Mia Schlicht On Criminal Justice Reform Perth Live 6PR – 14 March 2024

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14 March 2024
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In this interview, Research Analyst Mia Schlicht discusses the need for criminal justice reform and better sentencing options.

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Below is a transcript of the interview.


Oliver Peterson:

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has revealed that WA has seen a dramatic increase in the number of prisoners being held in our judicial system. Mia Schlitz is a Research Analyst at the Institute of Public Affairs.

G’day, Mia.

Mia Schlicht:

Hi Ollie. How are you?

Oliver Peterson:

I’m good. Mia, these new stats show a bit of an alarming trend. There’s a lot more people behind bars around Australia?

Mia Schlicht:

Absolutely. So today, the ABS released data showing that, once again, prison numbers are on the rise in Australia, particularly in WA, where the incarceration rate has increased to 310 prisoners per a hundred thousand adults.

Now, whilst WA had made some successful gains in the past at lowering this rate, in the last 12 months, there has been a real surge in numbers. In fact, it has increased 10% in just one year.

Oliver Peterson:

So it’s gone up from 287 to 311 prisoners per 100,000 adults. Any idea why, Mia?

Mia Schlicht:

That’s correct. Now we’re seeing a jump in crime. But the problem is that, whilst prisons are useful at detaining violent and dangerous offenders, and this is who should be behind bars, it’s extremely expensive to the taxpayers.

And the IPA has found that 40% of these prisoners behind bars have been placed there for a non-violent offence. To house one prisoner behind bars for just one day, it costs $410 into Western Australia.

Oliver Peterson:

So it’s $410 multiplied over the year. What, it’s over $150,000 a year?

Mia Schlicht:

That’s correct. It’s about $150,000 per year for just one offender. And with the amount of non-violent offenders behind bars in WA, that’s about $400 million per year.

Oliver Peterson:

So what’s the alternative?

Mia Schlicht:

The IPA has been looking at jurisdictions around the world, who are looking at alternative punishments for non-violent offenders, who don’t pose a risk to community safety.

Now, conservative jurisdictions in the United States’ states, such as Texas and Georgia, have seen real success. Now what they’ve done is they’ve implemented policies which has removed non-violent offenders from prison, and placed them into programmes, engaging them in employment.

Now what this has found is that not only has this reduced taxpayer expenses by reducing incarceration rates, but it’s actually improved community safety, by creating more space in prison for violent offenders to be incarcerated for longer periods of time. And it’s allowed the money saved to be reinvested in crime prevention strategies.

Oliver Peterson:

Would you support something similar here? 133882. Mia, what sort of non-violent crimes has the other examples that you’ve just noticed there in the United States, what sort of non-violent crimes might this include?

Mia Schlicht:

One policy the IPA has looked at has been a number of fraud offenders currently behind bars across Australia. Now we’ve worked with the world-leading sentencing expert, Mirko Bagaric, on an alternative policy for these fraud offenders, which would see, instead of them being incarcerated, they would actually working for willing businesses, and have a tax penalty imposed on them, which would see them restitute the victims for their crime, and pay back a fine to the community at large for their wrongdoing.

Oliver Peterson:

So also saves the taxpayer potentially that $150,000 a year by keeping more people behind bars. Work opportunities, employment opportunities for those prisoners, Mia?

Mia Schlicht:

Absolutely. So not only would it save taxpayer expenses, but it could actually help the local community as well. So in Western Australia, a quarter of businesses can’t find the workers they need. So these businesses could look at employing low-risk, non-violent offenders who pose minimal risk to community safety. And these prisoners could be out in the community, working, pay tax, and restituting the victims for their crimes.

Oliver Peterson:

Mia, thanks for your time. Appreciate it.

Mia Schlicht:

Thank you very much.

Oliver Peterson: 133882, what do you reckon? What do you do there? Do we start looking at some alternatives to housing so many prisoners behind bars? Or are there other solutions? Are there other programmes that should be explored?

This transcript from Perth Live 6PR with Oliver Peterson from 14 March 2024 has been edited for clarity.

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