LETTER TO THE EDITOR
Sir – The Productivity Commission Report on Government Services raises alarm bells about the unsustainable spend on prisons across Australia which are at 96% capacity. Some are operating beyond capacity.
It costs more than $100,000 to jail one person for one year and $200,000 to lock up a young person for a year.
Reoffending data shows that almost one in two people released from prison are back within two years.
If the prison spend across situation is cause for concern, the Northern Territory is at crisis point.
Its imprisonment rate is five times the national average. The NT spends $553 per head of the NT population per year on our prison system, compared to the national average of $139 per head.
The cost to run NT Police illustrates an even larger contrast: $1,166 per head in the NT, compared to $416 nationally.
The NT’s imprisonment rate has increased 72% in the last 10 years. It costs the NT $100 million per year in operational costs to run our prisons.
Darwin’s new prison (set to open later this year) cost $500 million and on current projections we will need another new prison in 2016 and yet another by 2020.
This will costs us another $1 billion just to build these new prisons, not including operational costs.
The proportion of Aboriginal people in Australian jails vastly exceeds that of non-Aboriginal people. While Indigenous people make up around 2% of Australia’s population, they provide 27.5% of the prison population.
In the Northern Territory, Aboriginal people make up 30% of the overall population, yet 84% of adults in prison and 98% of young people in detention.
This is a national outrage. Mandatory sentencing and punitive bail laws are two examples of laws that exacerbate issues of over-incarceration in the NT, and that particularly affect Aboriginal people.
In 2013, the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee released its report about ‘Value of a justice reinvestment’ which is about putting resources at the front end, to target the causes for offending.
Communities with high levels of incarceration are targeted and funds are “reinvested” into education, housing, health services, jobs, counselling services and non-custodial sentencing options.
The question that needs to be answered is what areas, like health and education, are not getting enough resources because prisons are draining the budget dry?
It is time for justice reinvestment to be urgently implemented across Australia.
CEO, North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency