Like Trump, Australia Must Focus On Reoffending To Make Communities Safer

This is is the media release for my research report First Step Australia: 10 ideas for reducing reoffending.

“The single most effective criminal justice reform would be to reduce reoffending,” said Andrew Bushnell, Research Fellow at the free market think tank, the Institute of Public Affairs.

The Institute of Public Affairs today released its latest research report from the IPA Criminal Justice Project, First Step Australia: 10 ideas for reducing reoffending. The report explores the evidence for 10 policy options for improving the rehabilitative aspect of our criminal justice systems.

The report takes its name and inspiration from successful United States reforms signed into law by President Donald Trump.

“President Trump’s reforms signal a powerful shift in the politics of community safety,” said Mr Bushnell.

“The important message from the First Step Act is that new approaches to criminal justice are needed, and that the focus of reform efforts should be on reoffending, meaning the number of offenders who return to crime after passing through the system.”

Like the United States, but not yet at the same scale, Australia has seen a recent rapid increase in incarceration, driven in part by high rates of reoffending.

“The facts of Australia’s underperforming criminal justice systems are stark and becoming well-known. Over the past decade, the incarceration rate is up 30 percent, meaning there are now 43,000 people in Australian prisons on any given day, and prisons cost taxpayers more than $4 billion annually on operational costs alone,” said Mr Bushnell.

“Less well-known is the fact that 58 percent of prisoners have been in prison before, and that 45 percent of prisoners return to prison within two years of their release.”

The report considers ideas ranging from large scale reforms like increasing the use of community service and diversion programs through to more targeted interventions like expanding education and mentoring services, and providing tax credits and insurance for business taking on ex-offenders.

“All Australians will benefit from a corrections system that is actually corrective. The point is not to replace punishment with rehabilitation, but to make sure our punishments do not make rehabilitation impossible.” said Mr Bushnell.

Download the report here.

More Regulation Is Not The Solution To Westpac Revelations


Yet another scandal among Australia’s banks suggests the industry is in dire need of a clean-out. Westpac has committed one of the most startling failures of corporate governance in Australian history. After a year-long investigation, the bank stands accused of failing to report, as required by law, 23 million transactions that it had facilitated, and, in particular, failing to notice a series of suspicious transactions originating from South-east Asia that have been implicated in child exploitation.

The consequences for Westpac continued to mount. The bank is expected to be fined more than $1 billion. It lost $6 billion in market capitalisation, or 7 per cent of its value. Its chairman and chief executive have both resigned. All of this is fair enough. The allegations are extremely serious and, if proved, demonstrate an almost-incredible negligence.

Inevitably, these facts raise the question of whether a policy response is required, and what kind. Given the recent Hayne inquiry into various kinds of malfeasance by Australia’s banks, it would be understandable if the first recourse that comes to political minds is more legislation or regulation. But this would be a mistake.

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Skewed Priorities – Comparing The Growth Of Prison Spending With Police Spending

This is the media release for my research report with the above title.

Over the past decade, Australia has seen an unsustainable rise in the rate and cost of incarceration. Nationally, the incarceration rate is at an all-time high of 217 per 100,000 adults, and prisons now cost taxpayers $4.6 billion every year (including capital costs).

This increase in spending on prisons creates a trade-off with other government priorities, like policing. Six years ago Australian governments spent more than $4 dollars on police for every $1 spent on prisons; today, that figure is $3.40. This pattern is seen in every Australian jurisdiction apart from the Northern Territory. This matters because, like incarceration, policing aims to deter would-be offenders. Indeed, many studies indicate that it performs this task more effectively than prison, because offenders are deterred more strongly by the prospect of being caught than the severity of the punishments that they may face.

International figures show that by the measure of police spending to prison spending, Australian jurisdictions rank in between American states, which tend to spend more on prisons, and the countries of the European Union, which tend to spend less. Australia is moving towards a more American-style distribution, even as the US moves in the opposite direction.

Moreover, high rates of incarceration eventually create trade-offs for other areas of government service delivery. In jurisdictions like Western Australia and the Northern Territory, there are noticeably lower ratios between spending on schools and public hospitals and spending on prisons. Given that education and health are both associated with reduced offending, this trade-off may again be reducing community safety.

