ADCA on Indigenous Incarceration


“It’s time for all governments to address more public health focused approaches to handling growth in Indigenous prison populations,” according to the President of the Alcohol and other Drugs Council of Australia (ADCA), Dr Mal Washer MP.

“Alternatives have existed for years,” Dr Washer said, “and we need to act on them without any further deliberation by committees, working groups or parliamentary inquiries.”

Dr Washer was speaking after today’s release of the report, An Economic Analysis for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Offenders; Prisons vs Residential Treatment,commissioned by the Australian National Council on Drugs (ANCD) and the National Indigenous Drug and Alcohol Committee (NIDAC). The report says greater investment in drug and alcohol treatment will reduce the ever-increasing number of Indigenous people in prisons.

“It’s clearly wrong that the same group that makes up only 2.5 per cent of our people accounts for more than a quarter of Australia’s adult prison population. We need rehabilitation programs to keep Indigenous people out of Australia’s 115 correctional facilities – to prevent their getting caught up in the endless round of recidivism and attendant drug and health problems,” Dr Washer said.

The report by Deloitte Access Economics identifies annual savings in excess of $111,000 per prisoner if they can be diverted to rehabilitation programs rather than being incarcerated. That’s in addition to a more than $92,000 per offender saved in the long term due to lower mortality and a better health regime.

Dr Washer cited the US where prisons in Texas are closing partly due to a shift in policy that favours rehabilitation programs over prison sentences. “Only weeks ago, it was reported that the new approach had led to 10,000 vacancies in Texas prisons.

“We have known this to be the case for years. As the so-called War on Drugs has shown to be an abject failure after more than three decades, so too has the lock-em-upmentality where Indigenous justice is concerned.”

ADCA CEO David Templeman says that with our prisons overflowing – largely with people convicted of non-violent crimes yet suffering from serious drug and alcohol problems – it is surely time to turn against the tide of imprisonment and embrace a meaningful policy of care, treatment and rehabilitation.


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