More than 15,500 people are released from NSW prisons each year, twice the number of 20 years ago. But new research shows many ex-prisoners find it impossible to reintegrate into society and, months after release, are worse off than before they went to jail.
Even prisoners who serve short sentences are likely to suffer long-term consequences, including increased rates of homelessness and unemployment.
The research, funded by the Housing and Urban Research Institute, is tracking 201 prisoners released from NSW prisons between November 2001 and January 2002. Most had served sentences of less than 12 months.
It shows the ex-prisoners with the best chance of making a new start received a lot of support from parole officers or family. But only a small minority received any help at all.
The lead researcher, Dr Eileen Baldry, of the school of social work at the University of NSW, said jailing people for less than six months was counterproductive. Their situation months after release was worse than before they went to jail.
"We are seeing a large number of people coming out of jail without a chance," she said. "Their circumstances are so reduced they have little chance of getting out of the imprisonment cycle."
The study shows 20 per cent of the sample had been homeless or in marginal housing before they went to prison. But nine months after release, 38 per cent were homeless. And half those who had jobs before they went to jail were unemployed nine months after release.
The huge numbers of people leaving prison - a forgotten part of the law-and-order story - are a consequence of the 50 per cent rise in the imprisonment rate in the past decade. Dr Baldry said the official prison population of about 7800 gave no sense of the "flow-through" rate - the number of people passing through prison each year and what impact that had on the community.
The study shows 15 per cent of the sample were back in jail after three months, with all of them citing drug problems as the main factor [alcohol?]. For women the picture was even gloomier with 25 per cent - and half the Aboriginal women - reincarcerated three months after release. The recidivism rate at the nine-month mark is not yet known.
Dr Baldry said it was a "complete fallacy to think by locking people up for six months, a year or even two years, the community is safer in the long term".
The short-term prisoners received little benefit from drug [& alcohol?] rehabilitation programs or other services in jail . And upon release, they received virtually no help to find housing or jobs. Those who served less than two years were generally not case-managed by parole officers.
About 60 per cent of those who moved in with family or friends found it did not work out and left within two months, while only 5 per cent had a job nine months after release. As well, a dramatically increased number rated their drug problems as "severe" nine months after release compared to just before they left jail.
"Society wants people to pay the penalty for committing an offence but we also need to reduce reoffending," Dr Baldry said. "For those who serve short sentences you can get better long-term outcomes for less money from intensive programs in the community."
The NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research reported in August that the abolition of sentences of six months or less would reduce the number of new prisoners admitted to NSW jails from 150 a week to 90, cut the total prison population by 10 per cent, and produce savings of up to $47 million a year. It found that for 90 per cent of short-term prisoners, their most serious offence was theft, assault, breach of justice orders or a driving offence.
By Needa Job and Needa Placetolive State Social Services Reporters 30 Jan 03
Fiona Stanley, the children's crusader
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From next month criminals or ex-criminals who try to profit (earn a living for paid work, like writing a book etc..) from their crimes in New South Wales will have the proceeds confiscated.
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Prisoners Representatives Excommunicated
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Academic devises scheme for low income earners to pay back fines:
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ARE YOU INNOCENT?
The Australian Law Reform Commission had recommended that the Innocence Panel be independent and have the power to investigate alleged miscarriages of justice.
NSW Department of Corrective Services attack right to privacy
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NSW opposition pledges review of detention laws
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RESTORING TRUE JUSTICE:
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Mr. & Mrs. Mandatory Sentencing
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Just wipe your arse on Ivan again Minister?
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Chronology - A History of Australian Prisons
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8 years ago