Reforming those on whom the system would otherwise give up

I had another heartwarming success story this week in court with a client who, after many difficult years, has entirely turned his life around thanks to the availability of the CISP program, and his hard work whilst on it.

The idea of the very effective program, and the equivalent CREDIT/bail support program in other courts – which are tragically underfunded and not available in many courts and run out of places halfway through the month in others – is to rehabilitate long-term offenders with, for example, drug problems by bailing them on a very short leash to undertake intensive programs to help them get off the drugs and build up the skills to stay clean while in the community.

The offenders know, as soon as they’re released on CISP or CREDIT bail, that the same magistrate who’s giving them this chance will ultimately be sentencing them – and the court keeps track of their progress over a number of months before sentencing is complete. If they do well over this period of time – and a significant number do – then a custodial sentence may not be required, as the person has made a genuine break with their earlier offending and is much, much less likely to reoffend. If they don’t, if they stuff up in any way, then they are almost certain to spend a significant amount of time inside.

Even if similar services were adequately provided in prison (which they aren’t) or on parole (which they also aren’t), the CISP/CREDIT approach is more effective because:

  • it helps the person build up the skills they need to resist falling back on bad habits whilst they’re in the community (which is a completely different environment to prison, and involves completely different temptations/stress-points);
  • at the most vulnerable time, when the good habits have not yet taken hold, the person has just been before a magistrate and knows he or she is going back before that same magistrate very soon; and
  • the consequences of making the right choices are very immediate: the offender knows that this is the only opportunity they have to avoid a jail sentence;
  • the program is intensive and the person isn’t left floating around without supports when they’re first released.

I suppose the reason the program is underfunded is that we’re apparently much less interested, as a community, in reducing reoffending than we are in EXTRACTING VENGEANCE. Apparently the latter makes us feel better inside, even though it actually puts us at more risk outside. You can imagine how the Herald Sun would report increased funding for a service like CISP/CREDIT – “your taxes going to provide special services for criminals!” – as if there were no benefit for the rest of us in reforming long-term offenders.

We pro-rehabilitation lefties must just be a bit more realistic than the naive lock-em-all-up crowd. (Although it is unfortunate that we have to deal with the more dangerous world that results from their approach being followed by politicians.) We’re prepared to forsake the glow of satisfaction from self-righteously tightening the screws on “bad people” if there’s a realistic prospect of reforming them, because the outcome will be fewer people being the victims of crime in the future. Which seems to us to be a very good idea.

Any possibility that the “law and order” Baillieu government would consider, in the hope of not needing to spend as much money building new prisons, instead expanding these services that actually work? We can only hope.

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23 responses to “Reforming those on whom the system would otherwise give up

  1. returnedman

    Yeh, yeh, right – what would YOU know?!1!!?1!! Pffft!

  2. I have not heard of the CISP program but congratulations to your client and yourself on success in what sounds like a truly civilised way to use the system for rehabilitation . More of this would be a benefit to all the community.
    Good luck to you both.

  3. mondo rock

    I guess my personal support for such a program would depend on the category of crime it was available to.

    For example if a drug addict were to commit a violent crime against another person then I don’t think it would be appropriate to reduce their sentence just because they had reformed their drug habit in the meantime. Like it or not I think certain crimes require a minimum degree of punishment in order to satisfy the concept of justice.

    Reducing reoffending rates can’t be the only measure by which we judge the success of a penal system.

  4. Cheers, tredlgt.

    Mondo –

    “For example if a drug addict were to commit a violent crime against another person then I don’t think it would be appropriate to reduce their sentence just because they had reformed their drug habit in the meantime.”

    Well, if it were a serious assault – where there was no prospect of a non-custodial sentence regardless of reform – then no magistrate would put someone on CISP, there’d be no point.

    But there are many cases where it is borderline.

    There are two types of deterrence – specific and general. General is sending a message to the whole community that this is what will happen when you commit this sort of crime. Reform would not reduce the punishment on that ground. In contrast, specific deterrence is about making sure this particular offender is deterred from reoffending.

