A new landmark report clearly shows that $111,000 can be saved per year per offender by diverting non-violent Indigenous offenders into treatment instead of prison.
The major accounting firm Deloitte Access Economics produced the extensive report for the National Indigenous Drug and Alcohol Committee of the Australian National Council on Drugs (Deloitte operates in over 150 countries globally).
The extensive report reveals by diverting Indigenous offenders into treatment there is a $111,000 saving per Indigenous offender per year in direct financial savings plus an overall saving of $92,000 per Indigenous offender from better health and quality of life outcomes. The analysis projected costs over a 10 year period. NIDAC says it is clearly time to end the shameful level of Indigenous imprisonment in Australia.
Currently there are just over 29,000 prisoners incarcerated across Australia – a huge 26% of them (7,656) are Indigenous people. Indigenous adults are now 14 times more likely to be incarcerated than non Indigenous people.
Deloitte Access Economics has assessed the costs and benefits of investing in community based residential alcohol and other drug treatment as opposed to incarcerating Indigenous people with substance use problems convicted of non violent crimes. The report reveals there is clear evidence that offenders with multiple terms of incarceration are more likely to return to prison and are more likely to be Indigenous.
The report concludes there are “considerable benefits associated with the diversion of Indigenous prisoners into community residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation services instead of incarceration. Diversion is associated with both financial savings as well as improvements in health and mortality.”
A recent Victorian study found 35% of those who have been imprisoned will return to prison within 2 years of release. However 50% of Indigenous prisoners would be back in prison within 2 years indicating that the incarceration of Indigenous offenders is likely to be associated with significant future costs to society.
NIDAC highlights that despite a 1991 report from the Royal Commission into aboriginal deaths in custody which clearly highlighted the need to lower the number of Indigenous people in prison, this has simply not been achieved. The 1991 Royal Commission indicated that ‘imprisonment should be utilised only as a sanction of last resort’.
In 2010 – 2011 more than $3 billion was spent on Australian prisons. At the same time NIDAC says funding for numerous services to assist Indigenous people with drug and alcohol problem has been reduced or stopped by governments.
The Chair of NIDAC Associate Professor Ted Wilkes said, “Imprisonment is destroying our people, families and communities. It has to be addressed as a matter of absolute urgency. Diverting people away from prisons leads to better health outcomes, it can help avoid negative labelling and stigma associated with criminal conduct. It can prevent further offending and reduce the number of people going to prison.”
The report reveals in 2011 Australia had 115 correctional custodial facilities and in 2010–2011 more than $3 billion was spent on Australian prisons ($2.3 billion was net operating expenditure and $0.8 billion was capital costs). In comparison in 2009–2010 there were 30 facilities nationwide providing residential drug and treatment services to indigenous people. NIDAC says prisons are an ineffective setting to treat the underlying reason that often drives indigenous people there.
NIDAC calls on all governments to develop and support a COAG commitment to Justice Reinvestment that involves shifting spending away from imprisonment towards community based programs and services.
The current levels of incarceration for Indigenous men, women, and young people are 4,093 men, 405 women, and 128 young people per 100,000 of the relevant populations. The contrasting levels for non-Indigenous people are 234 men, 17 women, and 11 young people per 100,000 of the relevant populations. The rates of Indigenous women in prison, has increased by 343% between 1993 and 2003 and 10% between 2006 and 2009.
The report also highlights that currently Indigenous Australians are underrepresented in diversions by courts to drug and alcohol treatment facilities. In 2009 – 10 out of a total 17,589 referrals from court diversion, 13.7% were for Indigenous people – far lower than the proportion of people incarcerated who are Indigenous.
Deputy Co Chair of NIDAC, Mr Scott Wilson adds, “Diverting offenders from prison into treatment services makes perfect sense. Re-offending rates are high and incarceration is associated with poor health outcomes for prisoners, including a higher risk of death after release. 68% of Indigenous prison entrants self report having used illicit drugs during the preceding 12 months. Indigenous men were significantly more likely to report that they were intoxicated at the time of the offence. Do governments really believe that prison is the best answer to these problems?”
Dr John Herron, Chairman of the Australian National Council on Drugs says, “We are not suggesting that governments do away with prisons, there is obviously a need for them particularly for violent offenders. However, this study deliberately excluded those prisoners who stated that their most serious offence was a violent offence.”
Gino Vumbaca, Executive Director of the ANCD added: “The ANCD & NIDAC are calling for a halt on the building and expansion of prisons and for that funding to instead be invested into expanding community based initiatives, including residential alcohol and other drug rehabilitation. Simply taking the same old tired and ineffective approach year after year must change.”