The Napthine government has taken the painfully familiar stance of the most right-wing governments in announcing that they are “tough on crime”.
One of the key planks in this policy was the move towards tough and mandatory sentencing that effectively bypassed any chances of criminals being rehabilitated outside the prison system.
The escalation of prison numbers has resulted in Overcrowding in the state prisons and a scramble to build more prisons and hiring more prison officers to staff them. It appears that the prisons are filling up as fast as we can build them.
Then comes the surprising announcement leading into the 2014 state election:
Victorian State Election: Napthine promises 250 extra police
Hold on! If the tough on crime approach has been successful, we would expect a reduction in the police force as result of falling crime rates. But no, this is not happened. We need more police.
One thing appears clear, if a government is tough on crime, we should see the crime rate falling and not the need to employ extra police.
The difficulty with the “tough on crime” approach being delivered through the Courts in terms of tough sentencing regimes is that it doesn’t work. Everybody was an intelligent interest in the justice system knows this and understand why.
The fundamental flaw in this approach is that prison sentences only serve as a deterrent in a small number of cases. Prison sentences certainly get the criminals off the streets, for a while.
The problem is what happens to them as result of being in jail. The problem is called recidivism, the tendency of people to reoffend after they have left prison.
in the case of hardened in career criminals who is often little chance of rehabilitation but in many cases this can be effective and if it avoids people returning to jail in this is a positive both in human societal and economic terms.
The problem is most acute with jailing first-time offenders whose prison term allows them the opportunity to spend an extended period of time in the company of more hardened criminals and to be acculturated into the criminal underworld.
It suits up what is known in Systems Theory as a reinforcing loop.
This is a causal loop diagram. The arrows indicate causal connections. The letter S indicates that cause and effect move in the Same direction. If custodial sentences increase the population increases. If custodial sentences go down, then the prison population goes down.
Once we start increasing custodial sentences, the situation starts escalating and the effect of increasing custodial sentences as you follow the logic around the diagram is that crime goes up. Not down as the Napthine government believes.
It’s a classic example of what is known as the counter-intuitive effect of policy, where you do something and get exactly the opposite result. Its actually quite hard to achieve, but if you are stupid enough and you work at it, you can get that to happen.
There is a strong argument for not jailing first-time offenders particularly for minor offences and placing them in rehabilitation programmes such as those run out of the Neighbourhood Justice Centre in Collingwood. This gives these people an opportunity to turn their lives around, it doesn’t always work, but then the current system doesn’t appear to work at all.