    On that ground, in the case of someone whose offending is largely a result of drug use, and where that drug use has now ceased – particularly if we’re talking about a cleanup that is very difficult, like getting over heroin – then I’d suggest it’s in all of our interest to utilise (if not inappropriate such as with high-level offending where general deterrence is more important), a form of punishment that enables that person to continue staying clean, to continue building on their reform, in the community. A punishment involving a significant amount of community work, for example, instead of jail – it’s still a punishment, but it’s constructive for the community rather than expensive for us and ultimately destructive to the offender.

    In a case where the offender has not reformed and gives every indication of taking up their old ways as soon as they’re released, a greater punishment is justified on the grounds that they need to be specifically deterred from reoffending. They need ever-increasing reminders that the court is going to keep punishing them, and harder, until they learn.

    In a case where the offender has reformed, imprisonment may no longer be necessary. And can, in fact, be completely counterproductive.

    Do you really think that it should make no difference to sentence whether the person has subsequently reformed or not? Seriously?

  5. narcoticmusing

    Do you really think that it should make no difference to sentence whether the person has subsequently reformed or not? Seriously?

    Well, as Mondo said, it depends on the crime. It’d be nice if say, the offender decided to reform prior to harming another.

    These programs, I think make a massively positive impact and are both economically good value (compared to responding later and/or prison) and sound in terms of meeting ONE goal of justice – rehabilitation.

    But rehabilitation is not the only goal of the justice system. As you noted, general deterrence is another goal. But so is retribution. I do think that retribution – in terms of punishing another person for doing wrong to the community, which is what a crime is – deserves punishment.

    There are soooooooooooo many people that are in need of assistance for drug problems, the entire AOD sector is underfunded by a long shot. So yes, fund AOD properly, coordinate the services and yes, for minor crimes that do not harm another (eg. burglary) then these programs are fine. But the second it is robbery or causing injury or worse… at what point do we consider the impact on the victim?

    I suppose my point is that there are some crimes that should not be tolerated. Period.

  6. “But rehabilitation is not the only goal of the justice system. As you noted, general deterrence is another goal. But so is retribution. I do think that retribution – in terms of punishing another person for doing wrong to the community, which is what a crime is – deserves punishment.”

    Apart from discouraging others from doing the same (ie, general deterrence), what precisely is the aim of this “retribution”?

    “There are soooooooooooo many people that are in need of assistance for drug problems, the entire AOD sector is underfunded by a long shot.”

    I agree, but I don’t see what it has to do with this discussion – it’s not like funding CISP/CREDIT requires underfunding AOD.

    “So yes, fund AOD properly, coordinate the services and yes, for minor crimes that do not harm another (eg. burglary) then these programs are fine. But the second it is robbery or causing injury or worse… at what point do we consider the impact on the victim?”

    I’d suggest considering it as something we should’ve worked hard to prevent earlier if at all possible. If our focus on retribution instead of rehabilitation ends up causing avoidable reoffending, isn’t it our choice that has led to the next victim’s suffering?

  7. “at what point do we consider the impact on the victim?””

    At what point do we consider the second victim, or the third victim, or the fourth or fifth? All the victims that will come after because instead of getting the person services in the actual circumstances where the pressures are – the real world – we decide to lock them up and then release them without a shadow of support? What of those victims? The victims that need never be?

    At what point do we say “Being “tough” on crime is all very well but it is actually making things worse. Is “retribution” worth it?”

    At what point do we make a clear distinction between Retribution and the actual aim of Laws – Justice? What justice is served by throwing a drug addict to the wolves and making sure he re-offends time after time after time? At what point to we start realising that funding more prisons and cutting Legal Aid funding and services funding at the same time is actually making society less safe? If you want to make a Justice system predicated on Old Testament sentiments, fine. But I think it’s high time that those who want the system “tougher” admit that it is NOT about stopping criminals, it’s NOT about reducing recidivism, it’s NOT about “sending a message”. It’s about revenge. And an ugly mob-mentality that never, ever works.

    At what point do we grow up as a society and stop hitting back when someone hits us and doing what will actually stop the person hitting again?

  8. narcoticmusing

    The aim of the retribution is both specific deterrence and prevention of recidivism. I’m not sure you can consider the concept of a sense of justice where victims suffer – and lets not kid around about the appalling lack of funds to support victims of crime – and criminals get treatment. Before you twist this, I’ve said many times I agree with the program in limited cases. We have a lack of choice, I agree. Prisons don’t rehabilitate criminals very well, but that doesn’t suddenly mean we should stop sending people to prison just because they can be rehabilitated better elsewhere.

