9.4 Up to 76% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners in 2016 had been imprisoned previously, as compared with 49% of the non-Indigenous prison population. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners are more likely to have been in prison at least five times previously, and are less likely than non-Indigenous prisoners to have never been in prison before. Most repeat offenders had previously received a prison sentence, and generate ‘churn’ in the prison system.
9.5 Rates of repeat offending vary by jurisdiction. For example, in New South Wales (NSW), the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) found that 87% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander offenders convicted in 2004 were reconvicted in ten years, compared to 58% of non-Indigenous offenders.
9.6 Prison programs that address known causes of offending—such as poor literacy, lack of vocational skills, drug and alcohol abuse, poor mental health, poor social and family ties—may provide some of the supports needed to reduce the rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander repeat offending. Connection to culture for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is also an important element of prison rehabilitation programs. The reach of such programs may, however, be affected by a number of external factors over which corrective services have little to no control, such as health and housing.
9.7 The availability and effectiveness of prison programs can also be affected by:
- budget allocations;
- corrective services’ policies on prisoner classifications and prisoner transfers; and
- the size of the prison population, which has expanded nationwide creating greater demand for programs.
9.8 There have been recent inquiries into the availability and effectiveness of prison programs. In 2016, the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) published the Prison to Work Report, which highlighted the importance of: cultural competence in programs; coordination in the delivery of throughcare and post-release services; and the need for an increased focus on the delivery of programs to female prisoners. The Report also noted the additional challenges faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander female prisoners:
Male and female prisoners face many of the same issues while in prison and in their post-release life. However, female prisoners face additional challenges, such as (usually) poorer access to education and training opportunities while in prison, and problems in gaining access and custody of children when out of prison. Some women also encounter particular difficulties in returning to unsafe environments.
Ibid table 8.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, The Health of Australia’s Prisoners 2015 (2015) 20.
See, eg, Probation and Parole Officers’ Association of NSW, Submission No 41 to Legislative Council Standing Committee on Law and Justice, Parliament of NSW, Community Based Sentencing Options for Rural and Remote Areas and Disadvantaged Populations (1 June 2005).
W Agnew-Pauley and J Holmes, ‘Re-Offending in NSW’ (Issue paper 108, NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, August 2015) 2–4; NSW Government, Submission 85. See also ch 3.
Prison programs are courses or activities made available to people in prison, and are provided or supervised by corrective services.
See, eg, Australian Institute of Criminology, Study in Prison Reduces Recidivism and Welfare Dependence: A Case Study from Western Australia 2005–2010 (2016) 8; LM Davis et al, Evaluating the Effectiveness of Correctional Education: A Meta-Analysis of Programs That Provide Education to Incarcerated Adults (RAND Corporation, 2013); Council of Australian Governments, Prison to Work Report (2016) 51.
Australasian Institute of Judicial Administration, Efficacy, Accessibility and Adequacy of Prison Rehabilitation Programs for Indigenous Offenders across Australia (2016) 63; Council of Australian Governments, above n 8, 16.
Australasian Institute of Judicial Administration, above n 9, 21. For example, 39% of inmates in NSW in 2016 did not complete drug and alcohol-related programs due to transfers or release.
Ibid 19. ‘many prison systems have increased their rated capacity without commensurate increases in access to rehabilitation, sporting and education/vocational programs or medical and psychological services’.
Council of Australian Governments, above n 8, 6.