Recently there has been a number of commentaries on the state of recidivism and incarceration of defendants in South Australia.
The Courts have had a long history of providing access to programs in appropriate cases to assist defendants to address such criminal behaviour.
These vocational education training courses within our prisons but also during the Court process have enabled for a reduction in recidivism of defendants over a course of time.
Notwithstanding a reduction in recidivism we still have an increase in prisoner population within Australia in the last 12 month period.
The number of prisoners in adult corrective service custody has increased by 8% from June 2015 through to June 2016. Additionally the national prison rate of 208 prisoner per 100,000 adults has increased by 6% over the same period of time.
It is important to note as well that the number of un-sentenced prisoners in adult corrective services has increased by 22%. In the last 12 months this is a 21% increase from the previous year.
Not only was it an increase in un-sentenced prisoners but it was also accompanied by an increase in the median time spent on remand awaiting trial and/or sentence which increased 7% from 2.7 to 2.9 months in custody. It is only in Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory who showed a decrease in time in custody awaiting such matters.
In regards to recidivism generally about 60% of those in custody in Australia have been in prison before. Such re-offending of recidivism can be influenced by many factors including poor education, housing environment, mental health, drug and alcohol misuse and poor employment history.
As mentioned, there have been many vocational education training programs both through the Courts and in the prison system aimed at reducing recidivism.
A study was conducted in Queensland based on 1,800 persons who returned to custody within a three year period. Introduced to these prisoners was a vocational education training program as part of prisoner rehabilitation offering opportunities for them to reduce disadvantage and therefore increasing the likelihood of a successful reintegration into the community.
Such programs included pre-release and employment programs, opportunity to be involved in meaningful prison work, expansion of vocational training and more access to advice about health service education, training and housing prior to release.
The study showed that 32% of prisoners who did not participate in any VET programs before their initial release returned to custody within a two year period. This is in contrast to only 23% of VET participants having returned in the same period of time.
One difficulty faced particularly in relation to overcrowding of prisons is that such programs are sometimes unable to accommodate the application for participants. In many cases long waiting lists for courses and being transferred to other centres without much notice or being released early have caused barriers in undertaking completing VET.
Additionally it is noted through such studies that there is a culture amongst some custodial staff that view prisons as primarily places of correction not training.
Ultimately as seen across the country is that a restorative justice approach and increased education with prisoners and defendants has shown a reduction in re-offending and better integration with the wider community.
Although there are a number of barriers that forestall a greater increase of such positive steps have been made towards reducing crime.