Exploring ways to reduce Australia's reoffending rates

Exploring ways to reduce Australia's reoffending rates

The recently released annual Justice Report on Australian Government Services reveals that while crime rates are decreasing, rates of imprisonment are increasing.

Expenditure on corrective services was almost $5 billion, an increase of about six per cent. The national imprisonment rate is sitting at 220.2 per 100,000 people, an increase of 28 per cent in the last 10 years.

Almost 55 per cent of released prisoners returned to prison, with the ACT having the highest rate of prison return, at 71 per cent.

More needs to be done to address these rising incarceration and reoffending rates. However, there are some promising signs across Australia. The Brisbane Women's Correctional Centre recently became the first remand centre and the fourth women's prison in the world to host the 5km running event, parkrun.

Prison-run radio programs, such as Jailbreak in NSW, not only teach inmates new skills but also connect them to the community. There are similar radio programs in Victorian and Western Australian prisons.

In Victoria, Straight Talking provides mentors, who have lived prison experience, to individuals exiting prison.

One mentor has since gone on to become the operations manager of Fruit2Work - an organisation which provides employment opportunities for individuals exiting prison. In the ACT, the Drug and Alcohol Sentencing List is currently being trialled.

This program is designed to rehabilitate, rather than imprison, individuals whose criminal activity is associated with drug or alcohol dependence and is based on NSW and Victorian models.

Over the last year, I have been interviewing individuals who have spent time in the ACT prison - the Alexander Maconochie Centre - to hear about their experiences post release.

They have told me about the range of challenges they have faced, such as finding housing, finishing their year 10 certificate, repaying debts, addressing underlying health issues, finding employment with a criminal record, dealing with addiction issues and reconnecting with family and friends.

These individuals know that if they don't deal with these challenges, they may end up back in prison.

More needs to be done to address the rising incarceration and reoffending rates, and individuals with lived prison experience can offer policymakers crucial insights into the realities of life post release.

Dr Caroline Doyle is a researcher at UNSW Canberra and president of Prisoners Aid (ACT)