Father Chris Riley on the overcrowding in prison problem

November 16, 2015

I refer to the story in Sunday’s Telegraph “No easy fix as prison overcrowding crisis intensifies in NSW”. The problem stems from how we treat offenders in the justice system. We need to do it differently. We need to focus on restorative practices, or what juvenile justice calls youth justice conferencing.

In NSW, there are 315 young people currently in custody on a daily basis. About 150 of those are Aboriginal young people who are dealing with mental and cognitive disabilities. Re-offending is what we have to stop in order to decrease crime levels and ease the overcrowding in adult prisons.

Since 2008, restorative practices have the lowest re-offender rate of any other form of correction. Restorative practices highlight the needs of the victim, it gives a voice to the victim and the offender has to face this front on. They hear about the damage they have caused and experience the emotional distress that they’ve created through their actions.

Restorative practices focuses on solving problems, on how to repair them, but our current system is about finding blame/guilt and punishing accordingly. The victims are also responsible for determining the punishment of the offenders. You’d expect their punishments to be harsher than the current legal system, but this isn’t the case. Victims aren’t looking for revenge, if the offenders show genuine remorse and agree to right the wrong: then the victims are easily satisfied .

It’s pretty simple, the more young people placed in prisons, the more likely they are to re-offend and end up back in prison. We need young offenders to face their victims. We need positive outcomes that connect young people back into their community.

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