An interesting article from the Sydney Morning Herald:
THE NSW Opposition has pledged to end the “law and order auction” in a dramatic break with the tradition of promising to increase punishments and fill jails that has characterised every state election campaign since 1988.
The Coalition’s justice spokesman, Greg Smith, who entered Parliament in 2007 with a reputation as a tough criminal prosecutor, said hardline sentencing and prisons policies – including those of his own party – have failed.
“I know that for a series of elections there was one side bidding against the other in what they called a law and order auction,” Mr Smith said. “I am concerned that prisoners are not properly being rehabilitated, not given a chance to go straight in a community that really would want them to go straight.”
Mr Smith said with 10,000 inmates in NSW jails and a recidivism rate of 43.5 per cent, the punitive approach was not working. “It seems to me that our prisons are full of people who suffered learning difficulties in their youth or had a deprived upbringing or have drug addiction or mental problems. There’s a lot of those people in our jails. I am not excusing the conduct that got them into jail but I think that some of them need more of a kick along from the system.
“I think you need to be, society needs to be, conscious of the fact that unless you do something for them after they get out of jail, the more likely they are to hurt society again and commit more crime.
“That’s where my pragmatic view comes in. Our recidivism rates are far too high and this harsh line that we have been taking, with the Government almost proud of the size of the prisons, and proud to build more, in my opinion, shows a lack of care for people in prisons, their families and the community generally, because it is short-sighted.”
An expert on justice policy, the Emeritus Professor in Criminal Law at the University of NSW, David Brown, said that after the Unsworth government lost the 1988 election to Nick Greiner, the new ALP leader, Bob Carr, bought into the law and order auction. “Once Carr let the law-and-order genie out of the bottle, it became standard political competition to posture over who was toughest on crime, setting up a dynamic that no-one, up to now, has had the courage to end,” Professor Brown said
“If Greg Smith can get the genie back in the bottle, negotiate an end to the auction and secure a bipartisan approach, so that each side gives up on scoring cheap political points and looks to researched policies that reduce crime, recidivism and imprisonment, then he will be making one of the greatest contributions to justice and real community safety this state has seen.”
The NSW Council for Civil Liberties also hoped Mr Smith’s stand signals an end to the “auction”.
“Greg Smith is not a softie,” said the council president, Cameron Murphy. “He’s a tough-minded conservative. But the fact that someone like him is questioning the line shows just how absurd it’s become.”
As attorney-general in a Coalition government, Mr Smith would increase funding for drug and alcohol rehabilitation schemes, the Custody-Based Intensive Treatment program for sex offenders; education programs that teach inmates trades and skills; and post-release accommodation, such as halfway houses.
Last month, Mr Smith quietly released a critique of the Rees Government’s law and order policies, headed: “More jails not the best answer: money better spent on rehabilitation.”
“While the NSW Liberals/Nationals adhere to the view that punishment must fit the crime, there needs to be far more emphasis by the State Labor Government on rehabilitation programs, which give the prisoner a better chance of going straight, once released. Rehabilitation is cheaper than the cost of building more prisons and far more effective in helping our community to become a more peaceful place.”
Our elections, too, have been hijacked by the law and order auction, not least due to the hard line policies that Phil Goff pushed to help get the Fifth Labour Government to power. The result has just been more and more people in prison at ever greater cost to society. Yes, Labour brought crime down but it did so by tackling the causes of crime, unemployment and poverty, not by locking people up. In the long-run, all the ‘I’m tougher on crime than you’ competition leads to is bad policy. The Tories will always be willing to go to more stupid extremes, as we seenow with Judith Collins attacking parole and set to undermine home detention and chuck more people behind bars – even though home detention works resulting in lower recidivism for lower cost.
If only we too can have a truce on this political bidding war and, instead, start listening to what the experts on criminal behaviour say. Then we could have smart policy, targeting at-risk kids before they become criminals, intervening early when things start to go wrong, and giving people the choice of dignified work – not only could we then not throw so many people into the prison waste dump, we could save more people from being the victims of crime. But we won’t get smart policy while politicians keep thumping their chests and trying to out tough each other.