I rise today to speak about the report from the Select Committee on the Administration of South Australia’s Prisons, which I tabled yesterday. I would firstly like to start by acknowledging the contributions provided by my colleagues the Hon Tammy Franks MLC, the Hon Justin Hanson MLC, the Hon Tung Ngo MLC and my friend and colleague the Hon David Ridgway MLC. I would also like to acknowledge the outstanding efforts of committee secretary Leslie Guy and also the research officers, Dr Trevor Bailey and Dr Margaret Robinson. Their work has ensured that the committee was able run smoothly. The valuable input from those who provided submissions and oral evidence throughout the process must also be acknowledged.
This Select Committee was formed on 30 November 2016, to inquire into the government’s administration of the state’s prisons. In particular we were tasked with specifically looking into the matters, such as the cost and impacts involved, forecasted capacity and whether there was a correlation between overcrowding and the breakdown of administration. Furthermore, there was also a need to inquire into a number of incidents which occurred between July and October of 2016, which included prisoner being prevented from re-entering Yatala Labour Prison, the death of a prisoner, along with 3 officers following an altercation at the same location and a seven hour siege in Port Augusta. It has been shown through submissions provided to the committee that the pressures placed on prisons, such as overcrowding and recidivism, have an adverse effect on their administration and the safety of prisoners, employees and the public. Public safety is a point of focus which has led to an increase of the prison population and it was a point of focus in the recommendations put forth by the committee.
The Committee looked into placing specific emphasis on the rates of recidivism within the state’s correctional system and what could be done to considerably cut down this figure. The current estimation is that 46% of all prisoners return back into the system following their release. This is simply far too high and places a greater than necessary strain on the administration of the state’s prisons. We have put forward 16 recommendations which we believe will aid in addressing some of the issues presented to committee. When I moved the motion to establish this committee, we were told that for the cost the state pays to house a prisoner, the South Australian public should have confidence that the system is delivering an outcome in a rehabilitation context. From the submissions we received, there is far more that can be done. The men and women within the Department perform an excellent job day-to-day. Our measures seek to give them more opportunities to address the rehabilitation aspect of a prison sentence, while at the same time increasing their own level of safety. I am of the belief that these measures, if implemented would not only be of benefit in the short-term to the prison population, but long-term it would cost this state less in housing prisoners and have a substantial effect in reducing overcrowding.
The lessons that can be taken from the incidents which the committee was formed around are based on a common sense approach to our prison administration. This is something which we have made a point of addressing through our recommendations The first recommendation put forth, and one such example of a common sense approach, is in regards to projections of prison populations. Prisoner numbers have been understated consistently in recent budget estimations, by DCS. The additional numbers in the prison population has placed a strain on budgetary measures which the department puts in place. It would seem to most that if the modelling is consistently off, something within its approach has to change. Due to this point, the committee has put forth a recommendation which would see DCS reviewing its predictive modelling with a view to ensuring greater accuracy and more reliable budget setting. Data which is more reliable would aid in addressing surge periods and overcrowding issues, which place a great deal of strain on the system, but also on the mental health of prisoners and those working within correctional services. Preparing adequately would help to alleviate this.
Criminogenic programs are viewed upon by many around the world as being of great importance in equipping prisoners for a life once their sentence has been completed. As such, there have been a couple of recommendations in the tabling of this report, which aim to increase the participation rate for prisoners within these efforts. The first of these centres around allowing all prisoners to commence and complete required criminogenic programs before the expiry of their non-parole period. If rehabilitation is not provided to a satisfactory level, there is a flow on effect down the line following a prisoners release. There is more likely to be a greater cost to the community through aspects such as welfare payments and housing. Reducing the overall cost to the public, while at the same time providing those who have served their sentence with critical skills which prevent reoffending, is another measure which seems to be a clear, common sense approach.
Building upon this recommendation, we are of the view that remand prisoners should also be allowed to opt into these criminogenic programs. As a committee we took in submissions which showed that there are no such programs in place for prisoners on remand. This is important as some may find themselves in remand for up to two years before trial. When coupled with the fact that sentences can include time served, it demonstrates the lack of forward thinking within policy. It lets go of any notion of rehabilitation, instead promoting a culture of institutionalisation and leaves many poorly equipped for life when released, thus increasing the rate of recidivism. Nationally, we have the highest rate of remand prisoners. It would seem quite reasonable to try to reduce this number, or at the very least provide many of them with an opportunity to prepare for life following their sentence. If these prisoners were able to opt into these programs we could immediately begin to tackle the rehabilitation aspect of a prison stay. This could only lead to more positive outcomes for the community, while being an efficient use of resources and time.
Many of the issues faced by those within South Australia’s prisons revolve around their mental health. It is an issue of great importance, within the prison system. The rate of reported prisoners with mental health issues is significant. This only puts further strain on our prisons, while at the same time increasing the rate of recidivism. To that end, we recommend that DCS improves access to mental health service for both prisoners on remand and sentenced prisoners who do not have acute mental health issues. Furthermore, we are of the view that mental health services in prisons be made available to match the mental health services available in the community, with DCS to investigate whether Medicare would fund mental health services for prisoners by paying for 10 psychological visits. This recommendation would bring the prison system into line with the services available for the general public.
This cannot be done however, without recommending that health services be provided in a timely manner to address delays in staff accessing and attending to short and long-term health issues. Addressing mental health issues is an imperative. Delivering a service to the prison population, which is of a high standard has a preventative effect, which has been demonstrated overseas in places such as the state of Texas. As part of the submissions provided, we were shown that addressing health concerns and creating better rehabilitation outcomes has allowed them to shut a number of prisons within the state. This is working proof that effectively dealing with the cause, not the symptom can have a tremendous influence in taking the pressure off the prison system. Once again providing adequate resourcing at the heart of the issue should have a great impact in bringing down the cost to the public, the rate of recidivism and therefore the long-term effects of overcrowding.
This committee has put forth 16 separate recommendations which it believes can help create better outcomes for the Department, the general public and the prisoners, themselves. This is no small number. If we are not addressing the issue of why many of these people find themselves in prison, we can never truly reduce the rate of recidivism and as such our prison population will continue to grow. If we address the problem at the cause, we can not only rehabilitate a greater number of those in the prison population, but adjust the ever-growing upward trend of those within our prisons. This would place less strain on the system, give the state and the taxpayer a more beneficial return on expenditure and more importantly create a positive outcome for the offender and the public. I commend the report to the house.