Jobs Events Advertise Newsletter

Call for increased investment in ACT justice reforms

Dechlan Brennan -

Despite a concerted effort to move away from incarceration, the Australian Capital Territory continues to suffer the impacts of outdated justice approaches, a new report has found.

In their report outlining the ACT’s criminal justice system released today, the Justice Reform Initiative (JRI) said the jurisdiction has the potential to lead the nation with a progressive and smart approach, but a "greater investment is needed to overcome the legacy of over-incarceration.”

“The ACT is in many ways a national outlier,” the report says.

“It has the lowest rate of incarceration in the country, the lowest numbers of people incarcerated, and a government which has a stated commitment to justice reinvestment, legislative reform and reducing recidivism.

“However, it also has the highest rate of recidivism (when including return to community corrections orders) and the highest ratio of First Nations incarceration rates compared with non-Indigenous incarceration rates.”

Despite a series of progressive reforms from the ACT government, 80 per cent of all incarcerated people have previously been to prison. First Nations people account for 27 per cent of all incarcerated people, despite making up only two per cent of the Territory's population.

“[T]he current state of incarceration shows us that despite a genuinely promising reform agenda, the ACT is still dealing with the legacy of decades of the failure of imprisonment, and the failure to sufficiently invest in evidence-based alternatives in the community," the report states.

The ACT has recently raised the age of criminal responsibility to 12, which will be raised to 14 in 2025 - with caveats for “exceptionally serious and intentionally violent offences committed” by 12- and 13-year-old children. 

In 2023, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were 14 times more likely to be detained than non-Indigenous children, with Indigenous children comprising 26 per cent of the youth prison population.  

JRI executive director Mindy Sotiri said the ACT has made “commendable” strides in their commitment and actions to invest in “communities, not prisons".

“However, many of these programs are frequently under-resourced and this is especially true for First Nations-led organisations,” Dr Sotiri said. 

JRI pointed to a series of reforms proven to help reduce incarceration, including preventive measures; First Nations place-based approaches; and post release and diversionary community-led programs. 

Bail support programs have been found to significantly reduce reoffending, increase compliance with bail conditions and improve a range of wellbeing measures, whilst early intervention programs are shown to reduce crime at a population level by between 5 and 31 per cent. 

One of these programs, Yeddung Mura External Reporting Site in Fadden, has shown positive results in a culturally safe environment that provides a model of care that is hoped to be replicated across the ACT.

"We hope that, in the future, the directorate will collaborate with the community to implement more Aboriginal community-led solutions that will benefit clients," chief executive Priestley Obed said last month. 

JRI said whilst the community and Indigenous-led programs across the ACT were doing considerable work in breaking cycles of disadvantage, “they are frequently not resourced adequately.”

“This is especially the case for First Nations communities and First Nations community-led Organisations,” the report found.

“While remarkable outcomes are often achieved (with very limited resources), in order to systematically reduce justice system involvement, the community sector needs a substantial injection of funds.”

Dr Sotiri said the ACT has the opportunity to lead the nation in reform through genuine alternatives to incarceration. 

“We’ve seen what’s possible in jurisdictions that take a smarter approach, such as in Scandinavian countries, and there’s no reason why we can’t do better in Australia to reduce the number of people going into prison and improve community safety,” she said. 

JRI called on the ACT Government to further boost their current efforts in by establishing an annual $20 million investment for a ‘Breaking the Cycle’ fund to help “boost the impact of existing community-led programs and make them more accessible, reducing the churn of people into prisons.” 

Dr Sotiri said the report outlined “30 different alternative justice programs and organisations” in the ACT, no small feat given the size and population of the jurisdiction. 

“Unfortunately, these programs are currently operating on a scale that is too small to make a systemic difference when it comes to reducing recidivism and criminal justice system contact in the ACT,” she said. 

“If we genuinely want to build a safer, more cohesive community, we need to invest more in community-led programs that address the drivers of crime and incarceration. 

“There is a real opportunity for the ACT to be at the forefront of this change.”

   Related   

Barry Cable charged with historical sex crimes against underaged girl
Western Australian police have charged disgraced former North Melbourne and WAFL...
Dechlan Brennan 24 May 2024
Victorian Police Chief Commissioner makes "long overdue" apology for police role in Stolen Generations
Victoria Police chief commissioner Shane Patton has made a personal apology, and...
Jarred Cross 24 May 2024
Anniversary of the killing of Noongar leader Midgegooroo acknowledged by the City of Fremantle
The City of Fremantle lowered flags to half-mast this week as part of its truth-...
Rhiannon Clarke 24 May 2024
Pacific graduate beats the odds and earns her master's degree
Veronika Ruby Iloilo, a Masters graduate from the University of Auckland, turned...
Joseph Guenzler 24 May 2024

   Dechlan Brennan   

Barry Cable charged with historical sex crimes against underaged girl
Western Australian police have charged disgraced former North Melbourne and WAFL...
Dechlan Brennan 24 May 2024
A celebration of Indigenous storytelling, art, music and culture as City of Parramatta launches eight-week Warami program
The city of Parramatta is set to celebrate First Nations culture as part of a bu...
Dechlan Brennan 24 May 2024
"It's a privilege": Meet one of the commissioners responsible for helping document the "real" history of Victoria
Travis Lovett is an intimidating person.  Anyone who has watched the Yoorrook J...
Dechlan Brennan 23 May 2024
NT Ombudsman report finds prisoners in Darwin kept isolated for up to five months
Inmates in the Northern Territory are reportedly being kept in isolation in a Da...
Dechlan Brennan 22 May 2024