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.