Justice reinvestment in action

The United States

4.32     Justice reinvestment has been most extensively implemented in the US under the banner of the ‘Justice Reinvestment Initiative’ (JRI). The JRI focuses on state-level reforms to reduce corrections spending and to reinvest in strategies to increase public safety and strengthen communities.

4.33     The JRI has been led by a number of think-tanks, non-profit organisations and non-government organisations, and financed by a mix of public and private funds, including charitable support. In 2010, the federal government began to fund the JRI through the Bureau of Justice Assistance.[41] The Bureau of Justice Assistance has described the many organisations involved in implementing the JRI:

JRI is a public-private partnership between BJA and The Pew Charitable Trusts. Together with our technical assistance partners, BJA and Pew closely coordinate our efforts in this initiative. Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center serves as the Oversight, Coordination, Outcome, and Assessment provider, working with BJA, the Pew Center on the States, and the technical assistance providers to select JRI sites, set specific performance measures, track implementation, and assess the impact of JRI. The Council of State Governments Justice Center, Crime and Justice Institute, and the Vera Institute of Justice provide technical assistance and support to states selected as JRI sites. The Pew Center on the States also provides technical assistance and support to JRI states, both independently and in coordination with the Council of State Governments Justice Center and the Crime and Justice Institute. The Center for Effective Public Policy (CEPP) provides technical assistance to recipients of the JRI: Maximizing State Reforms grant program.[42]

4.34     Through the JRI, 24 US states have implemented reforms to reduce their corrections populations. These reforms ‘typically aim to reduce the flow of people into prison, limit their time behind bars, streamline their release when appropriate, strengthen community supervision, and monitor the progress of state reform’.[43] The kinds of reforms enacted have broadly focused on:

  • Amending sentencing laws: through measures including diverting people committing less serious offences from prison, adjusting penalties for certain offences, and repealing mandatory minimum sentences.

  • Reforming pre-trial practices: through measures including using risk assessment to reserve detention for those at high risk of failing to appear in court, and improving pre-trial supervision.

  • Modifying prison release practices: through measures including expanding the types of offences eligible for parole, and establishing presumptive parole for certain people.

  • Strengthening community corrections: through measures including strengthening reentry supervision, expanded access to treatment and services, and limiting time that can be spent in prison for violating supervision rules.[44]

4.35     A 2017 review of JRI reforms noted that, while it is premature to draw firm conclusions,

a review of state efforts shows that 2015 prison populations in more than half the JRI states were below previously projected levels. In other words, JRI strategies helped 15 states either decrease their prison populations or keep them below levels they were predicted to reach without reform. On the fiscal front, through 2016, JRI states reported a total of $1.1 billion in savings or averted costs attributable to reforms.[45]

United Kingdom

4.36     Justice reinvestment has also attracted interest in the United Kingdom (UK). In 2009, the UK House of Commons Justice Committee endorsed a ‘holistic approach across central and local agencies and authorities in order to shift resources from the provision of custody for its own sake to the prevention of crime and the reduction of re-offending’.[46]

4.37     The UK Ministry of Justice subsequently introduced pilots of an approach known as ‘payment by results’. These pilots aimed to reduce demand on the criminal justice system in local areas—when demand fell by a specified amount, local criminal justice partners would receive a ‘success payment’. An interim evaluation of one of these pilots found that insufficient incentives had been provided to encourage local agencies to make significant investment in reducing demand or to make substantial changes to practice.[47] Later evaluations noted that the overall cost of demand for youth and adult justice services had reduced. However, in the absence of a comparison site, it was not possible to precisely identify the reasons for this.[48]

4.38     Though described as a form of justice reinvestment, payment by results did not involve the four-stage method described above, and it has been observed that, while payment by results is not at odds with justice reinvestment, ‘it is not in isolation capable of making the concept of JR real’.[49]


4.39     In Australia, justice reinvestment has been seen as particularly suitable for addressing the disproportionate incarceration rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. As Change the Record, a coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, human rights and community organisations, said in their Blueprint for Change on imprisonment rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people: ‘invest in communities not prisons’.[50]

