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International justice reinvestment context

Justice reinvestment was conceived in the United States in an attempt to address increases in the rates of incarceration and the large costs associated with them. Since the initial implementation in the US, justice reinvestment has been adopted in a number of countries worldwide including New Zealand, Europe and the United Kingdom. The overseas examples demonstrate benefits of justice reinvestment in Australia, and illustrate how these policies could be implemented.

United States

In the United States, where justice reinvestment was developed, the approach has been implemented in 27 states in an effort to address rising expenditure resulting from the highest incarceration rate in the world. The management of justice reinvestment programs nation-wide has been coordinated by the Council of State Governments Justice Center (Justice Center), a national not for profit organisation which serves policymakers through data driven and evidence based practices.

The Lessons from the States report outlines 6 recommendations for jurisdictions trying to implement justice reinvestment policies, based on successful experiences. It finds that states can address both public safety and fiscal challenges with evidence-based and data-driven policies. 

In 2007, Texas was experiencing increasing pressure on its prison system. Plans were made to build additional prisons and rent emergency detention spaces, costing over $600 million dollars. In May 2007, justice reinvestment legislation was passed to address the issues in Texas’ justice system.

Mapping of the prison population identified five counties in Texas that accounted for more than half of the prison population.

Rather than the affected communities leading the process, the Council of State Governments Justice Center undertook research into factors contributing to incarceration rates and community need. Initiatives that were implemented as a result included substance abuse and mental health facilities, reinvestment in the Nurse-Family Partnerships Program which pairs nurses with low income mothers during their child’s infancy, half way houses, and methods to ensure adequate supervision for parole were also created.

The results demonstrated a 29 per cent decline in recidivism between 2006-2009 and a decrease in the prison population by 1,125 between 2008-2010. Furthermore, a saving of $443.9 million was recorded between 2008-2009.

What is less well known is that Texas also reformed its youth justice system. In 2007 a series of scandals came to light and it was found that there had been system wide physical and sexual abuse of youth in Texas’ state run correctional facilities.  Policymakers also questioned why so many young people were being sent to facilities in remote locations, so far away from home.

To address these issues legislation was introduced that supported a movement away from reliance on cruel confinement policies towards the use of community-based programs.

The state established a grant program providing counties with financial incentives to decrease the rate at which they committed to enact a number of reforms designed to improve conditions inside state-run secure juvenile facilities, and lowered the age of the state’s jurisdiction over youth from 21 to 19. This facilitated better oversight of young offenders in their transition back to the community and encouraged corrections officers to release young offenders earlier.

As is described in the Closer to Home Report,  these policies resulted in increased funding for local juvenile probation by approximately 38 percent,diverting most young offenders into local county-run programs instead of sending them to rural corrections facilities. The average daily population in state-run juvenile correctional facilities dropped by more than 2,800 youth. This was a 65 percent reduction. And saved almost $90 million a year by closing eight state-run youth prisons.

These reforms demonstrated that keeping young people in their communities, rather than in prisons, produced better outcomes for young people and the community.

In 2007 it was predicted that the prison population in Kansas would increase by 22% by 2016. The Justice Center conducted research around which post codes produced the most offenders, with 6 of the 9 top ratings located in Wichita.

The New Communities Initiative then brought together leaders from the state, county and community to design a set of strategies to address the needs of a neighbourhood in Wichita. Initiatives included 60 day credit for those who completed educational, vocational or treatment programs prior to release, strategies to address mental and physical health, and adult education.

Kansas experienced significant results, with the prison population only increasing by 10 individuals between 2007-2010 instead of the projected 700. Incarceration rates however increased when the Global Financial Crisis led to defunding of justice reinvestment in 2010.

Washington State
Washington State developed a State justice reinvestment policy framework aiming to reduce property crime and strengthen policies and practices to reduce recidivism.

In 2013 Washington had one of the highest property crime rates in the US. An increasing number of individuals convicted of property crimes were being sentenced to prison, and had a high likelihood of committing a new crime.

The framework was designed to help the state avoid up to $291 million in prison construction and operating costs that would otherwise be needed to accommodate growing numbers of prisoners. To achieve that, the state would need to reinvest $90 million in law enforcement grants, supervision and treatment, support for counties, and financial assistance for victims of property crime. The framework has a goal of reducing the property crime rate by 15 percent by 2021, deterring crime, and reducing recidivism.

The Justice Reinvestment Policy Framework was translated into legislation and introduced during the 2015 legislative session. However, no legislative action was taken during session. State policymakers plan to reintroduce legislation during the 2016 session.

