JavaScript disabled. Please enable JavaScript to use My News, My Clippings, My Comments and user settings.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

Rehab, not jail, can reap rewards

Date

Peter Jean

Dr John Herron, chairman of the Australian National Council on Drugs.

Dr John Herron, chairman of the Australian National Council on Drugs. Photo: Chris Lane

A former Howard government minister says the ACT could lead Australia in criminal justice reform and save money by sending non-violent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander offenders to drug rehabilitation instead of jail.

More than $110,000 could be saved per year per offender if non-violent indigenous offenders were diverted to drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs, a report by Deloitte Access Economics said.

A further $92,000 per offender could be saved in the longer term through lower mortality and better health, according to the report commissioned by the Indigenous Drug and Alcohol Committee of the Australian National Council on Drugs.

The National Council on Drugs wants a moratorium on the construction of new prisons in Australia and for the savings to be spent on expanding community-based alcohol and drug rehabilitation programs.

ANCD chairman John Herron said he hoped the report would spur authorities to take action through the Council of Australian Governments.

Dr Herron said a good place to try the proposal first could be the ACT, where the government already wanted to introduce a prison-based needle and syringe exchange.

"The ACT has been more receptive to progressive activity in this regard. Even if the ACT government did it as a forerunner - although you've already built your new prison - it can be shown that there are savings by putting people into rehabilitation,'' he said.

Dr Herron, who served as minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs from 1996 to 2001, said it did not make sense for Australian governments to spend $3 billion a year on prisons.

"The cost of getting somebody into treatment was about $60,000 a year. And it was just a no-brainer - half of those didn't reoffend,'' he said.

"The system just goes on and on and we're building more prisons all the time. It's just absurd, particularly with indigenous offenders, where 70 per cent of them are effectively intoxicated, or on drugs when they commit an offence.

"We're not taking about violent offenders - we're only talking about people who are in for non-violent charges.''

The Deloitte Access report found that indigenous offenders were less likely than other offenders to be diverted by courts to drug and alcohol treatment facilities.

In 2009, just 10 out of 17,859 people diverted by courts to drug and alcohol treatment were indigenous.

In 2011, about 7600 of the 29,000 prisoners in Australia were Aborigines or Torres Strait Islanders.

ACT Corrections and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs Minister Shane Rattenbury said it was up to the courts to decide whether people convicted of criminal offences were sent to jail but the report was worthy of consideration.

Mr Rattenbury said: "The challenge that this report throws up is for governments to say, 'Is sending somebody to jail the best option? Or are we better off both from an economic point of view, but also from a social impact point of view, taking an alternative approach?' ''

Thirty-nine of the 237 prisoners in Canberra's Alexander Maconochie Centre identify as being indigenous.

7 comments

  • What prison reformers deliberately ignore is that the public wants its money spent on prisons. We want more prisons, not less.

    Try telling someone who's had their car windows smashed in by some indigenous junkie looking for money or had their home ransacked that punishment shouldn't figure in their response.

    Commenter
    Paul Neri
    Location
    Australia
    Date and time
    February 04, 2013, 8:38AM
    • Geez Rattenbury sounds like a report you would have made, are you sure you never co-wrote report.
      People are in prison because they were naughty, ask people who have their person or privacy violated.
      Mr Rattenbury said: "The challenge that this report throws up is for governments to say, 'Is sending somebody to jail the best option? Or are we better off both from an economic point of view, but also from a social impact point of view, taking an alternative approach?' ''

      Commenter
      Nitro Gangster
      Location
      ACT
      Date and time
      February 04, 2013, 9:02AM
      • While I sympathise with the indigenous population (my country was invaded by the Normans in 1066 and I'm still not over it), I don't believe there should be one punishment for one group and another for a different group. It sounds like Dr Herron wants a two tier system; rehab and no jail for indigenous but lock up caucasians, asians, africans and those from the middle east.

        Commenter
        farnarkler
        Location
        Canberra
        Date and time
        February 04, 2013, 10:13AM
        • There already is a two-tier system:

          "The Deloitte Access report found that indigenous offenders were LESS likely than other offenders to be diverted by courts to drug and alcohol treatment facilities." And even though conviction rates and court appearances for indigenous people are falling, rates of incarceration are going up:

          http://www.bocsar.nsw.gov.au/lawlink/bocsar/ll_bocsar.nsf/vwFiles/BB41.pdf/$file/BB41.pdf

          I'm all for knee-jerk reactionism, but if you keep doing what you've always done, keep getting what you've always got.

          Commenter
          Dregs
          Location
          Canberra
          Date and time
          February 04, 2013, 10:42AM
        • farnarkler, the ACT Green Labor movement already have a two tier system firmly entrenched in the Capital and it is not soley the indiginous people believe me.

          Commenter
          Nitro Gangster
          Location
          ACT
          Date and time
          February 04, 2013, 11:07AM
      • Can any provide us with an example of where this approach has actually work? Don believe it has to any significant degree anywhere, so why make the same mistake again.

        Commenter
        Steve
        Date and time
        February 04, 2013, 10:47AM
        • I suspect its ideological underpinning is the same conceptual framework that spawned "circle sentencing", which the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research found, as its name suggests, to have its proponents going around in circles.

          Commenter
          Paul Neri
          Location
          Australia
          Date and time
          February 04, 2013, 11:19AM
      Comments are now closed
      Featured advertisers

      Special offers

      Credit card, savings and loan rates by Mozo