Justice Reinvesment One Year On
Inquiry into prevention rather than prison
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A Senate Inquiry in Perth will investigate the potential for justice reinvestment, which involves spending money on crime prevention rather than on building prisons.
EMMA ALBERICI, PRESENTER: Tomorrow in Perth a Senate inquiry will begin hearing evidence about the future of Australia's criminal justice system and whether governments should be spending less money on building prisons and more on crime prevention. The concept is known as Justice Reinvestment and it's proving popular with Republicans in the US who are keen to cut back government spending. In Australia the prison system costs taxpayers over $3 billion a year, and that figure is rising with the jail population growing four per cent a year for the last 30 years. With Aboriginal adults now being jailed at a rate of 14 times higher than the rest of the community, indigenous leaders are joining the campaign to introduce a justice reinvestment approach to Australia's criminal justice system. Steve Cannane reports.
STEVE CANNANE, REPORTER: Beau, Tray and Kobie are advocates for justice reinvestment. They're working on a film clip as part of the campaign to take taxpayers' dollars out of prisons and put it into crime prevention.
KOBIE DUNCAN, JUSTICE REINVESTMENT ADVOCATE: I see my brothers locked up on streets to survive, but every now and then it's getting harder to say bye.
STEVE CANNANE: All three have had friends of relatives who have been in jail.
KOBIE DUNCAN: I have a brother that's locked up at the moment. He's not around Christmas, even on his birthday sometimes we have to celebrate it without him even at our own house. At Christmas time it's just not the same.
MAN: We want to try to make sure you get them from the hips...
STEVE CANNANE: Beau, Tray and Kobie say being involved in the Kool Kids Club, an early intervention program at La Perouse has helped them avoid trouble.
BEAU FOSTER, JUSTICE REINVESTMENT ADVOCATE: Kept me away from all the bad trouble, I guess. I dunno, I just love going out with the Kool Kids Club to go fishing, surfing, we even went on a camp up and down the coast and that.
SARAH HOPKINS, ABORIGINAL LEGAL SERVICE: A program like the Kool Kids Club fits in really well with the justice reinvestment model because it looks at - justice reinvestment looks at identifying savings or creating savings in the prison budget, in the corrections budget and reinvesting that into crime prevention strategies or diversionary programs.
STEVE CANNANE: A key part of justice reinvestment is funding community based initiatives to reduce crime. In Redfern, crime rates have dropped since Shane Phillips set up Clean Slate Without Prejudice, an early morning boxing program involving local police, young offenders and mentors.
SHANE PHILLIPS, CLEAN SLATE WITHOUT PREJUDICE: This is a pure example of justice reinvestment. We think the police were the enemy and the police thought we were the enemy and there was so much distance between us. We broke that down by doing something simple. We exercise early in the morning at a time which is really, I suppose, only elite athletes will get up and do it.
STEVE CANNANE: Police say there's been an 80 per cent drop in robberies committed by Aboriginal youth in Redfern since this program started. And it's kept young men like Jacob out of jail.
LUKE FREUDENSTEIN, REDFERN POLICE: He got charged and convicted of an offence with intent to cause grievous bodily harm, carries 25 years. Jacob went to court, he - I was asked to go to court, I was subpoenaed, I was asked whether he'd be suitable to be on the program as Shane Phillips was, we agreed he was.
STEVE CANNANE: After watching Jacob get his life back on track, Luke Freudenstein took him along to a job interview at Lyn Fox.
JACOB SAUNDERS: Luke was in the room beside me, I couldn't lie, I had to be upfront about everything. At the end of the interview she gave me the job on the spot because of Luke.
LUKE FREUDENSTEIN: He's doing community service, he's working, he's paying taxes, and he's mixing with good people rather than perhaps being inside with not so good people.
STEVE CANNANE: Despite its successes, this program has struggled to maintain funding. It needs money to pay the mentors who help keep Redfern's indigenous youth on track. Mick Gooda says these kind of programs end up saving taxpayers money.
MICK GOODA, SOCIAL JUSTICE COMMISSIONER: We did some sums around if Aboriginal people were represented in jail the same rate they're represented in the community, that is about three per cent, there'd be savings like $600 million a year here. So there's also almost a fiscal imperative to look at things like justice reinvestment.
STEVE CANNANE: And it's money that's driving the debate in the US. Prominent Republicans like Newt Gingrich, Jeb Bush and Grover Norquist, have signed on for a campaign to cut incarceration rates. But in Australia it's been a Greens senator pushing for an inquiry into justice reinvestment.
PENNY WRIGHT, GREENS SENATOR: The point of the Senate inquiry is to look at to what extent the concept, the concept of reducing the number of people in prison, to save money and then reinvest that money in those communities where we know that crime occurs all based on strong evidence, to see if that concept can be adapted for Australian conditions and can give us an alternative to what we're doing now which is actually failing.
STEVE CANNANE: Down at this Redfern gym, they don't need a Senate inquiry to tell them that justice reinvestment works.
SHANE PHILLIPS: The cost of paying for two kids that have gone into custody pays for four mentors and it pays for - doesn't pay for it, it covers the cost of keeping those kids out and those kids are not just staying out, they're going into employment so they're taxpayers. So it's a no brainer.
STEVE CANNANE: Steve Cannane, Lateline.