    Part of putting someone in prison is about priorities – it is protecting the community. These programs, while again I reiterate I think they are good, do put the community at risk if the offender is likely to harm another. You might be willing to take that risk but you take it at someone else’s expense.

    You seem to think the funding pool is unlimited. We have a limited bucket of money. I agree that these programs are a good investment but don’t be so naive to think that funding won’t be re-prioritised from somewhere else to do it. The entire taxation system and economic model we live in won’t be re-written; so there is a need for realism.

    My point about funding AOD also was that properly funding that might enable us to prevent the crime, rather than treating the criminal. Prevention is cheaper than responding and imprisonment – so in that light we agree.

  9. “The aim of the retribution is both specific deterrence and prevention of recidivism.”

    Well, if that’s all, then let’s go with the option that works, eh?

    “I’m not sure you can consider the concept of a sense of justice where victims suffer – and lets not kid around about the appalling lack of funds to support victims of crime – and criminals get treatment.”

    Again, not an either-or. Victims of crime should receive support, too. And the purpose of treating criminals isn’t about giving them something extra – it’s about returning them to being useful members of society, rather than a permanent threat. It’s kind of self-interested for the rest of us, including present and future victims of crime.

    “Before you twist this, I’ve said many times I agree with the program in limited cases. We have a lack of choice, I agree. Prisons don’t rehabilitate criminals very well, but that doesn’t suddenly mean we should stop sending people to prison just because they can be rehabilitated better elsewhere.”

    I never said we should – obviously there are offences which require the sanction of prison, and offenders who need to be kept in prison to protect the rest of us. But we should do everything in our power to rehabilitate.

    “Part of putting someone in prison is about priorities – it is protecting the community. These programs, while again I reiterate I think they are good, do put the community at risk if the offender is likely to harm another. You might be willing to take that risk but you take it at someone else’s expense.”

    No, one of the most critical considerations is the risk to the community. That’s why it’s not available for really serious offences which put the community at real risk. That’s why these programs involve the offenders being on a very short leash at first, and why the consequences of a breach involve the person going straight back in.

    “You seem to think the funding pool is unlimited. We have a limited bucket of money.”

    We keep being offered tax cuts. This funding instead.

    “My point about funding AOD also was that properly funding that might enable us to prevent the crime, rather than treating the criminal. Prevention is cheaper than responding and imprisonment – so in that light we agree.”

    I agree. We should do that, too.

  10. narcoticmusing

    No, one of the most critical considerations is the risk to the community.

    Which is why I think they are good bang for buck. I’m suggesting expanding them is not necessarily a good thing.

    The aims I spoke of Jeremy were one of many – come on, you are a barrister, you know this. The aim of justice isn’t just rehabilitating criminals either. There is no ONE aim of the justice system; but if you had to pick one, it would be protection of the community. Now; these programs, which are only applied in limited circumstances are good, I agree with you. But your disagreement with me suggests you think it should be expanded and as Mondo said, I think that it should all depend on the crime.

    Keri – longer sentences would also consider the 2nd, 3rd and 4th. I am not necessarily condoning that but it would solve your concern too. It isn’t as economically sensible but a solution that ignores natural justice – ie you do something wrong, you get punished, is one without justice at all. There must be consequences for actions – that is general deterrence. There is a need for balance.

    Your model suggests: if you would like government funded assistance, please rape your neighbor. No, no, don’t worry about them, but gee wiz it is the only way we can help you. Yes, I’ve used a provocatively over-extreme example, my point being I don’t think justice is ONLY about rehabilitation. It has many functions.

  11. narcoticmusing

    J – tax cuts from whom? There are two jurisdictions at work here – Cth collects the revenue, but States administer justice. So there is a disconnect between the impact of tax cuts and funding for programs.

    Also, funding for programs – if you listed all the things you wanted to see funded, those tax cuts wouldn’t go far.

  12. “Which is why I think they are good bang for buck. I’m suggesting expanding them is not necessarily a good thing.”

