Prison programs

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.[3] 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.[4] Most repeat offenders had previously received a prison sentence, and generate ‘churn’ in the prison system.[5]

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.[6]

9.6        Prison programs[7] 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.[8] 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]

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;[10] and
  • the size of the prison population, which has expanded nationwide creating greater demand for programs.[11]

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:[12]

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.[13]