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Estimates: Justice Reinvestment Questions

Estimates & Committees
Penny Wright 17 Oct 2012

Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee
Wednesday 17 October 2012

Australian Human Rights Commission

Senator WRIGHT: Good morning. I have some questions about justice reinvestment, and it might be good to hear from Mr Gooda in relation to those, thank you. I note that the commission's 2009 Social justice report really kick-started the conversation about justice reinvestment in Australia and that, Mr Gooda, you continue to be a very strong advocate for the necessity of such an approach for reducing Indigenous overrepresentation in the prison system. I am wondering if you have had any recent discussions with the Attorney-General's Department or other government agencies about justice reinvestment and in particular how we might get some concrete progress on implementing such an approach in Australia, even at a pilot level?

Mr Gooda: We have not spoken recently to the Attorney-General's Department. Of course, there was an inquiry into juvenile detention, which looked at justice reinvestment as an option.

But most of the work I have been involved in has been here in the ACT and in New South Wales. As a matter of fact, tomorrow morning I meet with the Attorney-General and the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs in New South Wales to talk about a possible pilot approach to justice reinvestment in New South Wales.

I have attended meetings here in the ACT, organised by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, again looking at some actions that could be taken down here. The government was involved and also a lot of agencies from the ACT, including federal agencies. That is basically where we are at the moment. As you said, I continue to advocate for an approach, particularly to juvenile justice around justice reinvestment. We are starting to get some traction.

There is particular interest from a few members of parliament over in Western Australia and I continue to speak to people in parliament. With Queensland's big effort on cost cutting up there, they have to fix up the budget. I keep on talking to them, suggesting that one way of approaching that is to stop incarcerating Aboriginal people who do not need to be incarcerated and saying, 'If you want to save some money, here's a model that has been proven overseas to not only save money but actually reduce incarceration rates.'

Senator WRIGHT: Following on from that, it certainly sounds as though things are happening in various parts of Australia. I am interested in what role the federal government could have in working towards having a more cohesive justice reinvestment strategy in place and, in a sense, having leadership in encouraging the uptake of a justice reinvestment approach by the states and territories as a whole. Do you have any further views around that?

Mr Gooda: I had some discussions with the previous Attorney-General about taking a bit of a leadership role in providing funds for, say, a pilot somewhere. But the problem we have is that the corrections system or the criminal justice system is run by state governments and I think that is where I have been focusing my efforts.

Senator WRIGHT: I note that the USA Federal Department of Justice has been very active in providing funding to independent research centres, which then provide non-partisan technical assistance and policy advice to communities throughout the States which are interested in justice reinvestment. One of these is the Council of State Governments Justice Centre, which I think has been particularly effective. Do you think such an approach could possibly work here in Australia-for example, non-partisan, technical assistance and information?

Mr Gooda: That would be my preference for how to take this forward-to carry out a research project, carry out a pilot under the guise of a research project where you can get technical experts in. That is why the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies led the way down here. The meeting at that time basically gave a mandate to AIATSIS to keep going down that path. Again, I am not technically part of the committee, but I remain an advocate for the approach here and also building on my research background, just building in the data needs. Once you start understanding the approach of justice reinvestment where, in the United States, they talk about 'million-dollar blocks' where we know a great number of offenders come from, you then say: how can we take an approach to those people, whether the underlying causes need to be addressed, such as parenting, substance abuse, rehabilitation programs, diversionary programs? As you say, in the United States, and places that have been generally places of high incarceration such as Texas and Mississippi, decades after they have taken this approach they are starting to see a drop in the prison population with a corresponding savings in expenditure by the state.

Senator WRIGHT: I might just broaden this out a little bit to the broader issue of Indigenous overrepresentation in the criminal justice system, which I know is a huge concern of yours and certainly of many other people in the Australian community. The idea that we need to incorporate justice targets into Closing the Gap so that we have a concrete target to aim for and can measure ourselves against has been gaining traction. Has the government sought the commission's opinion or advice with respect to the development of Closing the Gap justice targets? I do not know who in the commission might want to answer that.

Mr Gooda: Not as far as I am aware. I continue to advocate for the inclusion of those targets in the Close the Gap program. Therefore, when the Prime Minister reports every year in the first sitting week we would actually have the focus on that. That is the main reason why we want that out there. It is not included at the moment, but we think it is one of the most important and urgent issues that we need to focus on. By including those targets does give it that focus.

Senator WRIGHT: So you are not aware of that, Mr Gooda?

Mr Gooda: I am not aware.

Senator WRIGHT: Can I broaden the question out. Professor Triggs, are you aware of any opinion, advice or discussions that have been had with the commission about incorporating justice targets into the Closing the Gap strategy?

Prof. Triggs: I am not aware of any advice being sought but, if I may, I will take it on notice and see whether I can discover whether we have been consulted.

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