Qld bets on financial inquiry to stop jails leaking money

By Bill Rowlings*

The Qld Productivity Commission (QPC) has released its draft report – proposing major changes to the criminal justice system – as part of the inquiry into imprisonment and recidivism in the state.

For a decade, Civil Liberties Australia has not argued the cause of civil liberties or human rights in jails: instead, we’ve been campaigning for taxpayers to take charge of how much appalling government management of prisons is costing them.

Photo: Two beds to a cell at Wolston jail. ABC pic Elise Worthington.

The outrageous cost problem is twofold. The actual cost of housing each prisoner for a year is upwards of $100,000, more than you’d spend if you stayed in a luxury hotel for a year. And prisoners are supposed to be rehabilitated, so they don’t re-offend…but half are back in jail within a couple of years.

Money is at last starting to talk. The Qld government commissioned the year-long QPC inquiry because prisoner numbers are way up, and so is recidivism. From 2012 to 2018, numbers in Queensland’s jails rose by 58% (the rise per head of population was 44%).

More than 1000 prisoners are released into the community each month; more than 50% of prisoners reoffend and are back in jail within two years.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander imprisonment continues to outstrip the rate for the rest of the population, and imprisonment rates for women are rising faster than for men.

“The growth in prisoner numbers has significant social and economic implications for affected individuals and their families, the wider community and for the Queensland Government,” the QPC website says.

You betya they do, CLA says. Each jailed person costs taxpayers on average about $300 a day, and the cost-per-day for juveniles can be 80% higher than that. All states and territories will have to come to grips with the massive increase in expenditure on prisons…and solve the problem.

It’s likely that economics will at long last force a sensible change in drug policy, because the jails are about 40% full of people who have a drug health problem…and more than 60% of people in jail (including those there for drug offences) have a mental health problem. Jails have become hospitals with bars, but no treatments are provided.

About 75% of people in jails should be treated in other ways for their problems, as well as being kept from doing more harm in the community. Tackling their problems would lead, in most cases, to their not having to offend.

If you would like to contribute to the Civil Liberties Australia submission to the process, get in touch with the secretary at CLA. Comments on the draft must go  to QPC by 17 April; a final report is due by 1 August 2019. https://www.qpc.qld.gov.au/inquiries/imprisonment/

Idiotic ‘law-n-order’ politicians flagrantly waste taxpayers’ money

The QPC has found that behavioural, policy and system changes — not underlying rates of crime, which have been falling steadily for the past 20 years —are driving increasing imprisonment rates.

Principal Commissioner Kim Wood, said:

“On average, it costs $107,000 to keep an adult in prison for a year. Most sentences are short – median is 3.9 months – and 65% are for non-violent offences. Studies suggest the indirect costs of jail, on top of the above figures, are about $40,000 a year for each prisoner.

“While imprisonment can provide benefits, particularly where it prevents high harm offences, in many cases the costs of imprisonment are likely to outweigh the benefits to the community. In other cases, lower cost alternatives may provide greater benefits to the community.”

In 2016–17, the total cost of running Queensland’s prisons was $872 million. Costs are increasing. From 2011–12 to 2016–17, real net operating expenditures increased by around 22%, significantly more than the increase in general government expenditures.

Queensland prisons are overcrowded—across all prisons, capacity is currently at 130%. Without efforts to reduce demand, a significant expansion of capacity will be required

The QPC found that, at the current rate of growth, Queensland will require an additional 4600 to 5800 extra jail cells by 2025, costing aboout $5.2 to 6.5 billion in infrastructure costs alone.

The QPC has made 18 draft recommendations that aim to:

  • allow more effective ways to deal with offending
  • break the cycle of offending
  • reduce interactions with the criminal justice system
  • create a better decision-making architecture.

The problems in Qld prisons are virtually identical with the problems in all prison systems throughout Australia.

ENDS

  • Bill Rowlings is CEO of Civil Liberties Australia. Prison reform is one of the issues he ‘champions’ internally within CLA.
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