    The main expansion to which I referred in the post is making sure there are enough places, rather than them running out half way through the month, and the programs being available at all courts. That’s just basic fairness. I fail to see how removing those limitations could be anything other than a good thing.

    “The aim of justice isn’t just rehabilitating criminals either. There is no ONE aim of the justice system; but if you had to pick one, it would be protection of the community.”

    And my point is that rehabilitation protects the community much better than just shoving people in jail.

    “Your model suggests: if you would like government funded assistance, please rape your neighbor. No, no, don’t worry about them, but gee wiz it is the only way we can help you. “

    (a) Nobody has said it should apply in the case of serious violent crimes, like rape; and
    (b) We’re talking about programs to get people off drugs, not give them a ticket to Disneyland. It’s not about fun, it’s about fixing a problem. I agree that these services should be available before people commit crimes, too, but that’s a separate argument.

    “Also, funding for programs – if you listed all the things you wanted to see funded, those tax cuts wouldn’t go far.”

    Here’s a place to find the money, if it’s needed: the destructive stamp duty cuts Baillieu is promising in this budget, that will (perhaps counterintuitively) make housing more unaffordable for young homebuyers*.

    However, these programs are a hell of a lot cheaper than imprisonment, so they actually save money.

    *The market will absorb the “saving”, with the money going to vendors (and, of course, real estate agents). The extra money for vendors equals extra equity for existing homeowners, which equals more money they can borrow to buy investment properties and outbid homebuyers.

  13. mondo rock

    Jeremy and Keri – you’ve both made very strong arguments in favour of this program, and I find myself repeating narc’s assurances that I both agree with you and think CISP a great thing that should be better funded and expanded to assist more people.

    Obviously it’s preferable to reform a criminal than it is to seek mindless vengeange. Obviously the intelligent reaction to crime is to look at ways to reduce it, and to both protect and save the community money. There is no fundamental disagreement here.

    I suppose the point I’m trying to make, though, is that in order for this program to flourish in the real world some weight (certainly not all, but some) must be given to the “retribution” that narc has referred to above. In any system of justice it can’t simply be sufficient for justice to be done – justice must also be seen to be done otherwise the community won’t accept the courts as legitimate arbiter.

    I think the reality is that the Herald Sun readers, while certainly self-indulgent, do represent a real thread of widely held community thought. There is a relatively common belief that, regardless of the perpetrator’s circumstances, justice requires suitable punishment be delivered – punishment that is commensurate to the crime. Certainly the criminal system must be about deterrence and rehabilitation, you’ll get no argument from me there, but unless it ‘s also about punishment it will always be succeptible to attack from public opinion.

    Victims and much of the wider public need to believe that the criminal has faced sanctions that are comparaqble with the hurt he/she has caused. If they don’t, the public will agitate for change to the system and a very real risk arises that politicians will respond by cutting the program.

    In the end I guess it’s about getting the balance right. CISP appears to be a great program, but the courts just need to ensure it doesn’t go too far and thus fall victim to the oft-wielded axe of public opinion.

  14. jordanrastrick

    Hopefully we are slowly moving towards a society where people feel less need for retributory punishment and more need to prevent crime from occuring.

    I think more needs to be done to support victims, particularly in terms of providing them with avenues of closure other than just seeing an offender locked up for what can never be an adequate period of time.

  15. narcoticmusing

    Thank you Mondo – you articulated my view much better than I did.

  16. “I suppose the point I’m trying to make, though, is that in order for this program to flourish in the real world some weight (certainly not all, but some) must be given to the “retribution” that narc has referred to above. “

    It is, in the sense of general deterrence.

    Isn’t that the whole point of punishment? To deter others from doing the same?

    In any case, we’re not talking about serious crimes where there’s no alternative but jail – those are people who need to be cleaned up on parole, on the way out, not people who can be saved from going in.

    “Victims and much of the wider public need to believe that the criminal has faced sanctions that are comparaqble with the hurt he/she has caused.”

    But that’s simply not possible. You can’t undo the crime by doing the same to the criminal, even if there were something equivalent that could be done. But nor do we have to – we’re not criminals, so we do not have to follow their example.

    We should compensate the victims. We should make sure services are available to help the victims recover. We should make sure we work to deter others from taking the criminal path (general deterrence – which involves punishment). We should also make sure we try to reform those who can be reformed, in order to reduce the number of future victims.

