Since April, prison numbers have been slashed 8 per cent and 800 people released. The fall is especially surprising as forecasts predicted large increases.
Critics warned of crisis if the Government did not build a billion-dollar mega prison. Yet at this rate, Labour would achieve their ambitious goal of cutting prison numbers 30 per cent in less than four years.
The Department of Corrections are leading the reforms. Their approach involves clearing internal barriers to prisoners’ release: having staff help illiterate prisoners fill forms and make phone calls to arrange bail, for example, and delivering programs earlier in sentences to get them ready for parole. “It’s all common sense,” says Leigh Marsh, head of the departmental changes. “Really, really simple stuff.”
The innovation is in the politics. Labour are stuck with a conservative coalition partner and struggling to get the necessary votes for legislative change, so are sidestepping Parliament all together. By working inside the state machinery they inherited, they are avoiding the public relations hit of trying to change bail or parole laws.
Yet they are also making trade-offs: locating reform inside corrections limits the scope and transformative potential.
Much of what is happening seems like a shift in styles of control, as people are moved from prison cells to various forms of electronic monitoring, intensive supervision and home detention. Three quarters of the 40,000 people managed by the department are already in the community. Continue reading Substituting Controls