Australian jurisdictions can improve community safety by pursuing sensible and safe reforms to reduce incarceration, and redirecting spending to more efficient deterrence and rehabilitation.

Download Report – Skewed priorities: comparing the growth of prison spending with police spending

Improve Private Prison Contracts To Cut Costs And Reduce Reoffending

This is the media release for my research report Cutting costs and reducing reoffending: redesigning private prison contracts for better results.

“Stronger incentives for rehabilitation can improve private prisons and lead to reduced reoffending, less crime, and lower costs for taxpayers,” said Andrew Bushnell, Research Fellow at the free market think tank, the Institute of Public Affairs.

The IPA today released a new research report on private prisons in Australia. Eight of Australia’s 98 prisons are operated by private companies. These prisons house an estimated 18 per cent of Australia’s prison population. The report, Cutting costs and reducing reoffending: Redesigning private prison contracts for better results investigates recent moves by governments in Australia and overseas to include incentives for reduced reoffending in private prison contracts.

“Recent independent reviews of private prisons in Victoria and Queensland found substantial savings for taxpayers from prison privatisation,” said Mr Bushnell.

“Along with costs, policymakers also need to consider how private prisons can be most effective in reducing reoffending, which is one of the main drivers of the massive increase in incarceration and related costs that we have seen across Australia in recent years.”

Australia’s incarceration rate is at a record high of 222 per 100,000 adults. Nationally, taxpayers spend more than $15 billion per year on criminal justice, including $4 billion on prison running costs. Despite this expenditure, 46 percent of released prisoners return to prison within two years of their release.

“The introduction of incentives for reduced reoffending is a positive step for private prison contracts. But our research indicates that the existing contracts are likely not optimised for getting the results that we all want,” said Mr Bushnell.

“The performance components of the contracts needs to be more substantial, and should be connected to simple, transparent measures.”

The paper makes a number of recommendations for strengthening private prison contracts. These include increasing the proportion of payments to operators that is based on performance, using a bonus model connected to individual prisoners, and standardising measures of performance across all private and state prisons to enable comparative analysis. The report also discusses some of the possible limitations of pursuing this approach.

“Following the recommendations in this report gives this important experiment the best chance of succeeding,” said Mr Bushnell.

Download the report here.

It Is Time For Criminal Justice Reform In WA

This is the media release for my research brief Why Western Australia needs criminal justice reform.

“The rapid growth of incarceration in Western Australia is imposing significant costs on taxpayers without improving community safety,” said Andrew Bushnell, Research Fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs.

“Parliament should act now to reform the criminal justice system by expanding alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders and emphasizing the importance of employment for offender rehabilitation.”

Mr Bushnell leads the IPA Criminal Justice Project, a research project focused on the costs of incarceration and how governments can more effectively reduce crime. He is the author of a Parliamentary Research Brief, Why Western Australia needs criminal justice reform, which was distributed today to Western Australian State Parliamentarians.

“The number of people in Western Australia’s prisons has risen 55 percent in the past decade, and the incarceration rate is now the highest among Australian states, with highest rates of all Australian jurisdictions for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.”

“Over this period, spending on prisons has risen an estimated 45 percent, to $596 million, and this does not include capital works spending, like the expansion of Casuarina Prison.”

In response to these unsustainable trends, the brief recommends the expansion of alternatives to incarceration, like community service, home detention, fines, and restitution orders, as well as the need for work opportunities for offenders, with employment correlated to reducing rates of reoffending.

“39 percent of people released from prison in Western Australia return to prison within two years of their release, and 63 percent of prisoners have been in prison before, but just 16 percent of prisoners participate in commercial industries, a third of the rate in New South Wales,” said Mr Bushnell.

“Reducing reoffending would significantly improve community safety, and work is the key to rehabilitation just as it is the key to a good life.”

The report points to examples of reform in Texas and other parts of the United States as both evidence for the benefits of reform and to illustrate the changing politics of criminal justice.

“Criminal justice reform is now a bipartisan issue. There is widespread agreement that being tough on crime means taking smart steps to reduce crime, not just throwing ever-more money at incarceration.”

“This emerging consensus led to President Trump signing a criminal justice reform law earlier this year,” said Mr Bushnell.

Download the Parliamentary Research Brief here.