Recent years have seen Victoria’s prison population steadily increase, reaching historic highs. However, statics point out that prisons are proving to be ineffective in rehabilitating prisoners since almost one in two individuals imprisoned in Victoria return to jail within two years of their release. For instance, during 2016-2017, 43.3% of Victorian prisoners returned to prison within 2018-2019 (Released Prisoners Returning to Prison | Sentencing Council, 2020). These statistics allude that the state’s criminal justice resources and efforts should be focused on other innovative forms of justice and community corrections that work to reduce recidivism. While the issue seems insurmountable, this paper discusses creative ways of justice and community corrections that can reduce recidivism, their implications for Victoria’s justice system, and the factors that will have to change to facilitate their implementation.
Prisons with Purpose
Victoria’s justice system needs to emphasize that prisons focus on rehabilitation and recidivism reduction as their primary objectives. Currently, prisons’ focus seems to be mainly inclined to monitor prisoners for compliance as opposed to proactively supporting them towards rehabilitation. For instance, programs meant to prepare prisoners for parole are rationed to ‘dangerous’ and ‘high risk’ offenders (Gelb, 2011, p.17). There is a need for a paradigm shift so that prisons work towards making offenders more prepared for release into the community. The program should start as soon as one’s sentence starts. According to Gelb, access to rehabilitation programs, if available at all, is usually restricted until a prisoner’s sentence is almost completed (17). Unsurprisingly, Victoria’s prisons are producing poor outcomes, as evident in the high rates of recidivism.
The paradigm shift to prions with purpose, one that establishes rehabilitation and reduction of recidivism as the primary objectives, can significantly increase Victoria’s criminal justice system’s effectiveness. The shift will refocus the correctional system as a whole to promote a positive impact on the lives of offenders rather than increasing the likelihood of these individuals committing crimes in the future (Heseltine and Day, 2017, pp.834-835). As per Daly and Marchetti, this will also ensure that incentives and responsibilities are aligned to focus every aspect of the system to ensure the reintegration of rehabilitated individuals into the community (2012, pp.476-477). Consequently, this will improve community safety by breaking cycles of offending.
Various factors would have to change to enable the use of this innovative form of justice. Firstly, from the political aspect, there will be a need for amendment of the Corrections Act of 1986 to include rehabilitation and reduction of recidivism as the Act’s fundamental aims. Secondly, the government will have to provide a basis for common intent and a set of shared objectives across the justice agencies, housing, education, and health. Thirdly, it will also be imperative to educate the general public to understand the role of corrections since some people may view the reforms as too friendly to the offenders and, as such, conclude that justice is not served. This will help establish stronger links between community and rehabilitated offenders.
Community Custodial Programs
Community custodial programs are another innovative justice form that can improve the Victoria correction system by providing more opportunities for offenders to access rehabilitation programs. According to Hardcastle, Bartholomew, and Graffam (2011, p.111), many prisoners in Victoria serve short sentences without access to rehabilitative programs either on parole or in prison. The individuals are, therefore, released back into the community without support to help them reintegrate. Notably, this increases the likelihood of these individuals re-offending since, besides not being rehabilitating during their time in prison, most of them find it hard to secure a job (Suzuki and Wood, 2017, p.399). Reinvigorating community custodial programs facilitate the continuity of engagement by prisoners with rehabilitation programs they access in prison. The programs provide counseling to released offenders and help them address issues that create barriers to rehabilitation and reintegration.
Strengthening community custodial programs will help rehabilitated offenders reintegrate into the community by addressing the barriers that cause them to re-offend. Additionally, the programs will help in the continued rehabilitation of offenders post-prison, thus increasing the corrections system (Suzuki and Wood, 2017, p.401). Released offenders tend to re-offend due to the discrimination and stigma that they face. For instance, they are less likely to get employment since most employers are unwilling to employ them due to their imprisonment record (Joudo-Larsen, 2014. P.5). Effectively working custodial programs will ensure that Victoria justice system not only detains and release future criminals into the system but instead is actively rehabilitating and helping former criminals reintegrate into the community.
Society’s perception of rehabilitated offenders would have to change to ensure the effectiveness of community custodial programs. Society needs to change the way it perceives rehabilitated criminals. Currently, if an individual is imprisoned, he/she comes back to a community that discriminates them and is likely to remain unemployable (Heseltine and Day, 2017, p.835). If these individuals are better integrated into social networks and provided with enhanced employment access, they are less likely to re-offend since the transition period becomes relatively more straightforward. Thus, Victorians must stop the stigmatization of former offenders and actively demonstrate their willingness to welcome them back into the community. Based on the recidivism criteria, the Victoria criminal justice system will have efficiently addressed its purpose.
Community-Based Sentencing (Non-Custodial Programs and Sanctions)
Last but not least, Victoria should reinvigorate community-based sentences by establishing a community corrections case management support function to promote rehabilitation and reduce recidivism. Research has shown that community-based orders result in far less recidivism than imprisonment as they ensure restricted movement, supervision, and reparation of offenders without disconnecting them with the community. However, in Victoria, the proportion of community correction orders that are not completed remains significantly high (Gelb, 2011, p.18). Reinvigorating community-based sentencing can influence the efficient completion of these orders by enabling community workers to effectively determine whether a community correction order is a suitable sentencing option. As a result, Corrections Victoria will have the opportunity to intervene in the trajectory of imprisonment and recidivism by ensuring that community corrections orders are not merely a catalyst in the sentencing that leads to inventible prison time (Bazemore and Schiff, 2013, pp.2019-210). Instead, Corrections Victoria will ensure that a larger proportion of offenders who receive community sentences do not become future prisoners as correction workers will have the tools to effectively assess the suitability of actions and find better ways to support offenders.
The implications of improved community-based sentencing to how Victoria delivers justice impact offenders, the system, and the community. The offenders will receive long-term benefits associated with community-based sentencing, including the skills developed by the program and the lack of interruption of their private lives. Thus, the justice system will be more effective in rehabilitating offenders. Regarding benefits to Victoria’s justice system, community-based sentencing has been proven to be more effective in reducing recidivism than imprisonment and is cheaper for the system than serving jail time (Bazemore and Schiff, 2013, p.214). An increasingly growing body of research is exhibiting that short-term sentences are counterproductive; they do more harm by disrupting offenders’ connectedness to employment, housing, social life, et cetera (217). Community-based can address the said shortcoming while making communities safer; thus, benefiting both the offenders and the community.
Critical change necessary to underpin community-based sentencing is promoting the spirit of inclusiveness in Victoria’s community concerning how people interact with rehabilitating offenders. Whereas community-based sentencing ensures offenders’ restricted movement and ongoing supervision, people are likely to stigmatize offenders undergoing community-based rehabilitation. If this happens, the offenders are more likely to re-offend since they will feel like outcasts. Actively demonstrating willingness to help offenders rehabilitate and reintegrate into the community can significantly impact their perspective regarding committing crime, consequently facilitating a change of behavior (Gelb, 2011, p.18). It is also necessary that the Victorian government implement policies geared towards strengthening community corrections orders’ effectiveness.
Therefore, the new direction that the Victorian justice system should take to facilitate improved rehabilitation of offenders and, as a result, minimize recidivism is adopting innovative forms of justice and community corrections. Some of these include implementing reforms to establish prisons with purpose, reinvigorating community custodial programs, and strengthening community-based sentencing. The three forms will ensure the effective rehabilitation of offenders and facilitate their reintegration into the community. Consequently, this will reduce recidivism and, most importantly, keep the community safe by effectively decreasing the crime rate.