The crime of bad punishment

Share Canberra's trusted news:

PENALTIES! More and more! Bigger and bigger! It seems that every time a parliament sits, someone is moving an increase in levels of punishment.

And now there is an election coming. fines go up and custodial offences increase in number and length.

The Productivity Commission’s annual “Report on Government Services”, of January 2010, found Australian prisons were ineffective in tackling the causes of crime and provided overcrowded warehouses for indigenous Australians.

The same report found that Victoria and the ACT, having low imprisonment rates by comparison to other States and Territories, also had low recidivism rates. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics for 20009-2010, “the highest proportional increases in prisoner numbers were for the ACT”. The increase was 38 per cent and followed the opening of the Alexander Maconochie Centre.

The next highest was for WA at 8 per cent, and then Victoria and the NT at a 4 per cent increase.

The ACT figures provide a weighty warning to some myopic members of the Assembly who, a year out from an election, think action on crime is achieved simply by increasing penalties.

Credit does go largely to the Stanhope Government in retaining the percentage of prisoners at about the same level of around 100 prisoners per 100,000 of the population over the 10-years to 2010.

At the same time the NT recorded the largest percentage, rising from 469 to 663 prisoners per 100,000 of the adult population. SA increased from 113 to 153.

However, with a new prison in the ACT and “tough-on-crime” talk, how long will the ACT retain sensible rates?

A comparison of NSW and Victoria is telling. NSW went through a series of “tough-on-crime” elections with major parties outbidding each other for the popular vote. That State now has a rate of 196.6 per 100,000 of its population. This is nearly double the rate of Victoria at 105.5 per 100,000.

With 21,334 prisoners in NSW at June 2010, think of the costs to the taxpayers at over $100,000 per prisoner per annum!
Recurrent expenditure on prisons in Australia in 2008-09 was $2.8 billion compared to $400 million spent on community corrections.

Don’t hold your breath for an election fought on increased community corrections.

According to the ABS, between 2000 and 2010 imprisonment rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians increased from 1248 to 1892 per 100,000 of their adult population. Over the same period the rate for non-indigenous prisoners increased from 130 to 134 per 100,000 for other Australians. This means that, 20 years after the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, we incarcerate our original Australians at a rate 14 times greater than other Australians.

The ACT does so at just beyond the national average with a ratio of 14.8 indigenous people to every non-indigenous person. Things are getting worse, not better and it should be a great embarrassment for Australians who have a shred of empathy.

Michael Moore is a former member of the ACT Legislative Assembly and an independent minister for health in the Carnell government.

Who Can You Trust?

In a world beleaguered by spin and confused messages, there's never been more need for diverse, trustworthy, independent journalism in Canberra.

Who can you trust? Well, for more than 25 years, "CityNews" has proudly been an independent, free, family-owned news magazine, serving the national capital with quality, integrity and authority. Through our weekly magazine and daily through our digital platforms, we constantly and reliably deliver high-quality and diverse opinion, news, arts, socials and lifestyle columns.

If you trust our work online and believe in the power of independent voices, I encourage you to make a small contribution.

Every dollar of support will be invested back into our journalism so we can continue to provide a valuably different view of what's happening around you and keep citynews.com.au free.

Click here to make your donation and you will be supporting the future of journalism and media diversity in the ACT.

Thank you,

Ian Meikle, editor

Previous articleThe ‘Mo Show’ gets off to a clean start
Next articleTop chef sniffs foreshore
Michael Moore
Michael Moore is a former member of the ACT Legislative Assembly and an independent minister for health in the Carnell government. He has been a political columnist with "CityNews" since 2006.

Leave a Reply