Response to NSW State Plan
Strategies and policies intended to reduce crime and re-offending must incorporate the causes of crime and re-offending. In addition to behavioural or psychological causal explanations, the high levels of disadvantage experienced by those who commit crime- and are caught, must be taken into account. This disadvantage -characterised by unemployment, poverty, low levels of educational achievement, homelessness or residing in areas of locational disadvantage, problematic drug and alcohol use, and the experience of intergenerational violence and abuse- is the norm for many people inside prison and is particularly acute in some communities.
Aboriginal people, people with mental illness, and people with intellectual disability are over-represented as both victims and offenders in the NSW criminal justice system. Particular attention must be paid to these groups when designing policies that aim to ensure that all members of the community have the opportunity to enjoy the social and economic benefits the state of NSW has to offer.
The NSW State Plan offers some excellent strategies for reducing crime rates, reducing re-offending and increasing harmonious communities. It also outlines the important need for embedding policies of early intervention into government services in order to address disadvantage. The reduction of crime and the creation and maintenance of safer communities are clearly priorities for the NSW State Government. The Beyond Bars Alliance shares these priorities. There are however some gaps in the state plan with regard to strategies that explicitly link the experience of disadvantage and the over-representation of certain groups in criminal justice settings. There is a growing body of research demonstrating the value of early intervention strategies (particularly with regard to early childhood education) in diverting people from backgrounds of disadvantage away from the criminal justice system. In striving for safe and harmonious communities, addressing disadvantage, and utilising the success of early intervention should be explicit priorities.
The strategies in the state plan aimed specifically at reducing rates of crime are based primarily on increasing the capacity of police. The exception to this is the strategy under consideration relating to domestic violence. It is usefully suggested in the state plan that it is necessary to explore the causes of domestic violence in order to design strategies to reduce its incidence. The Beyond Bars Alliance believes that similar attention should be paid to the causes of other forms of crime also (including property and violent crimes) when designing long-term crime reduction strategies. Although increasing police visibility and capacity are important short term strategies, these do not address the causes of crime, and are not likely to have any long term benefit with regard to community safety.
The State Plan tackles the challenge of reducing re-offending with a number of useful strategies including diverting, supporting and treating people with mental illness, funding case management and support packages for people with disabilities in contact with the criminal justice system, and utilising existing diversionary programs such as circle sentencing, conferencing programs and drug and alcohol treatment programs (Magistrates Early Referral into Treatment). The importance of post-release support with regard to Juvenile offenders is noted in the state plan. It is stated When a young person leaves custody and is not supported, the circumstances that led to their offending have not altered (such as homelessness, alcohol abuse, family dysfunction) the risk of re-offending is extremely high. The Beyond Bars Alliance believes this to also be the case with adult offenders.
Community support for people exiting prisons in NSW is severely under-funded, constituting less that 0.1% of the Corrective Services budget. Despite their very small budgets, the programs run by community groups have had astounding success at keeping high-risk offenders from returning to custody. The provision of post-release support is key factor in reducing recidivism and preventing re-offending- this is particularly the case with regard to securing stable accommodation, connecting with family and community, obtaining employment and receiving support with drug and alcohol related problems. The Beyond Bars Alliance welcomes the State Governments plan to provide more tailored support to help offenders reintegrate into the community but believes there is the need for an increased budgetary commitment in this area in order to increase the ability of post-release community agencies to continue this important work. The strategies in the State Plan that are focused on increasing Corrective Services monitoring of high risk offenders might reduce the likelihood of re-offending for this group in the short term but it is unlikely to address the causes of re-offending or the overall recidivism rate.
Providing solid post-release, or post-court support for people to assist them from becoming entangled further in the criminal justice system are important strategies in reducing crime and reducing re-offending. Equally- if not more important- in the quest to build harmonious communities, are strategies and policies that are targeted at children and communities who are at risk of contact with the criminal justice. These policies, provided they are based on principles of empowerment (rather than the sometimes overly punitive approach gaining popularity in some policies governing families at risk) can be extremely effective. There is enough research now to demonstrate that a cluster of disadvantageous circumstances can greatly increase the likelihood of somebody committing crime. It is the responsibility of the state to intervene in these circumstances prior to this occurring. There are a number of crucial early intervention strategies that are listed in the State Plan including early intervention in early childhood education, early intervention for at risk children, and early intervention for people with intellectual disability and mental illness. Although these strategies are situated in the fairness and opportunity section of the State Plan, the Beyond Bars Alliance believes that these approaches would be just as well situated within the section entitled Rights, Respect and Responsibility. These measures are probably the most successful crime prevention measures
Chapter 2: Rights, Respect and Responsibility
We all want NSW to be a safe and just society where the rule of law prevails.
The most basic responsibility of Government is to make and enforce laws that protect its citizens and their property. Strong, effective laws and a well resourced, professional police force are essential to protect the people of NSW from violence and theft. The justice system supports the rights of victims and works to rehabilitate offenders.
A successful community does more than simply protect its citizens. Thriving communities also create an atmosphere of harmony and trust.
Rates of crime have fallen consistently for the last several years. Across NSW, our communities and public spaces are neighbourly, welcoming places. We have achieved profound success in creating a society where people from all over the world generally live in harmony with each other. However, there is a minority of people in our society who disrupts this harmony through anti-social and criminal behaviour.
We aim to continue to reduce crime, especially violent crime, and increase the degree of cohesion in the community by supporting communities in building harmony.
Our goals are:
* Keeping people safe through reduced rates of crime, particularly violent crime and reduced re-offending
* Building harmonious communities through reduced rates of anti-social behaviour and increased participation and integration in community activities.
There was very strong support for and a high level of confidence in the NSW Police Force. The community also supported the Government's recent focus on tackling anti-social behaviour and domestic violence.
The community told us they would like to see a higher level of visible policing on the streets, stronger penalties to deter offenders and an increased focus on strategies that would help address the underlying causes of crime and stop people from re-offending.
Discussions with various peak groups in NSW identified a number of additional issues. In particular, there were calls for better coordination between justice and human service sectors, between Government agencies, between State and local governments, and between Government and community/non-government organisations.
Keeping people safe
Communities across the State are the safest they have been for several years with overall crime victimisation rates falling consistently.
We have achieved this through a number of successful strategies including:
* The largest ever NSW police force
* Strengthened performance management by the NSW Police based on the New York Police Department "CompStat" model
* Tougher bail laws to crack down on repeat offenders
* Locally focused and targeted police operations
* High visibility street policing
* Investment in technology, particularly in forensic science
* Active approaches to reducing drug and alcohol related crimes following the NSW Alcohol and Drug Summits
* Establishment of Court Liaison Services to divert the mentally ill to community care
* Effective cooperation with national and international law enforcement agencies to support our vigilance against crime.
A number of factors outside the State Government's immediate control also have a significant impact on the rate of crime. For example, a thriving economy with low levels of unemployment help keep crime rates down so this priority is closely linked with all the priorities in the Growing Prosperity section of this Plan.
A key challenge involves finding new and more effective ways to reduce rates of re-offending. Falling crime rates can be reduced still further by better addressing the causes of re-offending.
One of the most pressing law and order challenges facing NSW is terrorism. We will continue to work closely with the Commonwealth and State and Territory Governments to prevent and prepare for possible terrorist activity in the State.
The Government has amended legislation to strengthen Police powers in the event of a terrorist attack. The amendments also give NSW Police emergency powers for responding to an imminent terrorist threat and in apprehending terrorists after an attack. We have also invested in substantial upgrades to emergency response equipment and training since September 11 and the Bali attacks.