In Victoria, we have an excellent bail support program called CREDIT. (Or CREDIT/BSP. Or CISP. There’s some slight bureaucratic confusion over the name depending on the court.) The idea is to get drug-using offenders to learn to conquer and then resist their addiction, whilst in the community – a carrot-and-stick approach, in which the stick is that they’ll go to jail if they don’t do it successfully, and the carrot is, we can help you get off this substance and, if you do, you might be able to do your sentence in the community.
Locking an illicit drug user up only delays the problem: it doesn’t solve anything. They learn no useful techniques for dealing with their problem in the real world, and when they’re eventually released, many inevitably fall back on substance abuse – with the obvious consequent results for the rest of the community. A much better and more effective approach is to put them on a very tightly-monitored form of bail, monitored by experts in the field of drug addiction, in which their problem is managed very strictly, out in the real world where they will ultimately need to apply these strategies. The program takes place over some three months, with offenders being brought back to court every month to see how they’re managing: if they do not engage, or reoffend, then they go back inside and are sentenced accordingly; if they do well, and are clean by the time they are sentenced, then it is strongly mitigating against their sentence. If they were looking at a jail time to be served in custody, they might, for example, be able to do that as an Intensive Corrections Order, which is a form of jail served in the community. The idea being that, if drug use is the reason for the offending, then once that drug use is managed their threat to the community is greatly reduced.
Having a jail sentence hanging over someone’s head is an excellent motivator, but once they’ve been doing the program they often find that the techniques and habits they’ve developed actually stick. In reducing reoffending, the program really works – which is not just to the benefit of the offenders, it’s to the benefit of all of us. Fewer costs of crime (victims, police, courts, lawyers), and, as a side note, it’s much much cheaper to put someone on CREDIT and then an ICO than it is to keep them in prison. It’s also more just, and more constructive – rather than condemning people with what are, by the stage they reach court, effectively serious health problems, to a painful, useless life of offending and imprisonment, it gives them a way to become positive, constructive members of the community again.
The only problem is that it’s ridiculously underfunded. Increasing funding for bail support programs doesn’t get a Minister (in this case, Bob Cameron) a positive headline in the Herald Sun – quite the reverse. WHY ARE WE SPENDING MONEY ON CRIMINALS, the paper would angrily scream, completely ignoring that locking everyone up costs a vast amount more. And gutless Ministers are more interested in pandering to the ill-informed mob than advocating for policies and programs they know actually work.
The upshot of which is that the CREDIT program at many courts is full-up by the middle of each month, with the queues lengthening and the problem escalating as they struggle to cope with the unmet demand. Prisoners who could benefit from the program sit in prison because whilst they would be fine in the community with proper supervision, they’re too much of a risk to release with no supports – despite jail not necessarily being the appropriate sentence in their case. People serve time that is excessive compared with the offence they’ve committed. And they lose the chance to actually address the problem that’s put them in there. And we lose the chance to effectively get them clean while the opportunity is greatest.
CREDIT isn’t the only important such service that’s being left by the government to atrophy, of course. Part of the problem it faces is that many of the services on which it relies – drug and alcohol counsellors, in particular – are also under-resourced and stretched to the limit. Many are simply not taking new cases at the moment, meaning that we have people in the community with serious problems, ready and desperate to get the help they clearly need – that we simply are unwilling to provide. And then we complain when we read of drug-related crime!
The only way this situation will improve is if increasing numbers of citizens make our voices heard on the subject. We don’t want money wasted on more jails: we want sensible, proven, effective programs that actually reduce offending and lessen our risk of being victims of crime (and cost us much less as taxpayers) to be expanded to meet the obvious need. Programs like CREDIT.
Good luck getting that message through the tabloid gatekeepers, though.
ELSEWHERE: California proposes to legalise marijuana: beer companies spend money opposing it. Either they suddenly believe in restricting intoxicating substances or – well, you can draw your own conclusions as to their motivation. (They couldn’t be seeking to uphold a ban because they’re afraid of the competition, could they?)