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Overcrowding in Australian Prison and Various Alternative in The Criminal Justice System

Introduction to Australian Criminal Justice System

The Australia with the "tough on crime" agenda implemented in the majority of state and territory governments have led to rapidly increasing population in the prison on any given day of Australia (Mackay, 2015). An imprisonment is a form of social control which is included in the criminal justice system in order to serve the purpose of the decrease in the crime rate around the nation. It is noteworthy that despite the decrease in crime rate, there is a tremendous increase in the population of prison in the nation (Tubex, 2020). As per the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the prison population in totality at the end of June 2020 was 41,480 in which the pretrial detainees were considered to be 33.0% (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2020). This rise in the number of prisoners in Australia clearly suggests that the role of this prison system concerning imprisonment has been failing to meet all the objectives defined by the criminal justice system. The present paper will analyse the current situation of the population in Australian prison and will provide an insight to the appropriate alternatives which can be sanctioned to ensure the control over the capacity of prisoners in the prison of the nation.

Current Situation of Prison Capacity in Australia: Low Crime Rate but Overcrowded Prison

The nation of Australia which has a dark history of being attached to the penal colony and where the convict heritage is considered now as a badge of honour for the citizens would have a more compassionate perspective considering the crime and punishment of the criminal justice system. Although the nation is experiencing a busting point with the overcrowded prisons which is even costing a high amount of $2.6 billion annually. The crime rate of the nation has been falling since 2001 (BOCSAR, 2016) but opposite from the expectation, the required number of prison beds has been increasing. The reason behind this increase in the number of prisoners across the nation is found due to the refusal of bail to the prisoners and more people getting imprisonment awarded for minor crimes resulting into longer stays (Olding, 2016). One such example is the construction of more correction facilities which are not justified concerning the increase in current crime rates particularly in the region of New South Wales (Paget, 2016). This leads to the questioning over the investment of 3.8 billion dollars of the taxpayers which has been instructed for the construction of prisons when they are not as effective alternative as expected to combat crime (Paget, 2016). As per the opinion of Auditor- General Tony Whitefield, the overcrowding in the prison of the nation is leading to undermining the confidence vested in the criminal justice system along with raising question over the effectiveness of the prisons (Auditor-General’s Report, 2016). The funds which have been invested for the establishment of the prisoner system is increasing day by day and even a huge amount has been spent on the prisoners who have been on remand (Nicholls, 2015). Having alternative considered by the government to imprisonment is likely to have a reduction in the strain which has been imposed on social and economic resources of the nation as such high cost of imprisonment facility cannot be sustained in long run by the government.

Alternatives to Imprisonment in The Nation of Australia: Methodology to Curb This Issue

The various analysis done by academics, parliamentary committees and NGOs provides that having more imprisonment is not likely to reduce the crime rate in the nation. On the other hand, the imprisonment of the prisoners with the conditions in prisons and the various difficulties which are likely to face in integrating into the community once the prisoners get released leads to more criminal activity. As per the latest figure (2017-18), it has been found that 45 4.6 % of the prisoners has been released return to present within 2 years which is a high estimation from 39.5% in the year 2011-12 (Austrlian Governmenet Productivity Commission , 2019).

One of the alternatives to imprisonment is justice reinvestment (Australian Governmenet, 2018). This is particularly an act of diverting resources from the prisons to different communities who can address the underlying cause of such crimes. The justice reinvestment model has a holistic approach towards crime and considers this problem as an issue which is a reference to a wider community rather than concerning the issue between state and individual (Youth Law, 2017). There are two main steps which are included in the justice reinvestment. In the first step, there is an establishment of communities which are having a higher concentration of offenders. In the other step, the specific problem which has been faced by the community is assessed. As per the Human Rights Law Centre, the implementation of justice reinvestment approach in the criminal justice system of Australia will lead to the provision of the framework which will prevent crime and promote community safety along with the reduction of imprisonment rates and delivery of economic and social benefits to the community (Human Rights Law Centre, 2017). Another significant alternative concerning the imprisonment is mentoring (Taylor, 2016) which is basically concerned with building a relationship of mutual trust support and friendship which will not only help but also advise and assist the person who has been labelled as a criminal to re-process the rebuilding of his life and remove such barriers which are actively preventing him to return to his normal life. The successful outcomes of this alternative can be derived when both the mentor and the mentoree enters in this relationship voluntarily and with a willingness and motivation to create a beneficial relationship. One of the significant benefits of the mentoring program as an alternative to imprisonment has been found to be developing a feeling of relating to each other between the prisoners and former inmates. Another significant and impactful alternative to imprisonment is considered to be restorative justice (Bartle, 2019). This alternative is basically a form of mediation which is an objective of providing counselling to reduce the tension existing between the offender, the community and the victim. It has been considered that the aim of this alternative is healing the community bond and provide a humanizing effect on the criminal justice system. The most common form of programs concerning restorative justice which has been operating in Australian criminal justice systems are conferencing, victim-offender mediation and circle sentencing. The report which has been developed with research, and comparison of offending rates of three different offender groups who have participated in the victim-offender mediation, has also suggested that the participation in victim-offender mediation is likely to reduce the reoffending rate among the offenders (Dijk, et al., 2020). With the effective use of the restorative justice processes, the resources can be displaced from the prison system to the community resulting in the overall benefit of the society. As provided by the report of the Australian government, restorative justice as an alternative to imprisonment in Australia has been found to have both positive and negative response. Although the researches suggest that the positive impact has been discovered with the implementation of restorative justice for both offender as well as the victims (Larsen, 2020). Also as an alternative to incarceration, home detention is a process where the offenders as to serve their sentence in a confined area which is basically an approved residence for a given period of time (Keay, 2018) which is according to the Crimes (Administration of Sentences) Act. 

