(Motion, 17 November 2016, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)
Our prisons’ historic population of 12,641 and growing incarceration rates of already overrepresented Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, women and people on remand are shameful and must be addressed.
In New South Wales 68 per cent of prisoners re-offend because imprisonment does little to deter future offending – indeed it can increase it.
Research has identified no link between high incarceration rates and reduced crime.
Mental illness, drug and alcohol problems, disadvantage, poverty, poor education and trauma such as sexual assault are higher among prisoners. Prisoners are more likely to have higher levels of cognitive impairment.
Prisons are overcrowded and risk human rights breaches; rehabilitation and education are limited.
Many prisoners who have a mental illness don’t get treatment and their behaviour often results in solitary confinement, worsening symptoms.
Around half of prisoners face drug and alcohol charges but prison drug programs are limited and inadequate. Drug use should be treated as a health issue where people with problems are not sent to prison but encouraged to get help and I am working with Labor, Liberal and Green colleagues on a more evidence based approach to drugs.
Drug courts have been shown work and we now have three, but more rehabilitation programs are needed to ensure they can be effective.
The United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders, known as the Bangkok Rules, encourage alternatives to imprisoning women.
Female prisoners have often experienced sexual, physical and psychological abuse but only two of the seven New South Wales women’s prisons offer professional sexual assault programs. Standard procedures like strip searches can be particularly traumatic for women prisoners who have experienced sexual abuse and searches on women should be restricted, with alternative methods to prevent contraband.
Nearly three quarters of women in prison are mothers, with 62 per cent of them the sole care-giver with most children of prisoners under six. Mother and child must have regular contact, but the remoteness of women’s prisons prevents this.
Loss of family contact punishes women beyond sentences and has enduring effects on children, including being at risk of State care. Specialist services are needed to help children of prisoners. I understand there are few police protocols for arresting someone with dependent children and some prisons control family visits as a form of discipline.
Prisoners are less likely to be employed before imprisonment or have jobs organised on release, and those on remand have no access to programs. Employment is a strong predictor of recidivism, but there is little support.
Instead of incentives for education, prisoners earn more from working, undermining their future.
Homelessness and mental health problems are linked with offending and re-offending. The government must increase social housing stock and provide post-release supported accommodation.
Tough bail and mandatory sentencing laws remove consideration of individual circumstances and result in higher incarceration rates without deterring crime. Our remand population is appallingly high and includes many people who will be found innocent or not receive a prison sentence. Bail laws based on risks that an accused will not appear in court, harm a witness or re-offend should be restored with presumptions against bail removed.
Governments must partner with non-government and business sectors. We should help prisoners establish new skills in prison that provide them opportunities to treat drug problems and mental illness, and to move away from a prison career on release.
We must expand and resource prevention, early intervention, diversion and rehabilitation programs and help integrate offenders back into their families and communities, maintain a home and get work.
Evidence-based approaches like MERIT and drug courts must be expanded, and we must trial innovation and test new approaches to improve outcomes for offenders and the community.
I commend the motion and hope to see more work to reduce incarceration rates.
Greg Piper's motion is HERE.