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For many offenders, rehabilitation should be seen as the strongest goal of sentencing

An overreliance on imprisonment in NSW increases costs while shortchanging opportunities for crime reduction through rehabilitation

A sentence of confinement in New South Wales serves more than one purpose. Punishment is one goal. Deterrence — persuading the offender not to reoffend and, by making an example of the offender, dissuading others from committing similar offences — is another goal.

For many offenders, rehabilitation should be seen as the strongest goal of sentencing. There are incorrigible offenders from whom society must be protected, but most individuals who have been sentenced are capable of changing. The benefits of helping offenders rehabilitate themselves are clear.

Benefits of rehabilitation

The benefits of rehabilitation are chiefly economic. More than 32,000 people are held in Australian prisons every day. In NSW, the daily prison population averages more than 10,000 and recently peaked at 11,000. According to the Productivity Commission, the nationwide cost of imprisoning offenders was $2.6 billion in fiscal year 2013-14.

By contrast, although more than 56,000 offenders nationwide are serving community corrections orders each day, only $0.4 billion is spent on community corrections. Community corrections programs supervise individuals who have released from prison and those who have been given a community corrections order in lieu of imprisonment.

The figures noted above make it clear that supervising offenders in the community is a less expensive alternative than imprisonment. Community supervision also enhances the opportunity for rehabilitation. Offenders have a chance to become productive members of society by gaining employment or participating in job training. They often have opportunities to overcome their criminal tendencies by participating in drug treatment, anger management counseling, and other programs that teach skills required to cope with the stressors that cause criminal behaviour.

Rehabilitation reduces recidivism, meaning that offenders are less likely to commit new crimes. That not only saves society the cost of housing offenders in prison, it avoids the costs associated with victimization. Reducing crime produces an economic benefit to society while enhancing the quality of life for all Australians.

Improving rehabilitation

Prisons typically provide rehabilitative services, but they are generally underfunded. Services include basic and vocational education, mental health treatment, programs to reduce dependence on drugs and alcohol, and programs to help offenders avoid “criminal thinking.”

In NSW, the Violent Offenders Therapeutic Program and the Intensive Drug and Alcohol Treatment Program are primary vehicles to help offenders avoid a return to crime. Yet the failure to fund those and other programs adequately assures that prisoners who need rehabilitative services do not receive them.

At the same time, NSW had only about 16,500 offenders in community corrections programs during 2013-14. Compared to nationwide numbers, it seems clear that NSW is underutilising the community corrections option. Relying more on community corrections and less in imprisonment would save money for NSW taxpayers while enhancing the prospects of rehabilitating offenders and preventing future crimes.

Disclaimer : This article is just a summary of the subject matter being discussed and should not be regarded as a comprehensive legal advice for you to defend yourself alone. If you are charged with criminal offences, it is recommended that you seek legal assistance from criminal lawyers.

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