Alister Henskens portrait
Alister Henskens portrait

Prison Population and Recidivism

Prison Fence

Mr ALISTER HENSKENS ( Ku-ring-gai ) ( 11:38 :23 ): I commend the member for Lake Macquarie for bringing the House's attention to the subject matter of this motion. While it is an issue that involves incarceration, reoffending and detention rates—all matters of importance—these matters have to be viewed in the right context. That context is that a primary element of the social contract between a government and its citizenry is that the system of criminal justice and punishment must keep the community safe from criminals who are likely to commit acts of violence against people and property. That includes crimes such as sexual assault and domestic or other forms of violence.

In that context, the Government has announced an important initiative to reduce reoffending rates. Offenders who pose the greatest risk of reoffending will be targeted in a new $237 million plan, managed by Corrective Services NSW, to reduce reoffending. The new plan will provide more rehabilitation programs and enhance supervision to priority offenders. It will place particular emphasis on the critical period before and after prisoners are released from custody. In a New South Wales first, a specific focus will be placed on offenders serving less than six months who currently do not participate in programs to address reoffending. The four-year plan is aimed at reducing the annual rate of adult reoffending by 5 per cent by 2019. This is the biggest financial investment in rehabilitation in the history of Corrective Services NSW. We will put in place the best case management system in the world to support offenders to adopt pro‑social lifestyles and make a positive contribution to the community.

The plan reflects the Government's priority to make the community safer by reducing reoffending. Reoffending incurs significant costs, both financially and socially, and the community has a legitimate expectation that the Government will tackle this issue head on. We currently run a range of successful behaviour change programs that target violent sexual offending, drug-related crime and property crime. This new program will augment the existing programs. When all the initiatives are in place, we expect to be providing each year new or enhanced interventions for more than 42,000 offenders in order to reduce their risk of reoffending. The implementation plan will create around 345  jobs. It also includes more than $10 million in funding for external providers and individuals to deliver programs and post‑release support.

The plan will increase the number of offenders completing evidence-based programs and participating in case management. The expansion of existing programs will include $20 million to build 10 high-intensity rehabilitation facilities to annually treat an additional 1,200 offenders serving short sentences of six months or less. A new early intervention scheme is to be delivered by the non-government sector to target high-risk offenders. Participants will benefit from a one-on-one intervention prior to the court process and sentencing, as well as specific programs targeting their criminal behaviour and tendencies. There will be enhanced supervision at all stages of the sentence for high‑risk offenders who are subject to community-based orders and imprisonment. New methods employed by highly skilled staff will improve the chance of offenders living law-abiding lives when released from prison or when they are no longer under supervision in the community. Greater reintegration outcomes will be achieved by identifying an offender's needs upon their entry to prison and immediately planning for their exit.

Correctional Services NSW will build on the existing Community Corrections supervision model to significantly improve behaviour change in offenders who are not in custody. All offender case managers will be trained to use the most effective techniques, and we will put in a place a quality framework to ensure the integrity of this proven approach. We are also going to establish dedicated teams of case management specialists in correctional centres who will undertake whole-of-sentence case planning for sentenced prisoners and employ the same best practice methods used in the community. Quite a few challenges lie ahead of us. The plan is being implemented at a time of an unprecedented increase in inmate numbers. The $3.8 billion prison bed expansion program will assist by boosting capacity across the State, with an initial 2,800 additional beds to meet the current demand.

The New South Wales Government also has a strong commitment to addressing juvenile reoffending. The latest reoffending data from the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research shows that 37.9 per cent of young offenders will go on to commit another crime within two years of their release. Many factors are involved in a young person's offending behaviour: alcohol, drugs, family life, school, peer groups. The nature of the Juvenile Justice client group increases the risk of contact with the criminal justice system: their lack of maturity, propensity to take risks and susceptibility to peer influence, as well as intellectual disability, mental illness and victimisation. Juvenile Justice supports a justice reinvestment model in New South Wales and is involved in the justice reinvestment trial in Bourke. Juvenile Justice is represented on the working group, which focuses on 8- to 18‑year‑olds.

The Youth on Track early intervention scheme provides family-based intervention and support to young people who are at risk of long-term involvement in the criminal justice system. The aim of the scheme is to divert young people from becoming further entrenched in the justice system by addressing the underlying factors of their offending behaviour and by working with their families. Youth on Track provides New South Wales police and schools with an opportunity to refer young people whom they consider to be at risk of offending to a support service without the requirement to obtain a court order. Since its commencement in 2013, almost 300 young people and their families have participated in Youth on Track. The results have been promising. More than half—53 per cent—reduced their offending risk factors; 88 per cent of participants reduced or stabilised formal contacts with police; and positive changes were seen in family functioning and school engagement. Just over 40 per cent of those who participated in Youth on Track were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people.

Due to the promising results, the New South Wales Government this year announced funding of $14.48 million over three years for the program to continue in the current three sites of Blacktown, mid-North Coast and the Hunter and to expand to three new sites: the Central West, New England, and the Coffs-Clarence region. While the overall number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people in detention has decreased from a daily average of 204 in 2009‑10 to 158 in 2015-16, the over‑representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people in custody continues. To maintain connections with family and country, young people, where possible, are held in custody close to their home. Aboriginal young people in custody also have access to local elders and community members who visit centres to run cultural programs and provide mentoring to young offenders. Juvenile Justice centres are implementing Aboriginal consultative committees that will include elders and representatives of local community groups. I commend Minister Elliott for implementing and administering these programs. They are entirely consistent with core Liberal values. Liberals believe in the great capacity of the individual. These programs seek to bring out the better part of the character of criminals so that they may be better citizens in the future and not come before the courts again.