Monday, August 2, 2004

NSW Legislative Council's Inquiry on Home Detention

Submissions closed last Friday 30 July for the Legislative Council's Inquiry into Back-end Home Detention.

Justice Action's submissions Justice Action opposes the use of home detention, whether front-end or back-end, as a sentencing option in our criminal justice system, [criminal law system.]

We have two primary concerns.

First, we believe the availability of home detention will increase the use of imprisonment as a sentencing option in our criminal justice system - and this is an outcome to be avoided at all costs.

Second, we believe that co-opting families into the State's role as gaoler is divisive and damaging for families.

Our reasons are as follows:


1. It is widely recognised that the damage caused by and the cost of imprisonment is enormous. For this reason it has become established policy that, (a) imprisonment is an option of last resort; and (b) the damage done by imprisonment should be minimised as far as possible.

2. Home detention is a form of imprisonment. So much is recognised in the legislation that enables home detention.

3. The onerous nature of home detention was described in some detail in the 1999 Review of the NSW Home Detention Scheme where it was also stated: "The demands required to complete home detention are equal to but different from the demands required to complete a prison sentence." (p. ix of Executive Summary)

4. Reforms to the penal system should be directed at decreasing the use of imprisonment and providing genuine alternatives.

5. There is a large gap between imprisonment and community sentencing options like community service orders in terms of the seriousness with which they are regarded.

6. Many players in the criminal justice system view home detention as a less serious punishment than imprisonment and, accordingly (in popular perception at least) home detention exists in the gap between imprisonment and community sentencing. It is also cheaper and gives Corrective Services a vastly increased capacity to imprison people. For all of these reasons home detention has the potential to be very popular and result in a net increase in the prison population.

7. Conversely, as Justice Action pointed out in our 1996 submission to the NSW Law Reform Commission "historically a key restraint on expansion of the prison population has been cell capacity [and] important stimulus to sentencing reform has been prison overcrowding."

Damage to families

8. The structure of home detention law is such that much of the burden of the sentence will be borne by the people the offender lives with, most often their family. Family members are subjected to the stigma, sleep deprivation, stress, tension and inconvenience of frequent visits and phone calls at any time of the day or night. Children are exposed to Corrective Services officers and the to the difficulties a confined offender suffers.

9. Additionally, home detention is conditional status that may be revoked at any time if it is considered not to be working. Accordingly there is a lot of pressure on households to present well to visiting Corrective Services officers and fear of the repercussions that may follow if they report the problems ensuing from the offender's confinement. Again it is worth noting the onerous nature of home detention for offenders. This is exacerbated because often they will be dealing withdrawals from drugs and alcohol while those around them may or may not continue to use drugs or alcohol themselves. (Offenders are subjected to regular urinalysis tests and negative results can mean revocation of home detention orders).

10. The resulting fear and stress pervades the household and is bad for all involved.


Justice Action believes the use of home detention will increase the number of people damaged by the dehumanising experience of being imprisoned. Both by increasing the number of people sentenced to imprisonment and by the indirect effects which are borne by families and cohabitants of offenders.


The obvious response having the choice between going to gaol and being given home detention, some people may pick Home Detention every time. Yep, that's the obvious response and the one that promoters of home detention want to see.

But what if the question was really "Would you like an additional period of home detention added to your regular sentence?" or "Would you like someone who would otherwise have been given a non-custodial to get full time prison thanks to the bed you freed up by accepting home detention?" would your answer be the same? The history of imprisonment in NSW offers a pretty strong argument that all prison slots (plus or minus a few percent) will always be full, regardless of prison capacity or crime rates. Provide more prison slots and you will get more prisoners.

I doubt that the NSW government can go much further with their prison enthusiasm while allowing transport, health and education infrastructure in the state to rot. Even my conservative relatives in Kempsey are bemused as to why a brand new prison can be built just out of town but the local hospital can't provide basic medical services (my Dad who lived less than 2km from Kempsey hospital but had to go all the way to Port Macquarie for straight forward oncological treatment). In my opinion, the recent push to increase home detention is a simple reflection of the fact that the Carr government can't increase full time prison capacity as quickly as they would like.

Home detention is a way of providing almost open ended prison capacity by turning homes into pods without breaking the state infrastructure budget. The use of the bracelets in the UK is also a bad sign as to where we might be headed with them here too. They are particularly widely used for juveniles and in cases where they would previously have been given a bond or a warning they are now using the bracelets in conjunction with orders banning people from going to certain parts of town (e.g. the shopping centre or cinema precinct) or from associating with their colleagues.

JA is pushing for greater provisions of non - custodial options - such as Community Service Orders (CSO's) positions, which are still in short supply especially in rural areas . We are not supporting Department of Corrective Services in its appropriation of peoples' homes for their prison system.

By Justice Action 2 August 04


The ACT Government has drafted a new Bill to implement Home Detention This very discriminatory type of sentence also punishes the family. It is questionable that it has been successful anywhere it has been tried.

Putting Your Finger on the Line: Biometric Identification Technology The NSW Department of Corrective Services has progressively been implementing biometric identification technology (BIT) for use on all entrants into maximum security prisons since August 1996. It currently operates in seven prisons in NSW and is scheduled for introduction at Parklea prison later this year. BIT has raised the ire of many community agencies, the legal fraternity and government authorities. Framed examines what the controversy is all about and what the implications of this technology are.

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