“The rapid growth of incarceration in Western Australia is imposing significant costs on taxpayers without improving community safety,” said Andrew Bushnell, Research Fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs.
“Parliament should act now to reform the criminal justice system by expanding alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders and emphasizing the importance of employment for offender rehabilitation.”
Mr Bushnell leads the IPA Criminal Justice Project, a research project focused on the costs of incarceration and how governments can more effectively reduce crime. He is the author of a Parliamentary Research Brief, Why Western Australia needs criminal justice reform, which was distributed today to Western Australian State Parliamentarians.
“The number of people in Western Australia’s prisons has risen 55 percent in the past decade, and the incarceration rate is now the highest among Australian states, with highest rates of all Australian jurisdictions for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.”
“Over this period, spending on prisons has risen an estimated 45 percent, to $596 million, and this does not include capital works spending, like the expansion of Casuarina Prison.”
In response to these unsustainable trends, the brief recommends the expansion of alternatives to incarceration, like community service, home detention, fines, and restitution orders, as well as the need for work opportunities for offenders, with employment correlated to reducing rates of reoffending.
“39 percent of people released from prison in Western Australia return to prison within two years of their release, and 63 percent of prisoners have been in prison before, but just 16 percent of prisoners participate in commercial industries, a third of the rate in New South Wales,” said Mr Bushnell.
“Reducing reoffending would significantly improve community safety, and work is the key to rehabilitation just as it is the key to a good life.”
The report points to examples of reform in Texas and other parts of the United States as both evidence for the benefits of reform and to illustrate the changing politics of criminal justice.
“Criminal justice reform is now a bipartisan issue. There is widespread agreement that being tough on crime means taking smart steps to reduce crime, not just throwing ever-more money at incarceration.”
“This emerging consensus led to President Trump signing a criminal justice reform law earlier this year,” said Mr Bushnell.