Conclusion on Australian Criminal Justice System

The nation of Australia is facing an overcrowded prison resulting in the diversion of resources and investment on the part of the government without producing the expected outcome of reduction of the crime rate in the nation. The various alternatives of imprisonments such as justice reinvestment, home detention, mentoring and restorative justice can be effective measures to curb this consistent issue of overcrowding of the prison with imprisonment of the individuals in the nation. These alternatives have the potential to produce better outcomes and benefits to the life of the offenders’ post imprisonment and also enhances the possibility to cope up with the community with all the challenges before themselves. The analysis of various reports which have been conducted with the implementation of these alternatives has also suggested the benefits of using the alternative of imprisonment in the nation of Australia for coping the higher volume of prisoners in the prison. The paper concludes that the implementation of alternatives of imprisonment in the nation of Australia is crucial concerning the benefits of offenders, community and the resources which get divulged in the imprisonment facility.

References for Australian Criminal Justice System

Auditor-General’s Report, 2016. Performance frameworks in custodial centre operations, s.l.: Media Release.

Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2020. Corrective Services, Australia. [Online]
Available at: https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/people/crime-and-justice/corrective-services-australia/latest-release
[Accessed 16 October 2020].

Australian Governmenet, 2018. What is justice reinvestment?. [Online]
Available at: https://www.alrc.gov.au/publication/pathways-to-justice-inquiry-into-the-incarceration-rate-of-aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander-peoples-alrc-report-133/4-justice-reinvestment/what-is-justice-reinvestment/
[Accessed 15 October 2020].

Austrlian Governmenet Productivity Commission , 2019. Report on Government Services, s.l.: s.n.

Bartle, J., 2019. We know that prison doesn’t work. So what are the alternatives?. [Online]
Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/aug/16/we-know-that-prison-doesnt-work-so-what-are-the-alternatives
[Accessed 14 October 2020].

BOCSAR, 2016. NSW Recorded Crime June 2016. [Online]
Available at: www.bocsar.nsw.gov.au/Documents/RCS-Quarterly/NSW_Recorded_Crime_June_2016.pdf
[Accessed 16 October 2020].

Dijk, J. J.-v., Zebel, S., Claessen, J. & Nelen, H., 2020. Victim–Offender Mediation and Reduced Reoffending: Gauging the Self-Selection Bias. 66(6-7), pp. 949-972.

Human Rights Law Centre, 2017. Reducing over Imprisonmenet, s.l.: HRLC.

Keay, N., 2018. Home Detention—An Alternative to Prison?. Current Issues in Criminal Justice, 12(1), pp. 98-105.

Larsen, J. J., 2020. Restorative justice in the Australian criminal justice system. Australian Insititute of Criminology.

Mackay, A., 2015. Overcrowding in Australian prisons: the human rights implications. Precedent AULA, Volume 38.

Nicholls, S., 2015. NSW criminal court backlog costing taxpayers $60 million a year as jails overflow. [Online]
Available at: https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/nsw-criminal-court-backlog-costing-taxpayers-60-million-a-year-as-jails-overflow-20151124-gl69vw.html
[Accessed 16 October 2020].

Olding, R., 2016. Call for complete rethink as prison population, recidivism explode. [Online]
Available at: https://www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/recidivism-20160218-gmxmog.html
[Accessed 16 October 2020].

Paget, J., 2016. More NSW prisons: evidence free public policy. [Online]
Available at: https://apo.org.au/node/65416
[Accessed 16 October 2020].

Taylor, J., 2016. Reformed offenders 'missing link' to slashing prisoner numbers, research suggests. [Online]
Available at: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-08-24/reformed-offenders-missing-link-to-slashing-prisoner-numbers/7772478
[Accessed 15 October 2020].

Tubex, H., 2020. Prisoner numbers in Australia have decreased, but we’re not really sure why yet. [Online]
Available at: https://theconversation.com/prisoner-numbers-in-australia-have-decreased-but-were-not-really-sure-why-yet-129696
[Accessed 15 October 2020].

Youth Law, 2017. Investing in communities not prisons, s.l.: Tiffany Overall.

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