Correctional Services, Recidivism Rates

06 Feb 2007 questionsarchive

I seek leave to make a brief explanation before asking the Minister for Correctional Services a question on the subject of recidivism rates.

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: The Government Services Report, published on 31 January, reports on a range of justice and other measures on a state-by-state basis. One of those measures is the rate of return reported by the criminal justice system and specifically for prisoners released who return to prison under sentence within two years. It is expressed as a percentage. The national rate within the table from 2001-02 was 40.1 per cent and has demonstrated a steady decline to 2005-06 of 38.3 per cent. In comparison, South Australia in 2001-02 was less than the national average, on 36.4 per cent, and it has since risen under this government to 41.1 per cent and is now greater than the national average. I note that, in all other states over this five-year period, the rate has decreased or fluctuated within a percentage point of some 2 per cent. How can the minister reconcile the government’s rhetoric that South Australia is a safer place, when the evidence that South Australia’s revolving door of offenders through our prison system is in fact revolving faster?

The Hon. CARMEL ZOLLO (Minister for Correctional Services): I thank the honourable member for her question.We are a safer community because we have stricter parole in this state and a different bail program that has a home detention component.

An honourable member interjecting:

The Hon. CARMEL ZOLLO: Interpretations and comparisons within the Government Services Report that the honourable member is referring to always need to be analysed carefully because, although standard counting rules have been developed that compare data between jurisdictions, minimal changes in offender numbers in smaller states and territories, such as a state like South Australia, can cause variances in data that do not accurately represent real trends or represent consistent differences when compared with the larger jurisdictions that we have.

With respect to the return to prison rate, in past years South Australian corrections has consistently had the lowest, or one of the lowest, return to corrections rates in Australia, and this is based on annual statistics that compare the number of prisoners who are released from, and who return to, a corrections sanction within two years, as has already been mentioned. This year’s statistics show that South Australia, at 52.7 per cent, does have one of the highest return to corrections rates of any correctional jurisdiction in Australia.

The higher than normal national average is as a result of Australia-wide changes made to counting rules that now include parolees in the statistics. Previously, parolees were considered to still be serving a sentence, albeit in the community, and were excluded from these data sets. The inclusion of parolees this year has inflated all jurisdictional returns to corrections statistics by about 10 per cent and has further increased South Australia’s statistics because the parole conditions in South Australia, as I have mentioned, are generally more strict than other states, which inevitably results in higher returns to corrections rates.

Under the new counting rules, every breach, no matter how small, is regarded as a return to corrections. On top of all this, as I have already mentioned, South Australia is the only jurisdiction in Australia to have a bail program that has a home detention component. The inclusion of these offenders in the return to corrections statistics for the first time this year has further inflated South Australia’s return to prison rate. So, although only 40 per cent of home detainees failed to complete their order, probably about 60 to 70 per cent have minor breaches against their names, and under the present counting rules each breach is counted as a return to corrections. So, South Australia’s higher than normal return to corrections statistics do not indicate a failing—

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK: On a point of order, Mr President: I referred only to prisons, not to the entire corrections, including community corrections.

The PRESIDENT: Order! There is no point of order there. The minister will answer the question in the best way she possibly can.

The Hon. CARMEL ZOLLO: Yes. Mr President—

The Hon. J.M.A. Lensink interjecting:

The PRESIDENT: The Hon. Ms Lensink will sit there and suffer in silence.

The Hon. CARMEL ZOLLO: The honourable member is, unfortunately, not interested. It is unfortunate. As I said before, they reflect a change to the counting rules, the effects of which have skewed the statistics in favour of other jurisdictions, because they do not have the same programs or the strict parole conditions of South Australia. So, the government makes no apologies—no apologies whatsoever— for the tough policies that influence the conditions of parole and home detection bail and which have resulted in a larger than normal rate of return to corrections. They are an integral part of a ‘tough on crime strategy’ that focuses police attention on prisoners leaving prisons, in a bid to make the community safer by targeting repeat offenders.