4.40     Proponents of justice reinvestment in Australia largely advocate an approach to justice reinvestment that incorporates its original aspiration for reinvestment into tailored, community-driven strategies to address offending in a particular place. As academics from the Australian Justice Reinvestment Project have observed, in Australia,

support for justice reinvestment largely accords with a social justice-oriented approach directed towards (re)building community capacity using place-based strategies that respond to local needs and conditions, address the social determinants of incarceration and contribute to social inclusion’.[51]

4.41     Such a place-based approach offers the opportunity for developing initiatives led by and in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities:

key to JR is use of a community development approach to tackling offending. Within this approach, there is potential in an Indigenous context to realise principles of Indigenous self-determination and for application of Indigenous culture, authority and knowledge—essential contributors to any strategy designed to reduce Indigenous over-representation. Significantly, Indigenous people are empowered through JR to lead local responses to crime, including through resources diverted from correctional budgets and as government and service providers are required to work quite differently with Indigenous communities; that is, in a way that places Indigenous people firmly at the centre of the design and implementation of relevant JR initiatives.[52]

4.42     Thus, in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander context, justice reinvestment is transformed from a ‘technocratic means of crime control and de-incarceration, to one that is centrally concerned with Indigenous-controlled governance’.[53] Place-based justice reinvestment initiatives are underway or planned in a number of locations in Australia. These focus on strategies to address the contact of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people—particularly young people—with the criminal justice system:

  • The Australian Capital Territory (ACT): Two trials are planned, one targeting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families with high and complex needs, and another a bail support program for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander offenders.[54]

  • NSW: in Bourke, the Maranguka Justice Reinvestment Project, coordinated by Just Reinvest NSW; and Cowra; facilitated by an Australian Research Council-funded research project.[55]

  • The Northern Territory (NT): in Katherine, facilitated by the Red Cross and guided by the Katherine Youth Justice Reinvestment Working Group.[56]

  • Queensland: in Cherbourg, the Queensland Government has committed to working with the Cherbourg community on a justice reinvestment trial.[57]

  • South Australia (SA): the SA Government has committed to implementing justice reinvestment trials in two locations. Preliminary exploration has been done for a trial in Port Adelaide.[58]

4.43     The Maranguka Justice Reinvestment Project in Bourke is the most advanced engagement with place-based justice reinvestment so far in Australia. Bourke scores highly on indicators of disadvantage, and in 2015–16 had the highest rate of juvenile convictions in NSW.[59] The town has high rates of long-term unemployment, low levels of education, and high rates of predominantly non-violent crime.[60]

4.44     In 2015–16, Bourke had a population of approximately 3,000. One in three community members of Bourke identified as Aboriginal.[61] It was estimated that the direct costs of Aboriginal juvenile and young adult involvement with the justice system was approximately $4 million per year.[62]

4.45     Interest in justice reinvestment in Bourke originated in work by the Bourke Aboriginal Community Working Party to establish a whole-of-community agenda for addressing Aboriginal disadvantage—the Maranguka Initiative. Reducing young Aboriginal people’s contact with the criminal justice system was a priority goal of the Maranguka Initiative, and prompted a partnership with Just Reinvest NSW (an independent non-profit organisation auspiced by the Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT) to develop the Maranguka Justice Reinvestment Project.

4.46     Aboriginal leadership of the project has continued. The first phase of the justice reinvestment process involved analysis of data relating to justice, as well as social and economic indicators, to develop a community profile for Bourke. This data was then fed back to the community. The community, through the Bourke Tribal Council,[63] utilised this information to identify focus areas for reform to reduce young Aboriginal people’s contact with the criminal justice system.[64]

4.47     The Bourke project began implementation in 2016. The project is being led by a ‘backbone organisation’, whose role is to provide project management support, monitor progress, coordinate partnerships and relationships with stakeholders, and secure funding for the project.[65] Economic modelling of costs saved during the project will be undertaken, with reinvestment of those savings to fund long-term implementation of the project.[66]

4.48     The ACT offers the most comprehensive governmental engagement with justice reinvestment to date. As well as the two trials mentioned above, the ACT Government has developed a justice reinvestment strategy. Under the strategy are a number of projects, including a justice system costing model; justice services and programs map; justice and human services system data snapshots; and an evaluation framework.[67]