Longer jail terms make harder criminals
Two months ago, NSW Attorney General Greg Smith promised to keep 14 high risk violent offenders behind bars beyond their sentences. Today, The Daily Telegraph revealed that half of them have already been released.
Announcements like this may grab headlines (and did) and evoke emphatic nods from the public, but locking away inmates indefinitely is not based on any sense. Just speak to anyone who spends their days and nights helping a sex offender find a place to live and a job.
Longer sentences are a proven vote winner, but they do not address the key issue of what to do with ex-prisoners. If Corrective Services NSW and similar departments in other states were really interested in reducing re-offending, they would spend more time and resources on rehabilitation and reintegration policies.
Authorities need to collaborate with NGOs and community workers, who have worked in this area for the last two to three decades. That would at least give a chance of a normal, productive life to the thousands of Australians released each year.
Almost all offenders will get out of jail eventually and the community will need to deal with them as potentially functioning members of society. They don’t have to be your best friend. But keeping people behind bars is not a deterrent for re-offending. In fact, the current trend shows us that the longer people stay in jail, the more likely they are to commit another crime.
NGOs keep harping on about the fact that services like counselling, mentoring and social support networks are the answer. Not more prison cells. And when they come out of jail, it doesn’t help to have authorities ready to breach them on small parole infractions.
Community groups may not have the cash flow, the flash buildings or government land, but they have the hands-on experience. They have the ideas – tried and tested. And they keep spelling out the answer to transitioning ex-convicts. It lies in long-term community mentoring and social support within the neighbourhood.
Resist the temptation to clump them together in a half-way house where they all become chummy. Disperse them. But with support.
There are no simple solutions here. The majority of criminals are fashioned from long, ugly histories and their situations are complex. Ultimately, reintegration takes time, care and patience.
The NSW attorney general has today been pulled up for not keeping his promise, but his promise of longer sentences was flawed in the first place.
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