“Offenders in community service in South Australia are not doing all the hours of work that they should be doing to pay back their debts to society,” said Andrew Bushnell, Research Fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs.
“At the same time, they are missing out on the opportunity to acquire the skills and discipline that work provides, and which is so important to their rehabilitation.”
Mr Bushnell is the author of a Parliamentary Research Brief distributed today to members of the Parliament of South Australia outlining a proposal for reforming community service to make it more effective in both punishing and rehabilitating offenders.
“The main part of community corrections is community service, where offenders perform unpaid work like removing graffiti and tending to public spaces. But our research shows that in South Australia, offenders in community service are performing, on average, less than a third of the hours to which they are sentenced.”
In South Australia, offenders sentenced to community service are ordered to serve an average of 142 hours, but on average perform only 41 hours of work. This is a problem because community-based sentences, including community service, are the principal punishments given to 46 percent of violent offenders and 35 percent of nonviolent offenders.
“The challenge is to increase the work available for offenders in community service so that offenders have to do the right amount of hours of work,” said Mr Bushnell.
The brief recommends that community service be opened up to bids for offender labour from private companies that are struggling to fill positions at market rates of pay. Companies would pay the Department for Corrective Services a flat rate. The Department would pay the offenders for their work at a rate determined by the government.
“By involving private companies, suitable offenders will have access to more hours of work, and more complex work that will better prepare them for living normal lives.”
Community corrections, and especially access to meaningful work, has been shown by a number of studies to be more effective than incarceration in reducing reoffending.
It is also much less expensive than prison. An offender spending one day in prison costs taxpayers $210, whereas one day in community corrections costs less than $17. In South Australia prison spending grew by 62 percent between 2007-08 and 2016-17, with the cost of operating prisons rising to $230 million that financial year.
“By making community service better, the Government can help arrest the growth of expensive incarceration, and move closer to hitting its target of reducing reoffending by 10 percent by 2020,” said Mr Bushnell.
The brief builds on research contained in the IPA’s report, Making community corrections work, which was released in May and provides a national overview of community corrections.
“Many of the same trends are present in other states, so this is an opportunity for South Australia to lead the nation on criminal justice reform,” said Mr Bushnell.