Thursday, January 08, 2009

Sanity over crime in NSW

Last month, the Sydney Morning Herald reported on the failure of "tough on crime" policies in New South Wales. Twenty years of government and opposition competing to see who can be more vicious to criminals has resulted in spiralling costs, a new prison every two years, increased recidivism rates and no positive effect on crime. By any empirical measure, these policies have been a failure - and now, NSW's opposition justice spokesperson has been sane enough to admit it and pledged to abandon the law and order auction:

Mr Smith likened his move to "Nixon in China". Just as it took an anti-communist US president, Richard Nixon, to open relations with communist China in 1972, it might take a politician with Mr Smith's conservative credentials to push for a bipartisan position on criminal justice.


"I think you need to be, society needs to be, conscious of the fact that unless you do something for them after they get out of jail, the more likely they are to hurt society again and commit more crime.

"That's where my pragmatic view comes in. Our recidivism rates are far too high and this harsh line that we have been taking, with the Government almost proud of the size of the prisons, and proud to build more, in my opinion, shows a lack of care for people in prisons, their families and the community generally, because it is short-sighted."

It's a welcome breath of sanity in a policy area characterised by emotive appeals and counterproductive sadism. Unfortunately there seems little chance of it being echoed here. National is instead promising to pack the prisons even tighter, with major changes to home detention, bail, and parole. This won't do a thing to reduce crime; all it will do is make our prisons even more unpleasant, and even less likely to change prisoner behaviour. But National seems willing to just keep on pouring money into that black hole, regardless of its effectiveness.