    “In the end I guess it’s about getting the balance right. CISP appears to be a great program, but the courts just need to ensure it doesn’t go too far and thus fall victim to the oft-wielded axe of public opinion.”

    Not even close. It’s inadequately funded to cover the sort of cases it works very well on, and is not consistently available across the state.

    Can we all agree that it should have sufficient funding that
    (a) it’s available in all courts; and
    (b) it has enough places so that it doesn’t run out half way through the month?

    Fear not, Magistrates are not stupid, and they’re not putting people on CISP/CREDIT who have no prospect of success, or who have committed crimes so serious that there is no reasonable alternative to jail.

  17. As ‘Splatter’ hasn’t deigned to offer-up one of his rants in this thread, I’ll assume his role.

    Typical of you namby-pamby lefty latte sipping elitist supporters of ne’er do wells. Next you’ll want us to provide them with an SC at taxpayers expense. 🙄

    Sorry! I’m just feeling mischievous.

  18. narcoticmusing

    Jeremy – I think both Mondo and I agree with your a and b points. We were just attempting to be a voice of caution/reason in order to support such a proposition – without such, funding would never be achieved.

    I’m not sure, however, that you are being entirely realistic about the funding sources/capacity. We fund a lot of things by response (think hospitals – all money goes to acute, very little to prevention; think natural disasters – all money to response, little to prevent/minimise; drugs – all money to respond, little to prevent/treat/harm minimise). There is a reason for this though – there is a LONG lag for preventative actions, meaning there is a duplication of funding over that period – ie we need to continue the expensive response while properly funding prevention. This unfortunately makes it prohibitively expensive for governments – or more to the point, a voting public – obsessed with surplus budgets.

  19. “This unfortunately makes it prohibitively expensive for governments – or more to the point, a voting public – obsessed with surplus budgets.”

    Well, here’s hoping people stop voting for those sorts of governments.

    In any case, as I said earlier, CISP/CREDIT is not an expensive program, particularly if contrasted with the expense of shoving people who don’t need it in prison, and rolling it out to all the courts and increasing the places would end up being a net saving to the community.

  20. mondo rock

    I fully agree with your points a and b Lefty.

  21. narcoticmusing

    At risk of continually irriating you Jermery with my Devil’s Advocate responses, that was the argument for most IT systems, which are now renowned for being massive sinks we poor money down.

    The public and Governments have become fatigued by arguments of ‘just spend $x and in the long run – when you are no longer in power – it’ll start to pay dividends’.

    Jeremy – I 100% agree with preventative and harm minimisation measures; I’m just cynical that we’ll ever get good funding for them with mere hope people stop voting for those sorts. We need to get proper attention of bodies like COAG – we need longitudinal studies that demonstrate economic returns and then a State with the balls & know-how to push the agenda at COAG.

  22. “Keri – longer sentences would also consider the 2nd, 3rd and 4th. I am not necessarily condoning that but it would solve your concern too. “

    No, it really doesn’t solve my concern. Because you seem to have missed my point. In many, many cases, there should be no second, third or fourth victim at all if services are available to someone on their first offence, or first semi-serious offence. Or just if they need it, before they commit any offences whatsoever. I have never, at any point, suggested that these services should ONLY be available to people who commit offences, or that they should take the place of prison sentences for serious crimes like Rape.

    But given the sheer amount of crimes that are committed as a direct result of dependency issues or under the influence of them mean that a good way of both reducing recidivism and getting these services to the people where it benefits society as a whole most is through the justice system. It really is not that hard to understand. Nor does it preclude those same supports and systems being allocated elsewhere, or at the expense of them.

  23. narcoticmusing

    Kerri – longer sentences would prevent 2nd, 3rd, 4th victims. Not from general deterrence per se, just because they’d be locked up so long they wouldn’t be able to physically commit the crime by the time they are out – think the ridiculous 200 year type sentences you can get in the US. As I’d said, I’m not advocating that – but if your only argument is about the later victims, well longer sentences would get voted for much faster than helping out criminals. We both know the latter will rehabilitate, but the public don’t give a shit.

    And I actively advocate for funding for AOD services, so I’m pretty sure you just missed my point entirely.

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