For the past four months I chaired the Strategic Policy Panel, which has worked to understand the challenges for South Australian Corrections in reducing reoffending.
Together we have examined the evidence and data on how reoffending can be addressed and developed strategies and recommendations for achieving the SA Government’s objective of reducing reoffending by 10 per cent by 2020.
In any discussion on crime and incarceration, the safety of the community is paramount. Protecting people and their property is the main reason we have a criminal justice system. Community safety was the key theme of the report we released this week.
The panel took an evidence-based approach: testing preconceptions, breaking through myths and being prepared to challenge conventional wisdom.
SA’s challenge is not unique and governments around the world are responding in different ways. Evidence shows that investing in successful rehabilitation of offenders pays dividends to society through fewer crimes and victims and less costs to the taxpayer.
From both international and local learnings, it became apparent that employment is critical to a person’s independence and survival, sense of self-worth and purpose in life – all critical elements to being a positive member of our society.
We worked with Flinders University and Business SA to identify job and industry solutions, which informed a key strategy pillar and recommendations in the report. There are also opportunities for discussions about prisoner employment at a national level.
The evidence also tells us effective rehabilitation requires an individualised approach. One-size-fits-all doesn’t work.
Interventions need to address the factors most linked to reoffending, including alcohol and substance abuse, mental health issues, lack of accommodation, poor education, lack of employment and an absence of positive relationships.
When considering disconnects in the current system, the return of offenders to the community post-sentence stood out as one of the biggest risk factors. So we propose end-to-end case management of offenders, prioritising those most likely to respond.
Through providing support from the moment a person walks through the prison doors to six months after release, with case-management targeted towards each prisoner’s particular needs – for example, drug and alcohol treatment, housing and violence prevention – more prisoners will have a chance of succeeding.
It is important that this end-to-end support needs to extend to those on remand.
Reoffending is most likely to occur in the first three to six months after release, so maintaining support post-release is important to reduce reoffending.
One in four people in SA’s prison system are Aboriginal, and this fact can’t be ignored. Again, this is not unique to SA, but through this strategy we have the opportunity to lead the way in addressing this over-representation.
Early on, we decided to appoint an Aboriginal Reference Group to advise on factors specific to Aboriginal reoffending. This advice informed all recommendations in the strategy, with seven recommendations specific to Aboriginal people such as ensuring prisoners returning to country received specialised transitional support.
Rehabilitation means an offender turning their life around completely, moving from a criminal lifestyle to one that’s socially accepted with a sense of purpose, resilience and ultimately self-sufficiency.
There are no losers in successful rehabilitation. It benefits the offender, their family, their community, the taxpayer and society as a whole.
I urge the SA Government, its departments and agencies to implement the report’s recommendations and set clear, measurable targets and time frames for implementation.
The 10 per cent by 2020 target is ambitious. I believe it is achievable.
Nyunggai Warren Mundine AO chaired the South Australian Strategic Policy Panel for Reducing Reoffending. This article was first published in the Adelaide Advertiser on 8 December 2016.
Offender rehabilitation benefits everyone
8 December 2016
By Nyunggai Warren Mundine AO