From 2005 – 2010, Washington DC was able to reduce the number of incarcerated young people and was able to replace an overcrowded 208 bed facility with a 60 bed facility that is now often underutilised. Up until 2005 authorities in Washington DC were  also incarcerating young people in a prison system rife with endemic abuse. Inmates had been regularly beaten or sexually abused by staff. Young people were often placed in solitary confinement for so long for that they often urinated or defecated in them. Additionally, drugs were so easy to get that kids who walked into the system clean would likely test positive within a matter of weeks. Many young people were leaving the system far worse than when they came in, resulting in high recidivism rates, and high costs to the community.

In 2005, Washington DC adopted policies focusing on breaking the cycle of crime and closing down large juvenile jails. Incarceration of young offenders was only recommended by probation offices when kids were high-risk and offending was high-severity. The savings from shutting down juvenile facilities were then funneled into community-based programs to keep young offenders out of the system.

New York
Focusing on breaking the cycle of youth crime and ending the ‘imprisonment binge’, New York began to change its approach to youth justice. One measure was the establishment of specialised young adult courts by the New York City’s Federal Courts.

New York is also planning special young adult units within jails and probation departments have similarly began creating specialised young adult caseloads.

In 2016 New York introduced a screening tool that ensured low and medium-risk young people while their cases were pending were provided with an alternative to detention. Additionally, the number of young people in state lock-up was reduced by two-thirds owing to community programs. These measures further decreased the number of young people being locked in detention centres and resulted in 23 juvenile facilities closing down in New York.

The Close to Home legislation introduced in 2012 proposes to house all New York City young people who had been sentenced in the family court in locations closer to their communities. The aim is to minimise the dislocation of young people from their families while building positive connections between young people and their communities. This has led to the number of young people placed into custody to drop by 53% while juvenile arrests in the city halved.

A bill going before the New York State Senate will establish a justice reinvestment fund and program which can provide not-for-profits and faith-based organisations with funding aimed at improving certain communities.  The Bill proposes to coordinate the efforts of state and local criminal justice agencies with not-for-profits, faith-based organisations and family support programs to facilitate re-entry of prisoners into communities. It ultimately seeks to reduce crime and recidivism rates through these initiatives. The Justice Reinvestment Fund will be provided with US$10 million.

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom has also been moving towards the implementation of justice reinvestment in order to address its growing prison population and expenditure on corrections. In 2010 the Justice Committee of the House of Commons published its Cutting Crime: the case for Justice Reinvestment report, which outlined a ‘blueprint’ for justice reinvestment in the UK.The report is critical of the British Government’s tough on crime approach and advocates for a move towards justice reinvestment. The report makes an extensive list of conclusions and recommendations.

The approach emphasises the use of geographical mapping by categorising neighbourhoods as ‘priority’, ‘at risk’ and ‘stable’, while also calculating the current expenditure on initiatives in different communities. The UK approach also highlights ideas about spending and advanced ways of measuring performance.

Following the report, pilot programs were set up around the UK.  The Youth Justice Reinvestment Custody Pathfinder provided incentives to local authorities to reduce custody rates for 10-17 year olds. The program was funded upfront, giving authorities the flexibility to create their own strategies to reach targets. If the targets were not met, a clawback provision meant that funds would have to be paid back. The pilot ran for 2 years from 2011-2013, with 4 sites selected (2 dropped out after one year). Approaches ranged from the use of community packages, custody case reviews, intensive supervision and diversion from arrest. Both sites exceeded their targets, with custody bed nights, a major target, cut by up to 40 per cent in the second year. In the aftermath of the pilot, strong leadership was identified as one of the main enablers of the program.

The Local Justice Reinvestment model initiated just reinvestment pilots in Greater Manchester and London boroughs with authorities given reward payments if certain thresholds were met. Initiatives included conditional cautioning for drugs and alcohol, neighbourhood justice panels, and a women’s centre.

The Development and Year One implementation report of the Local Justice Reinvestment Pilot report discusses the strengths and weaknesses of the 2011 Local Justice Reinvestment pilots. It found the pilot had benefits in Greater Manchester for key criminal agencies including police, probation and courts. However, various stakeholders from pilot sites stated that it provided insufficient incentive to encourage local agencies to make significant investment in reducing demand and substantial changes to practice. It considers lessons learnt and includes recommendations for further adoption of a local justice reinvestment approach.

New Zealand

Although New Zealand has not adopted a specific justice reinvestment approach, its 10 year Youth Crime Action Plan provides an interesting approach to reduce youth offending rates, with a focus on the over-representation of Maoris in the justice system.

While New Zealand, like Australia, has low levels of youth offending, the plan of the program is to achieve a 25 per cent reduction in youth crime, with a focus on the over-representation of Maoris in the justice system.

Similar to justice reinvestment, the program intends to have a ‘genuine partnership with communities’ by involving Maori communities, frontline practitioners and schools in the process to allow 20 communities across New Zealand to develop their own solutions to youth offending problems.

With an innovation fund of $400,000 the program aims to reduce escalation by implementing informal interventions, warnings, family group conferences and diversion programs.