Should Northern Australia reinvest in justice?
A policy paper being launched in Cairns next week examines Justice Reinvestment and its potential to reduce Northern Australia’s high rate of imprisonment and disproportionate imprisonment of Indigenous people in particular.
Professor Chris Cunneen and Senior Researcher Fiona Allison will present the paper at The Cairns Institute at James Cook University on Tuesday 21 August, along with leading Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and an eminent local expert on law and justice.
Justice Reinvestment is a concept developed in the United States over a decade ago.
Ms Allison, who has been working on both the Northern Territory and Queensland pilots of Justice Reinvestment, describes it as “redirecting public funds spent on building and operating prisons, which are then reinvested in community-led strategies designed to keep people out of the criminal justice system.”
“The focus is on less serious offences, and finding the most productive and cost-effective way to deal with them,” she said.
“Justice Reinvestment is based on the argument that no matter how effective your prison-based rehabilitation programs are, if people return to the same set of conditions that led to their offending to begin with, they’re highly likely to end up back in prison.”
Professor Cunneen said discussions on development of Northern Australia needed to address crime and justice issues, including the region’s high imprisonment rate.
“Northern Australia has the country’s highest rates of incarceration, and, as is the case around the country, disproportionate rates of Indigenous incarceration.
“In Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory, Indigenous people comprise 32%, 37% and 84% respectively of the prison population,” he said.
“If putting people in prison was working, we’d be seeing a decline in the prison population over time. Instead, our nation’s imprisonment rate per 100,000 of the adult population has more than doubled over the past 30 years, and continues to climb.”
Justice Reinvestment uses criminal and other statistics to determine how and where to best allocate public funds to reduce crime.
“These statistics identify parts of the justice system that might need reform because they are pushing up incarceration rates,” Ms Allison said.
“They also tell us about underlying causes of offending that sit outside the justice system in areas such as schooling and education, employment, family wellbeing, and health.
“Identifying the needs of communities, and investing in housing, education, job creation and drug and alcohol rehabilitation could be a more effective use of public funds. In the long term, it could make a significant difference to the region’s productivity.”
The paper Justice Reinvestment in Northern Australia will be launched at The Cairns Institute at James Cook University in Smithfield on Tuesday 21st August.
Ms Allison and Professor Cunneen will be joined in discussion by a panel including: The Hon Stanley Jones AO QC; Donnella Mills, Chair of Wuchopperen Health Service; Sarah Szydzik CEO of The Streets Movement; and Vincent Knox, Regional Manager, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service. The panel will explore the benefits of Justice Reinvestment in Far North Queensland.
The launch will run from 4.00pm to 5.30pm. Admission is free. Participants are asked to register at https://events.jcu.edu.au/TCISeminars