s work as both “considerable and compelling”.

         “Too often we see a problem, real or perceived, and we come up with a knee-jerk reaction that’s sometimes worse than the original problem,” he said. They’ve taken time, done it properly, identified issues and what the community thinks.”


Back to prison  -  Background Briefing  18 May 2014   - Sunday 18 May 2014

Professor Eileen Baldry from the University of NSW, researches prison populations. Up to half of prisoners have a mental health disorder, and a significant minority—up to 15 per cent—have a cognitive impairment. Professor Baldry has found that there’s significant overlap of those and other issues.

‘Post-release,’ she says, ‘you really need skilled workers, you need a range of connections to the range of service provisions that that person will need, and you need time.’  ‘This is not something which is going to be addressed in three months or six months. It’s something that’s going to take a long time.’

There’s a dearth of research in Australia on what works in post-release programs. However, Professor Baldry says overseas research makes clear what model is necessary.

‘[What] we know works is, some people call it “wrap around”, some people call it holistic, some people call it a “fully supported housing project”. That’s the kind of program that is most useful. Because what it does, it addresses either sequentially or at the same time, a lot of those issues.’  ‘Work, particularly in the United Kingdom, some in Canada and a bit in the United States, shows very clearly that the recidivism rates from those kinds of programs are very low.’

Don Weatherburn, the director of the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, says governments should be focusing on recidivism above all else.

‘Well it's hugely important,’ he says. ‘We tend to preoccupy ourselves with creating alternatives to prison, forgetting that most people going to prison this year, or last year, are actually going back to prison.’

There’s more leverage, he says, in reducing the prison population by reducing the rate of return to prison, rather than reducing the number of people who go there in the first instance.

Tackling recidivism is not politically popular, however. The last NSW politician who tried was the recently dumped Attorney-General, Greg Smith.

His former media advisor, legal journalist Michael Pelly, says Mr Smith’s interest in keeping people out of jail, where possible, was popular for a while—including with the new Premier, Mike Baird, who was then the treasurer. Prison numbers came down, and jails were closed.

‘The Treasurer thought this was tremendous,’ says Mr Pelly. ‘Less money: $70,000 a year for an adult, $250,000 a year for a juvenile.’  ‘That adds up to a lot of hospital beds you can provide. And a lot of deficit and infrastructure you can build. And that was all going very well until the pressure went on, and the whole notion that anybody would be seen as soft on crime.’



Law reforms to give magistrates and judges (in NSW) the option not to sentence people to prison began in late September and resulted in less re-offending, BOCSAR research showed.

        "Supervision and access to therapeutic programs are more likely to be more effective in preventing people from re-offending than custody is," Ms Fitzgerald said.


SOCIETY’S RESPONSE TO THE VIOLENT OFFENDER - Australian Institute of Criminology - First published in 1989, subsequently updated


What basic principles, then, should govern society's response to the violent offender?

Many observers would argue that by the time a violent offender has reached prison, it is too late, and the most appropriate response to violence in Australia is to change those social conditions which give rise to violence in the first place.

It is important to recognise that if a 'solution' to the problem of violence does exist, it is not likely to be found in the Criminal Justice System. Resources available for the prevention and control of violence in Australia are limited. The National Committee on Violence will give substantial consideration to where these resources might most productively be allocated, whether in areas of family support, employment-based delinquency prevention programs, or more prisons. Of course, police, courts and correctional agencies make some difference. But overall, they constitute a very imperfect means of social control. A massive investment in criminal justice resources may produce some reduction in violence, but the marginal reduction is unlikely to be commensurate with the increased cost.

This is of course no consolation to Australia's correctional administrators, who must receive and manage those consigned to their custody, and do so with meager resources.

The fact remains that deprivation of liberty will continue to be the basic response to cases of serious violence in Australia.

Considerations of economy and justice should dictate that punishment not be imposed gratuitously. New South Wales and other jurisdictions have formally acknowledged that imprisonment should be used only as a last resort. At the same time, there are those offenders who constitute a real risk to society, and for whom there is no alternative to prison. It may thus be said that a significant number of prisoners do not really belong in prison, and a significant number who are in prison belong there for a long time. The challenge is that of identifying in which category a given prisoner might be placed. In light of the trend towards hardened public attitudes and longer sentences, it is important for reasons of justice as well as economy to ensure not only that pre-sentence assessment of violent offenders provides adequate information to the courts, but that appropriate treatment programs be made available, in the community and in the prison system.

For those prisoners who might be termed chronic violent offenders, the task then becomes identifying those who may be amenable to rehabilitation, and determining those rehabilitative treatments which may produce a positive and lasting effect.

Society's response to the violent offender has been characterised by contradiction and ambivalence. This may be explained in part by the fundamental inconsistencies, and indeed, the mutual exclusivity of the principles of punishment. It may also be explained by the absence of current, useful knowledge about the deterrent, incapacitative and rehabilitative effects of those policies which are in place. And by no means least, it flows from the indifference on the part of the Australian public to prisons generally, and their hostility to prisoners in particular.

To the extent that violence is a product of human nature, policies of deterrence and rehabilitation may have a positive effect. To the extent that violence is rooted in cultural and economic circumstances, penal policies will have less of an impact. The Australian public must be made aware, however; that whatever penal policies are likely to be effective will almost certainly be extraordinarily expensive.

It has long been an article of faith among Australian politicians that there are no votes in prisons. In the foreseeable future, penal policies appear destined to be dictated not by hard- headed evaluation, but by ill-informed public opinion, by fads, and by political expediency. Ultimately, it is the Australian taxpayer who will bear the long-term costs of continuing penal programs in the dark. The public and policy-makers alike will lack systematic information about the efficiency and effectiveness of alternative policies.

Meanwhile, it may be most appropriate to reserve imprisonment as a last resort, and to pursue strategies for the abatement of violence not in the criminal justice system but in family, education, and employment policy.

Message from the Queensland Government

Convicted bank robber John Killick, who has spent time in prison with notorious serial killers and rapists, said the possibility of release was an important element in giving the prisoners a reason to behave behind bars.

        “You don’t have to let them out, but you have to give them hope,” Mr Killick said.

        “It’s those who have got nothing to lose that become the most dangerous.

The Conversation14 Articles published in April 2015 over 17 days on the State of Imprisonment


Value of a justice reinvestment approach to criminal justice in Australia - June 2013 - The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee

A 2008 study in the US estimated that one in every 100 adults is behind bars and more than 40% will return to prison following their release. Rates of recidivism are as high as 60% in the UK.

But for prisoners undertaking post-secondary education programs, rates of recidivism are considerably lower. In Norway, where internet access is permitted in inmates’ cells, recidivism rates are as low as 20%.  In New Zealand, educational programs are helping to reduce recidivism by anywhere between 8% and 11%.


Texas Justice Reinvestment