The New South Wales corrective agency should not be leading the effort to help people break free from the criminal justice system, according to a new report.
The report from the University of New South Wales noted the number of people in prison across Australia has increased by 40% over the past five years, with NSW making up 32% of Australia’s total prison population.
Research from the Productivity Commission has found 51% of adults released from prison in NSW in 2017-18 returned under a new sentence within two years. The UNSW report argued a whole-of-government approach across justice, community and welfare services, housing and health would be needed to prevent such high rates of reoffending.
“While it is not a task that can be achieved by one government department or agency working in isolation, a whole-of-government approach does not mean there shouldn’t be a government agency leading this work,” the report added.
“Emerging out of the findings of this report is clear recognition that Corrective Services NSW should not be the government agency leading efforts that aim to assist people to build pathways out of the criminal justice system.”
The paper arose from a 2018 roundtable hosted at UNSW. Facilitated by members of the Rethinking Community Sanctions Project — who authored the report — the roundtable included key community sector organisations that provide post-release support to people leaving prison.
Four key areas surfaced from the roundtable: concerns regarding service referrals and exiting custody practices; the health needs of people leaving prison, particularly those with mental health disorders, cognitive impairment and substance addiction; housing instability and homelessness; and crucial long-term funding stability and strong evaluation frameworks.
The NSW government should provide adequate access to safe and stable housing for people exiting prison in the state, the report recommended.
It also suggested “timely” access to community-based and trauma-informed services in prison to address the needs of criminalised populations; community-sector-led throughcare for people leaving prison; and appropriate funding of community-based support services in the state for after an individual is released.
Among the many recommendations directed to Corrective Services NSW, the report encouraged the agency to educate its staff on the available community services and service eligibility criteria for people subject to parole supervision.
The agency should also provide access to diagnostic services within prison to identify mental health disorders, psychosocial disabilities and cognitive impairments, and should ensure those with complex support needs receive transitional support when leaving prison.
Recommendations to the state government included investing in community-based employment programs for people with criminal records, ensuring long-term funding of Aboriginal community owned and controlled healing centres, and funding inclusive women-specific services, such as bail houses.
Federal and state government funding contracts for community based services should be five years minimum, the report said, and funding contracts should allow up to 20% of total funding to be spent on organisational administration, management and clinical supervision, “which are necessary for effective service delivery”.
The paper also called for an independent evaluation of all services funded under the Corrective Services NSW Funded Partnership Initiative.
“This evaluation should include appropriate outcome measures that are holistic and not just recidivism focused such as connection to community; improvements in social and emotional health and wellbeing; securing safe and stable housing; and engagement with education, employment or training,” it said. “There should be Aboriginal input into all aspects of evaluation.”