Justice Reinvestment 101

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What is justice reinvestment?

Justice reinvestment is a different approach to criminal justice that builds stronger and safer communities by redirecting money that would be spent on prisons into community designed initiatives, services and supports that prevent crime.

It features government working in partnership with communities to examine the causes of crime and identify appropriate local evidence based solutions.

The emphasis is on addressing the underlying causes of crime as early as possible and preventing crime from happening in the first place.

Programs could include, but are not limited to:

  • supporting young people to remain in education
  • providing safe and accessible housing
  • fostering community connections.

These programs may target young people currently over-represented in the criminal justice system, but will also have whole of community benefits.

Justice Reinvestment promises to save money over time by reducing expenditure on courts and prisons so that funds can be spent instead on addressing disadvantage.

Research tells us that imprisonment is largely ineffective in reducing re-offending and it does little to address the underlying causes of offending. It is also very costly.

 

Why justice reinvestment?

We know that most of Victoria’s prisoners come from just a handful of places:

  • 1 in 4 prisoners come from just 2 per cent of the state’s postcodes
  • 50 per cent of prisoners come from just 6 per cent of postcodes.

That tells us that entrenched disadvantage has much to do with crime and justice.

Particular groups are also dramatically overrepresented in Victorian prisons.

While Aboriginal people make up less than 1 per cent of Victoria’s adult population, they represent nearly 8 per cent of prisoners. Aboriginal women are the fastest growing cohort in prison.

Why not ‘business as usual’ in Victoria?

Over the past decade, Victoria’s prison population has risen almost 70 per cent. Adjusted for population growth, this is a total rise in the prison population of almost 45 per cent.

That is due in part to population growth, but government policies such as bail and parole changes have also played a big role.

More of our prisoners are returning to prison more often. Victoria now has a 44 per cent recidivism rate for adult prisons – up 11 per cent in the last 5 years.

In response to rising prisoner numbers and serious prison overcrowding, the Victorian Government invested more than $1 billion to upgrade and increase the capacity of Victoria’s prison system from 2010-2014.

Prison operating costs have risen 44 per cent in just two years and are set to top $1 billion a year.

It costs around $98,000 a year to house each prisoner and an estimated $500,000 per prison bed in construction costs.

Prison is a harmful and extremely expensive way to try to control crime.

Most importantly, prison doesn’t stop crime. It is better and more effective to invest in programs and services that address the causes of crime.

Why focus on young people?

Crime data shows that although youth crime rates are generally dropping in Victoria, a small number of young people account for a greater proportion of offences, and there has been an increase in the number of repeat offending.

Additionally we saw an 80 per cent increase in 2015-16 of the number of children who end up in detention on remand, still awaiting their cases to be heard. Some will be found innocent of charges yet have already experienced prison life and culture.

A child or young person’s likelihood of offending is influenced by their background, life experience and where they live.

The children and young people who get caught up in the Victorian criminal justice system are some of the state’s most disadvantaged and vulnerable.

Many come from the poorest communities in Victoria, have left school early, and are living in out of home care. A high proportion are Aboriginal children.

A justice reinvestment approach encourages communities to intervene early in the lives of their young people and address multiple drivers of crime, including economic and social disadvantage and various recognised “risk factors”. These factors include:

  • family violence and breakdown
  • substance abuse
  • disengagement from school or work
  • family dislocation
  • child abuse, trauma and neglect
  • mental illness and intellectual disabilities.

Developmental research shows that young brains continue developing until the age of 25, which provides a window of opportunity to influence change.

Targeted early intervention for at-risk young people is an extremely cost effective way to reduce crime and further engagement with the criminal justice system.

Research tells us that the most serious and persistent adult offenders have usually been detained as juveniles. It is a cycle that can and must be broken.

What is the solution?

Justice reinvestment aims to break the cycle of offending by addressing underlying social causes of criminal offending and recognised “risk factors”.

For young people, it aims to step in earlier – before a child has committed a crime, before a child gets caught in a pattern of behaviour, before a prison sentence brings further trauma and disadvantage.

Justice reinvestment provides an alternative that supports the young person, their family and the community they are from.

This approach resources communities and their young people to discuss and decide what early intervention, prevention or diversion supports are needed by young people in their community.

Want to see more?

Here are some more resources that might be useful to you or your community, including examples of Justice Reinvestment in action elsewhere in Australia.