New research has cast a spotlight on the privatisation of Australian prisons as state governments seek to reduce costs, but experts warn similar experiments have failed and the focus should instead be on addressing underlying social issues.
A new study published in Criminal Justice Policy Review says heavy reliance on, and investment in private prisons, has failed to achieve positive community outcomes and is proven by increasing incarceration rates around Australia since the 1980s.
“The Australian prison system is being increasingly privatized, and this has direct implications on re-offending rates, as private providers are being made responsible for recidivism outcomes despite the fact, they may also retain incentives to keep people within prisons,” says Associate Professor Samantha Battams from the College of Medicine and Public Health.
“Queensland has recently announced an end to private prisons following a damning report on the state’s two privately run prisons. And under Obama’s presidency the US policy shifted to cease contracting out federal prisons to private providers, as they were found to be less safe and effective than federally run prisons; however, this policy has more recently been overturned and the numbers of people in private prisons has significantly increased.”
“Heavy investment in privatization has failed so it’s important we shift the discourse towards introducing community focused programs that can have a positive impact. This includes proven justice reinvestment initiatives where funding is reinvested in crime prevention in communities where there are high rates of incarceration.
“We also need better coordination across sectors such as child protection, mental health, alcohol and other drugs, housing and justice to improve outcomes.”
Unfortunately, there is little focus on primary crime prevention measures and where there is a focus on crime prevention, it has recently been on reducing recidivism amongst those already in contact with the prison system, rather than addressing the root causes of crime.
The scarce good examples of community-based crime prevention tend to be short-term pilot projects or seen as part of reform rather than routine and sustainable strategies.
Professor Fran Baum, from the Southgate Institute for Health, Society and Equity says a greater focus on primary crime prevention through government strategies is required, along with greater recognition of the links between education, housing, employment, child wellbeing and protection, health, disability, welfare and justice outcomes.
“Public spending on prisons has also led to less funding for other areas within the justice system, including policing and the courts. It’s also important to note prison spending is increasing as a percentage of state budgets.”
“We must shift the focus to crime prevention, especially for intensive early education and child development, family support and domestic and family violence prevention strategies, to foster improvements in education, housing and mental health services, and neighbourhood policies which include community development.”
The study also explored progressive policies and the partnership approach taken between Aboriginal communities and the justice sector in Victoria, amidst high and increasing incarceration rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations, in a paper published in the International Indigenous Policy Journal.
“It’s also important to look at these issues through a human rights lens, especially in relation to young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders where community partnerships, tailored and culturally responsive prevention strategies and rehabilitation are also required.”
“We need to raise the age of criminal responsibility to UN standards as recommended by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. We still need to address issues contributing to Aboriginal deaths in custody, 30 years on from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.”