Thursday 12 September 2019

Hansard of the Legislative Council
Second Reading


[3.19 p.m.]
Mr FINCH ( - Mr President, I have always thought that there are two purposes to our prison system.  First, to protect our society from dangerous criminals who would threaten our society if they were allowed to go free.  Second, to help rehabilitate those who have committed crimes.  The first objective is obvious, but I am not sure that prison is the only way to achieve rehabilitation.  There are fines, house arrests, supervision orders and a host of other methods to achieve deterrence and rehabilitation.  It is probably a way down the track to further consider those methods.

Given society's present obsession with deterrence, we are stuck with our present system.  What about rehabilitation?  What about incentives for good behaviour and good attitude by the wrongdoers?  So-called truth in sentencing seems to have nothing to do with rehabilitation and helping wrongdoers re-enter society as useful members of our communities; it is more to do with retribution.  I cannot understand why the prison system cannot give wrongdoers an incentive, this incentive, to be rewarded for good conduct with the option of shortening sentences by remissions.

We have the problem of an overcrowded prison and the astronomical costs per prisoner.  It would seem to make sense to keep as many offenders out of prison as possible.  Although we had the briefing, I still remain confused by the term 'special management days' and how that is applied.  It was pointed out in the briefing this morning that the system of remissions is not the only reward for good behaviour.  The better behaved, the more benefits an inmate gets; the contract system.  Contract 1, 2, 3 and 4 and you get the education courses and you get the privileges, such as a PlayStation, pool tables and so on. 

I thank the Leader and Mr Ian Thomas, the Director of Prisons, for giving us that briefing and enlightening us on the circumstances in our prisons.

Going back to my focus on rehabilitation, it is clear from Tony Bull's submission in our briefings that he believes the remission system has a big influence on prisoners' behaviour.  He would know something about it.  He has been in there 50 times.  He is a slow learner.  He is only 54 and has spent 40 years in prison.  He lamented the lack of rehabilitation programs that help prisoners break away from institutionalisation.  He told us that released prisoners face homelessness, unemployment and depression, and they need help to reconstruct their lives.

Tony Bull stressed that remission is a reward for good behaviour and he said, 'Take it away and there is trouble ahead.  You have to understand what it is like to get out of prison.  You have to adjust and it is a major problem.'  He said it is great to be free and that the only way to stop recidivism is rehabilitation.  I would be more inclined to support this bill if the Government could point to an effective rehabilitation program for released prisoners.  Inside prison, there is a wide range of education and training programs.  We heard about that, and they help rehabilitation.  There is a widespread belief that released prisoners need much more help.

This bill seems to be just an attempt by a conservative government to demonstrate that it is tough on crime.  It is an old-fashioned approach, and I do not think it works anymore. 

What about deterrents?  It could be argued that the strongest deterrent is the certainty of being caught.

Our society needs to approach our problem of criminal infringement totally differently.  We need to start with youth justice, which is totally underfunded.  We need more research into why some members of our society commit crimes.  We need to look at the drug problem and how it can be overcome.  Above all, we need a comprehensive program.  We cannot keep locking people up in prisons without giving them an incentive to work for themselves and, with help, become more productive and creative members of our communities.

Like the member for Murchison, and I get a feeling from others, I am disinclined to support the bill.