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2009 Media Release: Does imprisonment give good value for money?

Commission Commission – General

Friday, 28 August 2009

Does imprisonment give good value for money?

Our current way of dealing with Indigenous young offenders is not working and it’s time to take a whole new approach, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma, will tell a major conference on Indigenous young people, crime and justice in Sydney on Monday (31 August).

Commissioner Calma will tell the audience that a 27 percent increase in the Indigenous juvenile detention rate nationally between 2001 to 2007, should sound alarm bells for all jurisdictions.

“I think that the over-representation of our Indigenous young people in the juvenile justice system is not just a policy issue, not just a political issue, but a major human rights issue,” Commissioner Calma will say.

“There is something seriously wrong with our system of justice when Indigenous young people are 28 times more likely to be detained than non-Indigenous young people.

“I am frustrated that our current system seems more intent on locking kids up rather than preventing crime in the first place,” he will say.

“We have the tools available to turn this around through the justice reinvestment program that is slowly reducing prison rates and balancing government budgets in places like Texas, Kansas and the United Kingdom. Justice reinvestment asks the question: is imprisonment good value for money?”

Commissioner Calma will describe how justice reinvestment is a way of investing in our Indigenous young people and communities to prevent crime.

“Justice reinvestment still retains detention as a measure of last resort for dangerous and serious offenders, but actively shifts the culture away from imprisonment,” he will say.

“Instead of imprisoning people, it starts providing community-wide services that will actually prevent offending. It is not just about tinkering around the edges of the justice system, but actually trying to prevent people from getting there in the first place.”

Commissioners Calma will tell the conference that ever-increasing imprisonment expenditure continues to produce high recidivism rates and overcrowded detention centres, where chances for individual rehabilitation decrease even further.

He will outline that of $2.6 billion Australia spent on adult imprisonment in 2008, at least $650 million went on Indigenous adult imprisonment.

“Justice reinvestment has gained a lot of traction with politicians and policy makers on both sides of the ideological divide because it offers the promise of prevention, diversion and community justice for those on the left, and balanced budgets and fiscal responsibility for those on the right,” Commissioner Calma will say.

“Justice reinvestment recognises that most offenders come from a small number of disadvantaged communities and it redirectes money into crime prevention and community services in those communities.

“At the end of the day, you can put an offender through the best resourced, most effective evidence based rehabilitation program, but if they are returning to a community with few opportunities, their chances of staying out of trouble are limited.”

Further information about the justice reinvestment model can be found at

Media contact: Louise McDermott 02 9284 9851 0r 0419 258 597